Adopting a pet from a shelter is a win-win-win, and the need is greater than ever
Best Friends
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Peach was just a kitten when Chris Henderson fell head over heels for her. He had recently moved from Scotland to Houston, and the whole city was under quarantine due to the coronavirus pandemic. Chris was waiting for his fiancé Emma's visa to come through so she could join him, and he was feeling a bit lonely. He thought perhaps a pet might help with that. When he found Peach on Best Friends Animal Society's website, he was struck by her.

"There was just something unusual about her coat, and she looked pretty adorable," Chris said.

Best Friends

A few days later, he met Peach at her foster home and the rest, as they say, is history. After he adopted her, he was grateful to have learned about the kitten's habits from her foster mom.

"Peach uses her voice a lot when she wants something," Chris said. "It would have worried me, as it was different to the cats I had growing up. But knowing that was just her nature really put my mind at ease."


Emma met Peach via video chat and was instantly smitten. Once Emma arrived in the U.S., the couple adopted another kitten from Best Friends—a little black and white sister for Peach named Lyra.

"Adopting her was the best decision I made during the pandemic by a large margin," Chris says.

Best Friends

Chris and Emma weren't the only ones who turned to pets for comfort and companionship when the pandemic hit. A record number of pets found temporary or forever homes in 2020. In fact, some animal shelters saw their kennels cleared out for the first time ever as people sought pets to keep them company.

However, pandemic pet adoptions have waned as people have started to come out of isolation and return to work. According to Best Friends, pet adoptions are down 3.7% overall this year. Meanwhile, the number of animals coming into shelters in June was up 5.9% compared to 2020. Despite rumors of hordes of people returning their "pandemic pets", the data doesn't actually show that trend; however, shelters are struggling with too many pets in need and not enough homes to help them.

Adding to the crisis, shelters are experiencing the same employee shortage affecting many industries nationwide. A survey of more than 150 shelters and animal organizations conducted by Best Friends found that 88% are short on staff, 57% have cut hours or programs due to short staffing, and 41% are down more than 25% of normal staff levels. This, of course, puts more stress on those who are still working in shelters.

"I've said it many times before, but now more than ever, we need the public to adopt or foster," says Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization dedicated to saving dogs and cats in shelters around the country and helping families to keep pets in homes.

"If you have been considering getting a new pet, now is the time. The public stepped up during the pandemic, and we need to do it again because countless animals' lives are at stake if this progress backslides."

Adopting or fostering from shelters genuinely does save lives. When animals outnumber people willing to take them in and the cost of caring for the animals outweighs available resources, animals unfortunately end up being euthanized. Thanks to advocates like Best Friends, the U.S. has gone from killing 17 million animals per year to about 347,000, which is great, but we need to remember that each one of those numbers is a life lost. Best Friends is dedicated to making the U.S. an entirely no-kill nation by 2025—an ambitious goal, but one that is within reach if more people choose pet adoption.

Best Friends

People who love animals but don't want to commit to lifelong care can foster, which frees up space in shelters, gives animals a temporary loving home until they are adopted, and helps get animals socialized with humans.

Fostering can also be a first step. Alix Walburn had only been a foster mom to a sweet dog named Giddy for about a week when she realized she didn't want anyone else to adopt her. Giddy had heartworm disease, and the plan was for Alix to foster her just during her course of medication. As it turned out, Giddy snuck right into Alix's heart with her cute face, loving eyes, and cuddly, playful personality.

"She will just curl up next to you, or put her little head on your lap," says Walburn. "No matter where you are, she just instantly melts into your hands."

Foster-Win! Heartworm positive dog gets adopted by amazing foster www.youtube.com

"Shelters, and the animals in them, need our help in a big way," Castle says. "Pets have been a part of our lives long before the pandemic, and we want to work with families to help them find their best friend while also saving a life."

Not everyone is in a position to adopt or foster animals, of course. But you can still help animals by donating or volunteering with your local shelter. You can also support the Best Friends mission of making the U.S. a no-kill nation by 2025 by checking out the Pet Lifesaving Dashboard to see where your community ranks. (Shelters with a 90% save rate are considered no-kill shelters, since some animals arrive at shelters too injured or sick to save. So far, just two states have achieved no-kill status, so there's work to be done.)

Adopting or fostering a pet from a shelter is a win-win-win choice—the animal gets a loving home, the shelter gets space freed up to help more animals, and you get a new friend to love and enjoy. If you've been thinking of adding a cat or dog or some other pet to your life, now is the time. Go to bestfriends.org to learn more about how to adopt or foster a pet.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."