Motley Zoo Animal Rescue Works With Rock Stars to Find Dogs Homes

We chat with founder jme Thomas, who hit on a great way to give dogs more exposure: Name them after rockers!

Kezia Willingham  |  Jan 13th 2015


Seattle-area folks who help dogs and cats can’t help but be aware of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, which was recently awarded a KEXP-FM Community Partnership Grant. It will raise funds for the organization during March. KEXP is hands down the hippest independent radio station in Seattle, and for the rescue to receive one of its awards is quite an honor.

I wanted to learn more about Motley Zoo, and its founder, jme Thomas, was kind enough to answer my questions via email.

Dogster: How did Motley Zoo get started?

jme Thomas: Motley Zoo was founded in 2009, after my husband and I became disillusioned with some other rescues we volunteered for. After two years, we saw there were things that worked, but there was a lot that didn’t — and we believed that a “better” way was possible, one that appreciated and respected the volunteers more and ensured animals that didn’t fall through the cracks; we wanted one where quality would always trump quantity.

We had met other likeminded people through this work, and those people joined us to comprise our board. The board has since changed a bit, but my husband and I remain, along with Nancy Jones, who had joined shortly after founding. Thankfully, we are a close group of people who really provide a strong support system to this organization.

Since our inception, with a current crew of 150 volunteers, we have rescued and rehomed more than 1,400 animals.

What kinds of animals do you rescue? Do you have a shelter or foster network?

We are foster-based and primarily rescue dogs and cats, but as the name “zoo” implies, we are open to whatever animals are in need. Our fosters’ availability, skills, experience, and willingness dictate which animals we can take and when. We have the occasional “small furry” house-pet, but we have also helped birds, a pig, and even a cow!

Primarily we work to support the shelters, so they usually contact us when they are overflowing or if animals have a medical or behavioral need that can’t be properly addressed there. This can mean a dog with a broken leg who requires crate rest and frequent care, for example.

What would you say makes your rescue unique?

Motley Zoo is unique in a few ways — namely our fresh, forward-thinking and go-get-’em approach, which has helped propel us forward. Part of this is our rock-and-roll aesthetic. We have a fun, cool vibe, which attracts many followers.

Besides our look and attitude, we also have fun marketing gigs that help raise awareness and attention to our cause. For example, we name our animals after musicians and bands (or their songs), and then take the animals to meet [the musicians] when they come to town. We take pictures with them and have them sign memorabilia, which we hang throughout the studio, and the musicians share on their social media, which helps generate interest not only in the general idea of rescue, but in specific animals as well.

When you’re looking through a bunch of animals online, and you see one named Tommy Lee or Nikki Sixx [of Motley Crue], you’re going to take notice! This not only gives the animals more individuality, but it increases their rate of adoption, too. Our animals have met Snoop Dogg, ZZ Top, Slayer, Rob Zombie and his band, Tommy Lee, and many more. It has been an amazing opportunity to spread the word about how rockin’ rescue can be.

How do you connect with the celebrities? Do they ever adopt from you?

We are so fortunate and proud of this aspect of our marketing! It actually was born out of a dream I had one night. While anticipating attending an upcoming Rancid show, I chose the band members and a bunch of songs for a crew of cats and kittens who came in. The night before the show, I dreamed I took the kittens to the concert and showed the band, who thought it was hilarious. I woke up and was laughing telling my husband, who also thought it was hilarious … then I stopped mid-laugh and said, “I’m going to do that.” He said, “What? You’re going to bring kittens to a concert?”

“Yes,” I said, like this was the most normal thing in the world!

He looked at me funny (although he should know by now not to question my ideas!), and I went about making my plan. I showed up early to the show, handed the tour manager our card, and explained what I was there for. The little crate of mewing kittens certainly helped drive it home.

The band thought this was fabulous, and I was taken backstage to do a quick photo shoot. They were so nice and spent more than a half hour with me, asking about what we do and talking about their pets — they even invited us to be on the guest list!

Of course, when I called my husband and told him that, he asked which show was next — and our celebrity meet-and-greet concept was born. Through some of the other meetings, we hooked up with a DJ from a radio station and her photographer friend, who helped connect us to more band encounters.

Since then, as we’ve become known for doing this, it’s been a lot easier to set up meetings, even last-minute ones. We have even been invited to concerts and festivals to hang out backstage and in the VIP lounge, to provide the artists some much needed comfort and relaxation. It’s been a big hit!

I love your T-shirts. Who designs them?

I come up with most of the ideas, but my husband is the true artist, who perfects and helps them come to fruition. I used to design clothing myself, so this is a fun outlet for me now that I am too busy to do it running Motley Zoo.

Would you like to share a story about any of rescues you currently have?

Mr. Melvin for sure. He is a red Miniature Pinscher named after Buzz Osborne of the Melvins. He even got to meet him! Melvin was a bit shy with him, but as a guardian of rescued terriers himself, Buzz was very sweet and patient.

He came to us from a local shelter with a grade-four heart murmur. When you pick him up, you can actually feel the blood flow in his chest, bypassing his heart. It’s scary. You’d think this would make him fragile, weak, lethargic, and sickly — but no! He is the fastest, spunkiest, most lively and playful dog. A bit of a spaz actually, but so super sweet and lovable. He just turned one year old on Nov. 7.

He needs a surgery to save his life, which will cost $5,000 to $10,000. We have never done this before … we routinely spend thousands on animals, but four thousand has been the limit thus far (for an eight-week-old puppy with a liver shunt). Mr. Melvin will be available for adoption from Motley Zoo Animal Rescue after his surgery.

This is a very prohibitive obstacle, but as we vowed never to let any dollar figure cloud our judgment, we are hoping we can go forward with it, raise the funds, and find him a permanent home. The surgery is indeed a requirement for him to live a full life. We are talking with a college in the state, to see whether it can perform the surgery, but it is five hours away and requires a few visits in the meantime, so we are seeking a temporary foster situation nearer the school to try and arrange that.

Sadly, too, his foster family here had a house fire and are currently displaced. They can no longer have him in their home, as they are staying in temporary digs themselves, with their own pets. You know you have great fosters when they are crying at having to hand over their foster dog. She just kept saying she didn’t want him to go, and when they get things figured out they want him back.

So Melvin is again in need of fostering, for a different reason. This poor guy never seems to catch a break.

In the meanwhile, he’s hanging out with me, coming to Rock Star Treatment [Motley Zoo’s doggie daycare], and having a blast. But he misses his foster family, and my house is really boring for him. I have older, sedentary dogs, and he needs a bit more action. He’s a true rock star and wants to party like one — at least until we can get him the surgery he needs. Then maybe he’ll slow down a tad for recovery, but he’ll no doubt be back to his usual “live fast” lifestyle very soon!

Find out more about Motley Zoo on its website (check out the T-shirts and hoodies!) and on Facebook (where you’ll also find Rock Star Treatment). Also check out Motley Zoo on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Read more about celebrities helping dogs:

Do you know of a rescue hero — dog, human, or group — we should profile on Dogster? Write us at dogsterheroes@dogster.com.

About Kezia Willingham: Kezia lives in Seattle with her pack of rescued cats and dogs. She identifies as a Breadwinning Laundry Queen who works for Head Start by day and is a frequent contributor to Catster and Dogster. Her writing has appeared in multiple anthologies, the New York Times, and the Seattle Times.