Motley Zoo raises revenue, in part, through its Rock Star Treatment Services, in Redmond that offers doggie daycare, pet training, and boarding.
With no employees and over 200 volunteers now, Motley Zoo Animal Rescue has saved more than 3,700 animals since 2009. Their adoption return rate is less than two percent. Their save rate and return rate have remained steady for MZAR’s entire 12 years of existence.
RASKC’s recently interviewed jme thomas, MZAR’s executive director. She and her spouse Bryan co-founded the organization and have fostered over 1,500 animals themselves!
How would you describe the mission of your organization?
Motley Zoo’s mission is of course to save the lives of animals in need- whatever species we can help- by providing individualized care for animals that need more than the basics. We believe that all animals are valuable and if they have a reasonable prognosis and quality of life, then nothing will stand in the way of us saving them- especially not the number at the bottom of a veterinary bill. We have had great successes with animals that others did not think could be saved- and we are so grateful our supporters helped us try.
What values are important to Motley Zoo?
Motley Zoo has a strong culture that is founded on positivity, hard work, camaraderie, and acceptance. As the name implies, not only do we rescue many different types of animals, but we ourselves are a motley crew of individuals all coming together over the common value of saving animals. When we chose the name Motley Zoo, it was specifically to show diversity and inclusion- not just of animal species, but of the people involved. We are the literal definition of a motley crew- and we’re all proud of it! Our volunteers and staff go above and beyond every day, making sure the animals have everything they need- and that their fellow crew members do too. It makes me laugh that our crew “fights” over who will do the work, because they all want to pull their own weight and make sure nothing falls to others. I can’t thank them enough for how hard they work on behalf of the animals that need us. Everyone gives their all, and everyone does whatever is needed, so we can all keep doing what we love.
Despite seeming like a large organization, we really aren’t. There are just a handful of people who really turn the cogs and keep things going from a management standpoint. For example, as Executive Director, I am still very visible in the daily operations, working the desk at the facility, training volunteers, and writing grants- and even working in the dogs rooms. While we have more help and support, our system is still very much of “do what needs to be done” and we all do it together.
Pate, our Animal Care Director, and I worked full time (80+ hours/ week) for seven years before we ever drew a wage (which was really made possible by our dog daycare services). Even now we still work 60 hours/ week- and probably will forever, because there is always that much to do. This is certainly not the business to be in if you want to pursue wealth, but it will make your life rich in purpose!
What are some of your organization’s achievements that you’re most proud of?
In addition to what is noted above, I am also excited that our Rock Star Treatment Services (dog daycare, training, and boarding) have been extremely successful for more than eight years now, especially as it was the first in the nation of its kind- and has offered us many opportunities and advantages we’d not have had without this hybrid model.
Even if we don’t adopt out the largest number of animals compared to some other organizations, we provide each animal the care they need most.
What would you most like the public to know about the Motley Zoo Animal Rescue?
I really wish everyone understood how hard it is to be a rescue, let alone be a good rescue- or how hard we work behind the scenes, literally around the clock! There are never enough hours in the day, people or funds- and even when you achieve “success,” there’s still more work in front of you and not “enough” to get it all done. It can really take a toll on your mind and body- but I know that my life has meaning and purpose, which provides me comfort during difficult times. Running a charity is exceptionally rewarding, but every day is a miracle when an organization like ours stays in business for another day.
Please describe your volunteer program.
Our volunteer program offers a variety of opportunities from fostering to working in our facility to events- and work that can be done from home. People typically start with our general volunteer roles. We have an online course that walks them step by step through a variety of modules where you learn about how Motley Zoo works and where we need help. From there, people can attend our events on evenings and weekends. We have projects and other ideas for those who may not be able to commit to a weekly shift- so there are plenty of one-off opportunities for people to do, so it can work with their schedule.
Other volunteers continue on and start training at our facility to help with the housekeeping and animal care, including learning about dog behavior through videos and learning to run playgroups. This has led some volunteers to our dog training apprenticeship, where we provide free education and hands-on learning that prepares people to become dog trainers!
Lastly, other volunteers take the fostering route to animal care, where they take an animal into their home and care for him or her as a family member until a suitable forever home is found. We offer plenty of learning opportunities and support for our fosters (cats, dogs, and small animals), including dog training classes and daycare for their foster dogs.
What kind of help- if any- would your organization most like from the public?
Financial donations are of the utmost support, since veterinary care is our biggest expense- to the tune of approximately $15,000 each month! Without funding, we simply cannot help any animals, as we do not receive any veterinary care for free- and medications and surgeries can be expensive. And as we have our dog daycare, training, and boarding services as a fundraiser, this helps support our overhead- so 100% of all donations go directly to animal care.
We also need people to help implement the use of those funds through fostering, since these volunteer homes are where the animals live until adoption. We don’t have animals staying overnight on-site, so everyone we care for is living with a family- and there are never enough families available for everyone we’re asked to take. Fostering can be intimidating and scary initially, but we always tell people thinking about it is harder than actually doing it- especially as with the time, effort, and consideration we take in placing our animals even temporarily, we ensure that the experience will be fun and rewarding.
For those who want to dip a toe in, general volunteering is the way to go, as we have many activities, tasks, and projects that we need support for in order to continue this critical work. It takes many people doing even just one small thing to save lives!
What is your organization’s vision for the future?
The one thing Motley Zoo can’t do is take on animals we don’t think are adoptable. These are animals we know can live a good quality of life, but may fail to be adopted due to their particular challenges. For example, incontinent animals are really hard to find even a temporary place for, never mind an adoptive home. They may have nothing else wrong with them, but most people don’t want to deal with that. While this is understandable, we also don’t think any animal should die for it either.
We’d like to eventually have a sanctuary where we can care for those kinds of animals in a group setting, where the responsibility is shared- and it offers the animals the chance to live out their life forever…independent of whether someone would adopt them. We also believe that seeing and meeting animals in this environment would help show people that many “disabled” animals aren’t actually that hard to care for…and animals we didn’t think would find homes, will!
How has COVID affected Motley Zoo?
COVID was very hard on us, because we had more demands and less funding- especially as our dog daycare services were closed for three months, and that’s usually what helps us on a rainy day when fundraising is difficult. We started the shutdowns with a stray dog that cost $7,000 in surgeries- and that was just the start of a very expensive season of emergencies- where we spent three times as much at the ER than in prior years.
There were some good changes too. Previously cats would never get adopted from a picture on the internet and had to be in front of people in our Cat Lounge or in a partnering pet store- but COVID made it so that cats were able to be adopted just from their online bio, so we adopted out many more cats and kittens in general than we ever had before! Dogs were also in extremely high demand, but we didn’t have enough in care for the applicant requests- which was a first!
This was a good problem to have, although I think this made a lot of people turn to buying dogs from breeders and puppy mills, which ultimately, is a step back in our progress in animal welfare. We’re seeing this come back on our field, as well, because the people that bought dogs realized they fell for the lie that so many people do when thinking they “need” to buy vs adopt- and now have dogs that don’t suit their needs, they didn’t do enough training or socialization, and now they can’t handle the year-old dog they spent thousands on. This is more true than adoptions being returned- which we haven’t been seeing as much of, I think because with rescue and adoption the focus is more on matching the animal to the families’ lifestyle, not just handing them whatever animal they will pay for. Adopters also have support in the rescues and shelters they adopted from if they struggle, which isn’t true of many breeders and certainly, not of puppy mills.
We had to adapt quickly as well. Our daycare services were hit hard though as even when we reopened, people were working from home and didn’t “need” daycare- not realizing how important it would be for their dogs to keep up on their socialization and spending time away from their families, so as not to develop separation anxiety, a situation which is still playing out currently. But what we noticed is that all the people that did buy dogs and adopt during the shutdowns needed training- so we pivoted our model to be more training than daycare. This has not only been extremely beneficial to the dogs, but has again helped us again begin to save for a rainy day and those really unexpected and expensive issues.
How have Motley Zoo and RASKC worked together?
Motley Zoo’s relationship with RASKC is one of collaboration and cooperation. RASKC does things we can’t, and we can do things they can’t- this is part of the amazing symbiosis we have within our state’s animal welfare system. RASKC is who we call regarding stray animals and abuse cases, as they are the authorities in that regard- and also where we suggest owners surrender their animals to when they need to be rehomed, especially quickly. Finding placement for an animal in foster care takes time- and truly, not every animal can or should be in rescue. Those that need help in a tight timeframe should go through the shelters like RASKC, because that’s why they have a large facility with kennels waiting.
However, sometimes RASKC gets animals that require more time, attention, and funding than they can provide per animal, and they call on us to take them and attend to their specific needs- although I would like to say, RASKC does an amazing job of going the distance for their animals, especially in the length of time animals are allowed to stay. RASKC doesn’t euthanize for time or space and they do not get enough credit for this. We are always singing RASKC’s praises to others, to help change that stigma. Especially as a government-run organization, RASKC is an amazing shelter that does right by the animals and is a great place to find animals to adopt, as well as when you need to surrender them. Animals have great opportunities there- and RASKC will always try rescue before anything else.
We have a great relationship with RASKC and so appreciate the hard workers there. We are particularly familiar with Chelsea Eyekel, Sarah Luthens, and Gene Mueller who are long-time, esteemed colleagues we love working with. Recently we have been working with Adryan Jones too, who we work with directly to transfer animals to our rescue.
What are some “fun facts” about Motley Zoo Animal Rescue?
One of the things Motley Zoo is known for is our backstage meet and greets with bands, which is something we helped make popular. We received a lot of press when we met with musicians like Snoop Dogg, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Motley Crue, Elle King (who adopted with us), Billie Eilish, and more. Other organizations saw this opportunity too- so now many musicians tell us they have met other rescues on tour and that many groups are following in our footsteps.
The funny thing is that this idea came to me in a dream- and when I woke up, I was laughing so hard at how absurd the idea seemed. But I suddenly just stopped laughing and said, “I’m going to do that!” Even my husband thought it was a bizarre idea to bring animals to meet bands, but after spending 45 minutes with his favorite band, Rancid, he realized I wasn’t so crazy after all! Since then, the radio stations have invited us to participate in their concerts and festivals so we have met hundreds of bands and musicians- and many even ask for us to bring animals to play with when they come to town.
While we are very fortunate to know many celebrities, many people think we are funded by them, which is not true. Very few (we can count on one hand) have actually donated, so this effort has been more of a marketing and awareness campaign than one of financial support. I just like to clear that up because we work very hard for our fundraising efforts and we are not just handed anything, even by the many celebs we know!