Change, Passion, & Goodwill
Nominated by: Lindsey Monroe
Becky in her own words...
It is so surreal at this point. I think we spend a lot of our life trying things professionally we don’t love because people tell us it is the right path, the better path. Maybe it is about making more money or earning more prestige or whatever, so you follow those paths because you think you should. I went down a lot of paths that were essentially uncomfortable. It was a risk to become an author even though I have always been a natural writer. I don’t necessarily mean a good writer, just that I LOVED to write and journal and be creative. And, all of my life I have been passionate about animals. So to not only pursue two of the things I love most, but then to be recognized for being good at them – it is beyond a dream come true.
2. You’ve been volunteering with animals for about thirteen years. What are some organizations you have worked with?
It all started with a wildlife refuge where I cared for cougars, fox, bobcats, squirrels, opossums, chipmunks. Some were there for life because of the situations they came from and some were released back into the wild. That wildlife sanctuary, Safe Haven, moved to Nevada and that is when I started at McHenry County Animal Control. I was there about 2 years. I began as a volunteer and spent so much time there – I got hired! From that job, I went to Best Friends Animal Society based in Kanab, Utah to be a web writer. It was a volunteer position. It was at that position I found myself on assignment at an Amish puppy mill auction in WI. That was the pivotal moment. That was 2008. I currently volunteer for NorthStar Shih Tzu Rescue based in Minnesota. I foster dogs for them that are pulled from Chicago Animal Control. I support and promote The Puppy Mill Project as well Lost Dogs IL. Right now I am fostering a puppy mill survivor, Ellie. She was saved at an auction by a rescue called The Rescue Warriors Corp. I couldn’t say no.
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3. For about seven years, the lovely Thorp, the dog you rescued from a puppy mill auction, and you have been volunteering at a school “that serves students from the ages of 5-18 in our county who are emotionally and behaviorally challenged, anything from severe autism to bipolar to schizophrenic.” What is it like working with Thorp? How do the kids and Thorp benefit from the interactions?
It is an amazing experience working at Clay. I have seen some of the older high school kids come up to Thorp with the gentlest touch and quietest voice and be in that moment of pure peace with Thorp. And, only minutes later, see them screaming and being violent in the hallway away from the dog. Dogs are miraculous therapy for people. The kids feel safe with Thorp. They can be themselves without judgment. I think it is the same for Thorp. When I rescued him, he was an empty soul of a dog. He just didn’t know what was normal. It might sound crazy, but I think Thorp can relate to the kids on a very spiritual level. Being at Clay has only reinforced to me how important dogs in our lives can be.
4. You have touched the lives of so many animals. What made you decide that it was time to write a book, to give your work and animals a voice?
Well, I went on assignment to report about the protest of the dog auction. The leader of the protest told me, “If you want to see what we are protesting, you should go in the barn and see.” She also said, “If you choose to get a dog in there today, the best thing you can do is tell his story. Let people know what he was like. What shape he was in. Don’t let his life go untold.” So, while I was sitting through the horrific hours of the auction, I decided that I would rescue one specific dog (the oldest at the auction) and I would write a book about him. It helped that my initial web story for Best Friends went viral. The entire auction experience was beyond overwhelming for me, so my news piece was very emotional and really grabbed people’s attention. I couldn’t stop writing about what I saw because it was just so inhumane and so foreign to me. I was also privately journaling about it- something I have done since I could write. So, it was relatively easy to re-create the entire journey into a book. Eventually, Thorp, the dog I rescued, became a therapy dog and the story was finally complete with a happy ending.
"I could not for a moment fathom the neglect and the cruelty I witnessed at the auctions. It hit me so hard, I couldn’t breathe - for weeks. I pretty much had an emotional breakdown."
5. What was the most shocking part about your experience? How did your experience impact your view on humanity?
For someone who loves and respects animals as much as I do, it was beyond my understanding how anyone could treat them like products. I could not for a moment fathom the neglect and the cruelty I witnessed at the auctions. It hit me so hard, I couldn’t breathe - for weeks. I pretty much had an emotional breakdown. I would go to bed at night in tears knowing that there were thousands more dogs suffering in silence – in rusty, cold, dirty cages who would never see the light day, let alone a toy or soft blanket to sleep on. It breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I think about it. As far as humanity, I was embarrassed to be a part of the human race.
6. Nothing gets in your way of making a difference in animals’ lives. Your passion even led you to fight legislation around ending dog auctions. What was it like?
It was a really educational experience that taught me how important it is to believe in something and to speak up to change things. I have serious concerns about our democratic system, but, regardless, the legislators are there to listen to what citizens have to say. And when you are loud enough – there is a chance for victory. The experience was multi-faceted and included ending the dog auctions in the state. It also placed harder regulations on mass-breeding facilities as well as rescues and shelters. I lobbied at the state level – meeting with senators and reps. talking about the bill and my experience. I was interviewed on TV and was able to show pictures of Thorp when I got him. I attended the hearings to support my other friends who testified. To this day, we continue to fight against the big agricultural companies to get mill dogs a better way of life.
"So, while I was sitting through the horrific hours of the auction, I decided that I would rescue one specific dog (the oldest at the auction) and I would write a book about him."
7. Before you were an animal advocate and an author, what was your career?
When I left Corp. America I was a Human Resources Manager at a steel manufacturing company called Scot Forge. I was there about 10 years total. I interned in college. I was hired after graduation. Then, about 6 months after my daughter was born I quit to stay home and ended up going back about a year later. I started as a generalist at one of their satellite plants and eventually became the Manager at the corporate location. I left in 2004, I think J. I have my Masters in Human Resource Management which I earned while working at Scot Forge before I had my daughter.
8. For someone who is interested in volunteering with animals or adopting an animal, what nuggets of wisdom do you share? What nuggets of wisdom were shared with you when you first adopted and volunteered?
Wow! So much to say about that… where to begin? It is a tough field because there is so much heartbreak, but I would tell anyone willing to jump in, to jump in with your whole heart. Yes, it might hurt sometimes, but the rewards are life changing. Each dog or cat you save makes all the other sad stuff worthwhile. There isn’t a dog or cat whose life intersected with mine who didn’t have an impact on me in a beautiful way. Being able to match a dog with an adoptive family and watch them leave the shelter together smiling, tails wagging… best feeling in the world. To those adopting, I would say, never overlook the shy, hesitant dog in the corner or the older dog with the grey muzzle. People tend to want puppies, but truthfully, the older dogs are so much easier. They practically walk into your home and immediately become part of the family routine. I also believe that the older dogs are more grateful for a second chance at love.
Honestly, I don’t recall anyone giving me any words of wisdom. I feel like when I started volunteering all of us were new and naïve. We learned together.
"To those adopting, I would say, never overlook the shy, hesitant dog in the corner or the older dog
with the grey muzzle."
9. In October you are going to Ames, IA and in November to Valparaiso, IN to promote your book. Outside of these trips, I’m curious, what’s next for you?
I am thrilled to be invited to Ames because Iowa is one of the worst states for puppy mills. I am grateful to be able to go and educate and raise awareness. What’s next? Hmmm… well, my husband and I are moving to Sanibel Island, Florida next fall and I have strong aspirations to get involved at CROW, a wildlife rehabilitation clinic on the island. I am sure I will find a domestic animal shelter or rescue to get involved with and foster dogs. I can’t imagine living a life that doesn’t attempt to make things better for animals. I hear a lot of people who live on islands write books, so maybe another book one day…
10. I Admire U, whom do you admire?
My friend, Susan Taney, who founded Lost Dogs IL and Lost Dogs America is a force to reckon with. She has taken on Cook County and the City of Chicago trying to preserve the human-animal bond and advance the care of animals in the area. I have another dear friend, Delreen Schmidt-Lenz who works tirelessly to improve the social work system in the state. And, of course, my step-daughter, Lindsey Monroe who has climbed mountains to pursue her passions of natural childbirth and photography and found such a creative and beautiful way to combine the two. Ultimately, people who follow what they find true in their heart- are the people I admire the most.