A range of people are devoted to helping humans through personal crises. Psychologists and psychiatrists assess our mental health and provide methods of coping. Social workers step in and help when someone isn’t being cared for properly or is being abused. Nonprofits and religious institutions provide aid — and a sense of community — for those who have nowhere else to turn. A network is there to intervene for humans, whatever the crisis.
But who does these things, in a comprehensive way, for our animals?
Dogster Hero Nicole Forsyth and the charity she leads, RedRover, is guilty as charged.
“RedRover is a unique organization in that we help companion animals and their people during a crisis,” she said, “and we also work to strengthen relationships between people and pets as a means to prevent crises, particularly those that involve animal abuse or neglect, such as dogfighting.”
Forsyth is president and CEO of the Sacramento-based animal crisis-management nonprofit, which has offered services to dogs and other companion animals for the past 29 years.
The range of services includes sheltering of animal cruelty victims rescued from dogfighting situations or puppy mills, caring for animals rescued from hoarding environments or natural disasters, and helping low-income pet owners pay for emergency veterinary care for their animals.
The most unique offering, though, is the organization’s special focus on helping domestic abuse victims escape a bad situation without leaving their beloved pets behind.
“We work very closely with this issue because of the pivotal role pets play in whether a victim will leave their abusive situation,” Forsyth said. “These situations are bad for the pets and domestic violence victims because pets are often used in manipulation tactics.”
As an example, Forsyth said abusers will often tell their victims, “If you leave, I will kill or hurt the dog.” Of course, the problem is that there is often nowhere for the human to go as an escape, much less with a canine in tow.
“If the people in a home are being abused, it is very likely the pets are, too, so we want them both to leave, together,” Forsyth said. “This is why we offer grants to victims to board their pets when they escape and grants to family violence shelters to build on-site facilities for pets, which is ideal, since we also know pets are a tremendous comfort during a crisis.”
She said the Safe Place for Pets website is a great starting point that provides help in the search for shelters or other resources that might aid in escaping a dangerous situation.
Forsyth has seen myriad examples of animal cruelty over her 10 years of involvement with RedRover.
“Certain stories really stick in my mind,” she said, citing “a Yorkshire Terrier from a puppy mill so badly neglected that her foot, matted with fur and feces, was stuck to her chin.”
She also mentions Gunny, “a sweet Pit Bull we helped heal from massive wounds as a result of being used as a bait dog in dogfighting.”
Forsyth said it only took her a year or so of hearing such stories before she decided it was a must to get more involved in finding solutions. She said she decided it was essential to “try and find a way to prevent cruelty instead of just put a Band-Aid on it.”
“I love RedRover because we help animals and their people who are truly in crisis and suffering, and it feels really good to know we are helping in these immediate situations,” she explained, “but personally I am most passionate about trying to change the future for animals, to create a more compassionate society where animals are more understood and valued and there is less cruelty and neglect.”
Forsyth said that as a child, she always had an acute awareness of how others around her felt. She had difficulty comprehending how anyone could be intentionally cruel to our furry, innocent-hearted friends. It wasn’t until she was older that she learned that empathy has to be nurtured in childhood for it to truly come to fruition in the adult.
“This is why I pushed for RedRover to develop, test, and expand the RedRover Readers program as a way to prevent animal cruelty and neglect by nurturing empathy early in kids,” she said. “This is also why I wrote our new interactive e-book series, The Restricted Adventures of Raja, coming out this April, as a way to spread our RedRover Readers program to children more quickly.”
Forsyth’s own animal family, who allow her to actively exercise her own empathy on a daily basis, includes dogs, cats, and even unlikely feathered friends. There’s 13-year-old Border Collie, Gertie, and 5-year-old mixed-breed, Jasper. She also has two cats, Milo and Riley, and two chickens, Rosie and Ginny.
“They all, including the chickens, have unique personalities, and I love trying to figure them out individually,” Forsyth said. “They are endlessly entertaining, fantastic companions, and I have a different kind of connection with each.”
She describes her mixed-breed pup, Jasper, as “very sweet and mellow; he loves to play and is super jealous if I sweet talk with anyone else.” She adopted him from a rescue group, which got him from a high-kill shelter in California’s Central Valley.
“We adopted him when he was about 6 months old, and I never raised an easier puppy,” she said.
The other dog, Gertie, was adopted from an animal shelter. Forsyth said that in typical Border Collie fashion, “She is only really relaxed when everyone around her is not moving, and even in her senior years she loves a walk more than anything.”
Forsyth said people wishing to help RedRover might want to consider either becoming a monthly donor or a volunteer. Details about these options are available at RedRover.org.
“We have dozens of volunteer opportunities, whether someone has 10 minutes or 10 days to dedicate to helping animals in crisis and strengthening the bond between people and animals,” she said.