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We Talk to Old-School Punk Nathan Levinson About Shelter Reform

The fan created a Facebook page that profiles musicians who support rescue efforts and shelter reform.

Kezia Willingham  |  Mar 17th 2016


Dogster_Heroes_award1_small_19_0_0_3_1_01I will always have a soft spot for punk rock music because it was the first cultural scene I was a part of. Many of my most formative moments were spent as a young punk rocker because it was a movement that adequately expressed the depth of emotion I felt growing up in the shadow of domestic violence and poverty.

While punk had a profound impact on my identity, I eventually grew out of its confines, but the punk rock DIY ethos left its mark. Because my early adolescence was shaped by a belief system that questioned authority and challenged preconceived notions of, well, just about everything, I’ve always been an independent thinker who follows her own path in life, and I often find myself drawn to similar types.

Kezia Willingham as a young punk rocker.

Me as a young punk rocker. (Photo courtesy Kezia Willingham)

Now that I am middle-aged, all of that is in the past, but I still feel comradeship with those who were a part of it all. Imagine my delight when I discovered a Facebook page that brings animal rescue and hardcore punk together: HardcorePunk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform.

I discovered this page a couple of years ago and was pleased to see that internationally known hardcore punk rock musicians are actively promoting rescue by adopting animals and speaking out about animal welfare issues. If you are an old-school punk rocker like me, the language won’t offend you. But if radical questioning of preconceived notions and adult-themed language bothers you, you won’t like the page.

Punk band Sheer Terror as featured on the Hardcore Punk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page.

Punk band Sheer Terror. (Photo courtesy HardcorePunk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page)

I recently got to know Nathan Levinson, an old-school punk and the man behind the Facebook page, after I saw he had profiled Blaine Cook, the former frontman of the Accused, who is now the vocalist for Toe Tag and also runs Zippy’s Giant Burgers close to my home. We got to talking, and I found out he is clearly as passionate about animal rescue as he is about hardcore punk music.

Punk rock “is reality, it’s life, it’s what you go through every day, it’s your hopes and dreams, your beliefs, your convictions, your strengths,” he told me. When asked about bringing his two passions — hardcore and animal rescue — together, he describes the depth of variety found within the various sub-genres of punk. “It’s truly an amazing thing. It transcends the music. There’s movements within the movement: Animal liberation, veganism, no-kill, the Animal Liberation Front. It’s been around for so long it’s become worldwide.”

Nathan Levinson with one of the dogs from the rescue where he volunteers. Photo courtesy his Facebook page.

Nathan Levinson with one of the dogs from the rescue where he volunteers. (Photo courtesy Nathan Levinson)

Levinson is a vocal advocate for the no-kill movement in Bradenton, Florida, where shelter dogs and cats are euthanized for a lack of available adopters. He is also the junior vice president of Forget-Me-Not, a Sarasota, Florida, shelter that rescues death row dogs and provides sanctuary until they find forever homes. Most of the bands profiled on his Facebook page are Levinson’s personal favorites.

Kezia Willingham for Dogster: Tell me how you got involved in animal rescue. What was the pivotal moment for you?

Nathan Levinson: I was working for the city of Bradenton, Florida, doing landscaping and irrigation. Another coworker had been feeding a feral colony of cats but was going to retire and needed someone else to step up and help.

I helped TNR a number of the cats after a couple of the females had litters of kittens. Eventually I got in trouble for feeding the cats and was later fired. I ended up bringing home three of the cats and networked with local rescue groups to rehome a number of the others. During this time, I got in contact with some rescue people on Facebook, and one thing led to another.

The band Leeway as featured on the Hardcore Punk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page.

The band Leeway. (Photo courtesy Hardcore Punk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page)

What’s the story behind the HardcorePunk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page?

I’ve been a part of the hardcore music scene for 30 years and noticed a lot of the lyrics were about animal rights. It seemed like a natural match. I started reaching out to some bands on Facebook to see if they’d be interested in being profiled. I knew some of them had rescued animals of their own.

Most of the people in these bands give to the cause by adopting and speaking out for animal rights. They are often so busy raising their families and playing in their bands that they don’t have a lot of time to actually spend volunteering in shelters or rescues like I do.

Blaine Cook, currently of Toe Tag, formerly of the Accused, who also operates Zippy's Giant Burgers in Seattle. Photo courtesy Hardcore Punk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page.

Blaine Cook of Toe Tag with his rescue pups. (Photo courtesy HardcorePunk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform Facebook page)

Tell us more about Forget-Me-Not

Forget-Me-Not is a 501(c)(3) rescue and can pull animals from the local shelters by agreeing through contracts to pay their medical costs and taking responsibility for their care. We are currently unable to pull any more because we are full of dogs who we rescued when they were hours away from being killed. We’d go in and take the ones who were about to be euthanized.

The municipal shelters put out calls for help via email and Facebook, and we respond to those requests as capacity allows. If we had room, we’d take more. We provide the medical care they need before they are adopted out.

Butterfly and Nathan. Photo courtesy Forget Me Not's Facebook page.

Butterfly and Nathan. (Photo courtesy Forget-Me-Not’s Facebook page)

Right now we are working on socializing Butterfly to meet with a potential adopter. Butterfly is a large mixed-breed dog who I spent most of the weekend walking and playing with. I gave her treats and worked on teaching her some basic commands. Butterfly has been with our rescue for two to three years already, and we really want to find her a home.

Forget-Me-Not has adopted out about 240 dogs over the last three years, and we currently have about 48 dogs looking for forever homes.

What are your tips for someone who wants to get involved in advocacy?

Learn about the no-kill movement and decide what you have time to do, and then get involved. There are so many things, from holding events and walking dogs to volunteering in a shelter and rehabbing wildlife.

Shorty and Rhett on a play date. Photo courtesy Forgetmenot/Facebook

Foster dogs Shorty and Rhett on a play date. (Photo courtesy Forget-Me-Not’s Facebook page)

Spay and neuter is the way to change things. Irresponsible breeding is a big problem, and shelters make money on killing dogs and are subsidized every day for every dog who is in there. It’s crooked, and someday we will have a no-kill nation. It’s going to take a lot to change the system and get laws put in place that they have to follow and be accountable to.

How can Dogster readers help?

There’s this saying we have on the back of our Forget-Me-Not T-shirts: “Adopt; if you can’t adopt, foster; if you can’t foster, donate; if you can’t donate, volunteer; if you can’t volunteer, educate.”

Find out more about Forget-Me-Not and its adoptable animals by following it on Facebook, and check out HardcorePunk Speaking Out for Shelter Reform on Facebook.

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About the Author: Also known as the Breadwinning Laundry Queen, Kezia lives in Seattle with her family, which includes a pack of rescued cats and dogs.  She is a regular contributor to both online and print versions of Catster and Dogster. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Seattle Times, and xoJane.com. You can follow her on Twitter.