+

This woman doesn't want to rescue dogs. She wants to make sure their owners never give them away.

The way we think about animal rescue might be completely backward.

Six years ago, Kelsey Westbrook watched someone throw a pit bull puppy off a bridge.

Saving Sunny co-founder Kelsey Westbrook. Photo by Jessica Amburgey.


For the next several minutes, she looked on helplessly as the stunned dog paddled circles in the river below, struggling to save herself. Eventually, the fire department arrived and pulled the dog to safely. Westbrook was so determined to take in the dog, it almost cost her the apartment she was living in at the time.

Yet Westbrook has no patience for the idea that people who give up their pets are heartless or cruel or "bad people."

"We think 'Oh, what a jerk. How can people just dump their family members at a shelter? This is awful,'" she told Upworthy. "Once I started doing [animal rescue] work in this community, that's like nails on a chalkboard to me now."

"This community" is Portland, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Louisville, Kentucky, where Westbrook and her team operate Community Dog Resource Center. Once a month, the CDRC sets up shop in the Portland Community Center to distribute pet food, offer free spay and neuter services, and schedule check-in appointments with pet owners in the area.

The CDRC's mission is simple: to prevent beloved pets from becoming homeless in the first place.

“The homes that we go into, people love their pets so much, just like their human children."

A West Louisville resident takes advantage of CDRC's free spay and neuter services. Photo by Jessica Amburgey.

After the incident on the bridge, Westbrook and her team founded Saving Sunny, a pit bull rescue organization that at first only took in animals from local kill shelters. They soon realized, however, they were missing a big piece of the puzzle: Most of the time, people who leave their dogs at shelters really, really don't want to give them up in the first place.

"We all go through rough patches financially," Westbrook explained. "... And sometimes people can be struggling to put food on their table for their human children, much less their dog. So sometimes they just have to come to terms with the fact that they can't afford to feed their dog, and they end up giving their dog to a shelter."

"These are loving pet owners that really care about their pet, that have to make these tough decisions," she said.

This is certainly true in West Louisville, where, according to Westbrook's organization, there is only one vet clinic in a 40-block radius and thousands of residents who don't own cars. By providing free spay and neuter surgeries, in-home behavior consultations, and veterinary services, the CDRC hopes to help alleviate much the financial and logistical burden on residents who may be stretching themselves thin trying to care for a dog.

“We've had people in tears saying, 'Oh my gosh, thank you so much, now I can keep my pet,'" Westbrook said.

“It's not true that the level of economic status you have, the greater it is, the better home it is for a dog."

The line at CDRC on a Saturday morning. Photo by Jessica Amburgey.

In order to meet her clients on their terms, Westbrook first had to recognize that any home has the potential to be a good one for a pet. That meant checking her assumptions at the door.

“I've gone into homes that don't necessarily have proper furniture, or there are fleas everywhere," Westbrook said. "Dogs aren't thinking about it that way because they're getting food, getting love, and they have shelter."

No matter what your means are, the decision to take in a dog, or any pet, is a pretty standard side-effect of having a big heart. Like one CDRC client who, despite suffering from cancer and raising her three elementary school-age grandchildren, rescued a stray chihuahua because she was so heartbroken seeing it out on the street every day. Or the many local residents who adopt puppies from overwhelmed neighbors whose dogs have a litter.

“There have been homes that I've gone into and looked around and thought, 'You know, they really need the money from these puppies,'" Westbrook observed. "That's when your whole experience changes. When you realize that they were breeding their dog to survive — to feed their human children."

Making sure the CDRC's services reach the people who need them most has meant working hard to gain community confidence, which Westbrook and her team continue to do every day.

“This morning I picked up eight pit bulls from one woman's house to be spayed or neutered," she said. "It literally took me talking on the phone with her and going to her house in person twice, talking on the phone at least five times, for her to believe that I was not the dog pound. That I wasn't going to take her dogs and not bring them back. You just have to establish trust because a lot of time they've been burned by authorities in the past."

“Establish trust. Build relationships, go in judgment-free, and you can actually end up meeting some really amazing people."

West Louisville resident Marchelle with Poppie, the chihuahua she rescued. Photo by Jessica Amburgey.

The CDRC is still a small operation. It can't prevent every West Louisville pet from becoming homeless. It can't be residents' only source of dog food, flea and tick medication, and vet care.

What it can do is provide an invaluable service: help without judgment.

“We really operate in a judgment-free zone," Westbrook explained. "If people aren't ready to get their pet spayed or neutered, that's OK. We'll ask you again next month. We're going to tell you all about the benefits, and we're going to tell you how much it's going to help your dog health-wise and how much it's going to help your community and how much money it's going to save you in the long run. Yes, we're going to tell you all those things, but if you're not ready yet, that's OK. We're not going to tell you to leave either."

The hard work and acceptance seems to have paid off. To date, according to Westbrook, the CDRC has assisted over 2,000 dog owners with free services and spayed and neutered over 160 pets.

Animal surrenders in the Portland area are down 13% since the CDRC opened its doors in 2014.

The organization still has bigger goals it would like to meet, and it remains to be seen whether its model can be duplicated elsewhere. But for the moment, its remarkable success comes down to its guiding philosophy:

“No matter where you come from, what you look like, yes, we will help you and your pet."

CDRC board member, Tiffany Hardesty (left), with West Louisville resident Brittany Case and her dogs, Layla and Moses. Photo by Jessica Amburgey.

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

This company makes it easier than ever to enjoy guilt-free fairly traded coffee

Thanks to Lifeboost, good coffee can be good for everyone.

Unsplash

Lifeboost coffee

Americans love coffee. Like, we really, seriously, truly love it. According to one recent survey, 75 percent of U.S. adults drink coffee at least occasionally, while 53 percent—about 110 million people—drink it every single day. For some, coffee is an essential part of their morning ritual. For others, it’s something they enjoy when they hit the proverbial wall in the late afternoon. But either way, millions of people use coffee to boost energy, focus, and productivity.


Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Buffy Sainte-Marie shares what led to her openly breastfeeding on 'Sesame Street' in 1977

The way she explained to Big Bird what she was doing is still an all-time great example.

"Sesame Street" taught kids about life in addition to letters and numbers.

In 1977, singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie did something revolutionary: She fed her baby on Sesame Street.

The Indigenous Canadian-Ameican singer-songwriter wasn't doing anything millions of other mothers hadn't done—she was simply feeding her baby. But the fact that she was breastfeeding him was significant since breastfeeding in the United States hit an all-time low in 1971 and was just starting to make a comeback. The fact that she did it openly on a children's television program was even more notable, since "What if children see?" has been a key pearl clutch for people who criticize breastfeeding in public.

But the most remarkable thing about the "Sesame Street" segment was the lovely interchange between Big Bird and Sainte-Marie when he asked her what she was doing.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

Linda Ronstadt's 1970's ballad is a chart-topping hit once again thanks to 'The Last of Us'

The iconic 70s song "Long, Long Time" was an integral part of an unforgettable episode that fans are calling a masterpiece.

Linda Ronstadt (left), Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett (right)

HBO’s emotional third episode of the zombie series “The Last Of Us” became an instant favorite among fans, thanks in no small part to Linda Ronstadt’s late 1970s ballad, “Long, Long Time.”

Using the song as the episode’s title, “Long, Long Time,” moves away from the show’s main plot to instead focus on a heartbreakingly beautiful love story between Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), from its endearing start all the way to its bittersweet end.

The song makes its first appearance during the initial stages of Bill and Frank’s romance as they play the tune on the piano, just before they share their first kiss.

We see their entire lives together play out—one of closeness, devotion, and savoring homegrown strawberries—until they meet their end. The song then plays on the radio, bringing the bottle episode to a poignant close.

Keep ReadingShow less
Joy

34-year-old man is learning to read on TikTok in series of motivational videos

His reading skills have improved so much that he plans to read 100 books this year.

@oliverspeaks1/TikTok

Oliver James is the biggest star on BookTok.

With over 125,000 followers, 34-year-old Oliver James is a star in the BookTok community. And it all started with a very simple goal: Learn to read.

For most kids, school is a place where they can develop a relationship with learning in a safe environment. For James, school was the opposite. Growing up with learning and behavior disabilities subjected him to abusive teaching practices in special education, which, of course, did nothing to help.

"The special education system at the time was more focused on behavioral than educating," he told Good Morning America. "So they spent a lotta time restraining us, a lotta time disciplining us, a lotta times putting us in positions to kinda shape us to just not act out in class."

Keep ReadingShow less
via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

Keep ReadingShow less