Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 47 – Zeus’ Rescues

Zeus’ Rescues was opened by Michelle, a passionate, dedicated animal rescuer who will go to any lengths to save animals. Zeus’ Rescue was the branch off from Zeus’ Place (boarding and grooming) which was opened to help support Michelle’s rescue habits. From driving around in a bus after Hurricane Katrina hit to flying a plane to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, Michelle goes over and beyond to rescue animals in need! She has made it her mission to not only save animals but to help the people of her community know of the importance of animal welfare.


Website: https://zeusrescues.org/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zeusrescues/

Welcome to the ARPA Animal Rescue of the Week podcast featuring outstanding organizations around the country that are helping animals and the people who rescue them. This podcast is proudly sponsored by Doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue.

Zeus’s Rescues was founded by a dedicated animal rescuer named Michelle. She started by opening. Zeus’ Place that was used for boarding and grooming, but ultimately, it was supporting her rescue habits. In 2016, after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michelle was on a mission to save the lives of as many animals as she could by driving around in a bus, looking for animals in need of food, medical care, and a safe place. This passionate rescue finds homes for over 700 pets annually and they’re not looking to stop there.

Hi, Michelle. Welcome to the show. Hi, Kimberly. Thanks for having me. Of course. I’m so excited to learn more about your organization. It did some reading, and I loved your back story of how you got started and everything like that. So I’m super excited to have you with us today. It’s a fun one. Yes. So you are the founder of Zeus’ rescues. Is that correct? I am. Yeah. Zeus is my chocolate lab. I named the business after him, and the rescue after him because he was such a good boy. Oh, do you still have him? No, unfortunately, he passed away right before Hurricane Katrina. He had spindle cell sarcoma on one of its legs. And so he lost to his cancer. Oh, poor baby. Well, it’s so great to hear that, you know, you’ve got your rescue named after him, and he obviously meant a lot. So, like I said, I’m super intrigued by talking to you. So can you go ahead and share with me a little bit about your organization and how you got it started? Absolutely. So Zeus’ Rescues was born after Hurricane Katrina.

I’ve been rescuing my whole life. And after Katrina I lost my house and basically everything we owned. Me and my husband and my daughter, who was two at the time. And I said, You know what? I got to do something I love for the rest of my life. So I bought a building and opened a boarding and grooming establishment to front my rescuing habit because I couldn’t have them all going through my house anymore, because I didn’t have a house. So that’s kinda how it started, and my business model for the for profit portion of the business was basically to pay all the bills, pay all the salaries, and rescue as many animals as I can. And it’s still actually, kind of, holds true that. Wow. And I mean, that such a touching story. Because the fact that you lose everything, and the fact that you still have that mindset to build something bigger, and continue the great work that you do for the animals. That’s truly inspiring. And I’ve noticed reading in the local business. They did a blog about you, right? Yeah, Yeah, I’m truly inspired, and you definitely go over and beyond. So I saw in there that you actually drove around in a bus to rescue animals after Hurricane Katrina. Can you share with me about that a little bit? Actually, after the Baton Rouge floods in 2016 during after Hurricane Katrina, I was working with Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. And they needed a local who knew the streets without street signs because most of them had blown over and but also drive a boat, which I could do because I’m from South Louisiana, I’m a Cajun, and also who’s good at rescuing animals, which is what I did was sort of a perfect for them. So we take the boat out every morning and go out to the lower ports of the Ninth Ward and start pulling animals out of houses that were left behind that people were calling Best Friend saying, “Hey, I left my house.” You know, my dog of a house and a legion feels, you know, this address that we go in and pull him out to safety and reunite them.

So the bus driving, though that terrifying bus driving trip actually came after the Baton Rouge Floods in 2016, and you see what had happened was, we weren’t prepared for this. It wasn’t a hurricane, And just this training line of storms came and hit just west of New Orleans, where we worked with a lot of the rescue groups out there. And unfortunately a lot of the roads were flooded over, so we actually couldn’t get to the shelters to pull them out to safety for quite some time just because they’re inaccessible. So what the shelter owners did was open up all the kennel doors to allow the animals to at least swim away if they needed to. It was just the humane thing to do at the time, because the waters came up really fast. So what the animals did was they ended up swimming up onto the roof because that’s how high the water line got and then got stuck. Unfortunately, some of them fought with each other, and it wasn’t great for a lot of them. Finally, when the waters receded, you know, it was 10 days after, 9–10 days, somewhere in there, we could finally get to those shelters. And so I was like, I need something big. I need a big vehicle that’s a high water vehicle and I need to be able to get as many animals out, and to the vet’s office, that I possibly can. And sure enough, one of my friends goes like, “Hey, I have a Mardi Gras party bus doesn’t have these seats, that’s kind of perfect for you. It has a disco ball and a Zachary machine and a place for a grill.” I don’t need all that, it doesn’t have a radio, either, because you have a band that plays on and on, like that’s fine. It’s perfect.

So I got about 92nd driving lesson in the parking lot of his. He has a big company, he said, “look, these are air brakes. You ever driven with these before?” I’m like, “No.” “Well, this still works, so great. So it’s probably best. Here’s how you got to make this thing stop”. And I’m like,  “Okay”. And then he said, “Now, I’ll see you when you get back, have fun”. And I took off for one of the most rewarding and scary times in my entire life. I drove out to as close as we could get to the shelter to a parking lot where the people in the boats were coming in with the animals. And we were loading and assessing their injuries, and loading them up either on my bus to take directly to the vet, or if they were in okay condition. We had some other rescue groups out there and they were taking them out to their rescue locations, and that took a couple of hours, and I got them to the vet and we didn’t lose any of them, so it was a great mission. I never want to do that again, but I know that if I have to, I can. That is amazing. Like if you could see my face right now, I just have the biggest smile because it is truly inspiring that you were able to do that and the community was able to kind of pull together to rescue these animals and at a such a hard time, like I’ve never been through anything like that. And I can’t imagine how that must have been for the community and then also the animals of the community.

Well, unfortunately, we live in South Louisiana, so we’re really good at disaster response down here. Every year it’s the hurricanes hitting somewhere on the gulf coast, so we have a really good group of rescues that work together. You know, if we see a hurricane going to Florida, we’ll reach out to our rescue contacts out there and said, “All right, who can we take in or out? The hurricane’s path for you” and just pre stage them out of the areas, so that they’re not worrying about them while the storms hitting. And then also going in after the storm, and helping with all pets who may have gotten away. So the girl scout’s pretty good about taking care of the rescues that we need to. That’s great to hear, and it’s better to be prepared for a natural disaster like that, than to, kind of, be new to it. And, you know, that could be scary to anybody. So it’s great that you, kind of, have the experience to endure something like that. Absolutely.

You have a physical location right now in Louisiana, right? Right. So the rescue has its own building at three locations for boarding and grooming and daycare and one location that shares grooming with the rescues above the 501c3. Okay, so what is the community like in the area that your rescue is located in? Do you have any specific issues? It’s actually, well, oh in our community, cool. We have a problem, I don’t know if it’s just related to our area that a lot of people don’t spay/neuter their pets, and they don’t give them heartworm prevention, and that’s a huge deal for us and the cost heartworm treatment is really expensive, but also the cost of these unwanted litters clogging up our shelter systems is also a big problem. So I have a huge push for TNR cats– Trapped, Neuter, Release Cats, in the neighborhood. I also treat a lot of that. We do a lot of shelter diversion programs within our own community, so we don’t want these pets who were in homes with loving families end up in a shelter because of medical costs or food costs. So we have a food bank set up, so any of our neighbors are, and actually, anybody could walk in and say, “Hey, I need some food for my dog or my cat”. And we’ll go ahead and take care of that. If you live immediately around us, we will spay and neuter your pets for you. We will vaccinate them, just anything we can do to keep them in a home and out of the shelter system. So our biggest things are unneutered animals, making more babies for us. We’re trying to get a handle on that. Yes, and that seems to be like a huge issue for, you know, a lot of states is spay and neuter. People don’t take that seriously. And, you know, I find that that is a big struggle for a lot of organizations in a lot of states. So it’s great that you guys take the time to focus on that because I feel like that is always going to be an issue no matter where you’re located. So. Right.

You kind of shared with me the animals within your community. How is the community overall as a whole? They’re fantastic. I mean, it’s New Orleans, so we’re just one big family. And the rescue location is located on one of the, the really nicest parts of New Orleans, and everybody knows. It’s on the parade route. So Mardi Gras parades pass in front of us like the Rex parade, which is, you know, the final parade of Mardi Gras passes in front of our front doors. It’s on a a tree lined street with large sidewalks and as a white picket fence, and it’s set in the middle of a neighborhood. So we’re not in an industrial park. We’re not on the back side of town, you know. We’re in the middle of where people live and it’s an up and coming neighborhood really close to the really, really, really nice neighborhood in New Orleans. And we’re in the middle of the up and coming neighborhood, and we’re not too far from areas that need a lot more help. So we’re really well placed in the middle of uptown, and we get to help everybody from all the neighborhoods around us.

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That’s so awesome that you guys have such a supportive community and you guys were kind of right smack in the middle of where everything kind of happens. Absolutely. And I think that that’s a huge benefit for your organization. Do you do any type of events or fundraising in your area? We do so many events, and so many off-site adoption events. We partner with the Freret Market, which is an art market, that happens right behind our main building, and we do adoption events there. We’ll go to assisted living homes and nursing homes to bring our pets, like right now, we have a beagle, dachs, and mix. She’s in a wheelchair. She’s paralyzed on her back end, and so we take her to the nursing homes and let her walk them up and down the aisles, you know, and see all the patients there. And they make her cookies, cause her name is Cookie. And they make her little hats, and bonnets, and scarves. And they knit things for her. And you know, it’s the highlight of their day when Cookie shows up. We go to the local schools. We talk about responsible pet ownership once again about spaying/neutering, and we have a large dog fighting community, unfortunately, in parts of New Orleans. So we speak to some of the kids about “Hey, if you see something that you think might be a dogfight or you think somebody wants to fight a dog, that isn’t good. And you know you can always call and tell us.” So we do a lot of community outreach like that. We do tons of online fund raisers. We have pop up adoption events in our front yard like example, it’s in the middle of New Orleans in the big oak trees, and it just sort of lends itself to the perfect place for adoption event. So we’re always on the move. We have an army of amazing volunteers that are up for whatever we asked them to do. Go sit at this art gallery with a couple of puppies, or go to city park and take them for a jog. It’s great. That’s awesome, and it seems like you guys provide a lot of enrichment for the animals that you take in.

Do you take in only dogs, or do you kind of have a mixture of animals that you take in? We do both dogs and cats, so we have actually in the rescue location, it’s the most favorite room in the whole building, is the free roaming cat room. And it’s just, this big room where we have 15 to 20 fat, lazy cats and some stray cats, and they lay around. There’s nice, comfy chairs, and there is, that you sit down and you have 3 or 4 for in your lap. And we’re right behind a hospital. So we have a lot of people that are in the hospital like visiting family that just need a break, that’ll just come and sit down in the room for a little while, and just kind of re center themselves and head back out. We have a lot of students that come in, their parents use that as a reward, like “you make an A on that test, you could go spend an hour in the cat room”. It’s used like that, so it’s great. That is amazing to hear, you know, And it really seems like you guys are in tune with the people of your community. And I love hearing that your rescue is providing that reward for the kids of your community, because I’m a firm believer that the kids are our future. So if they know the importance of animal welfare and having that emotional bond with a pet or an animal is super important. So I loved hearing that and also that the visitors of the hospital come in, too, because you’re right. Everybody needs that reprieve. And I feel like animals are great. You know, they kind of bring out that happy inner child of ours. And so that’s awesome to hear that you guys provide a location, just that you has allowed them to come in and hang out with the cats. Absolutely, it’s a win win. It makes the cats more adoptable, you know, and it gets our name out there. People go, “Oh my God, you have to go to the cat room in Zeus’ Place and just hang out”. And that’s free advertising you can’t buy. And hopefully they end up in homes. A lot of times they do. People fall in love with them and can’t resist. So it’s win-win-win. Yeah. I’m kind of like, “Hey, I need to go to Louisiana and hang out in this cat room, cause–“. Exactly. I’m in Texas, so I’m not that far away. So that’s great. I loved hearing that. I love hearing that you kind of open your door to the people of your community because I feel like that it’s so important. So well done for that.

You guys mentioned that you have a dog fighting issue. What other big challenges does your organization face? The obvious one is fundraising, cause we’re all volunteer-based and privately funded. We received no money from any type of millages. So we’re constantly fighting the battle of I really, really, really want to help this animal, but it’s gonna cost $3000 to fix it, get it back to health. So I can’t help you. So our biggest challenge is fighting our budget versus how many animals we can help. Last year, we rescued and adopted, well be adopted out right around 700. We took in, I think close to 900. So luckily, those numbers are high, we’re not talking about 10 or 20 animals, but it’s always just that hard, fine line of “can I expend this much money on this one pet, when I can save these 10 pets instead”? That’s one of our hardest issues. It’s just finding the right balance of how many and who can we help versus how much money we have coming in? Yeah, and that’s always a struggle because medical is expensive. Even having a pet or taking care of a pet, food and everything like that, that’s expensive. So would you say that you guys kind of pick and choose the animals that you guys take in? Absolutely. And that is one of the ways that we’re really lucky. As a private rescue. We’re not an open admit shelter like the municipal shelters are, so we can be selective as to who we take in. Now, personally, I will take in every old dog or old cat that comes to the front door. If somebody comes with this ancient animal, that is my weak spot in life I will take it. I love it. It doesn’t matter what it is, but yeah, it’s a hard balance trying to say yes to this one and no to that one, and it never feels good and we get 15-20 calls a day. “Can you please take my grandmother’s cat? They’re wonderful. She just died. But family doesn’t want them,” or “I’m moving,” or “I had a kid,” or whatever happens, you know. And it’s just hard to select who you’re going to take in, and we usually just do it by space and money. We have an open kennel, and we have money to do it, then bring it. Yeah, and you know that’s important. It’s not something that you enjoy doing, but unfortunately, there has to be a balance, right?

So in your area, are there any other rescues or shelters kind of nearby? Yeah, there’s the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter. There’s two locations on each side of the river, Perry Municipal Shelter. And then there’s another big organization like me called Animal Rescue New Orleans, that was founded during Katrina. And there are a couple other smaller rescues around, and we all sort of, intertwine and work together. We all have our specialties of what we can work with it. I’m really good at working with swimmer puppies. They’re flat chested, so they need physical therapy to make their rib cage rounded again. So there are goods to grow and they can walk, so they don’t look like a turtle. So anytime anybody gets a swimmer puppy or kitten, they’ll call like, “these are those swimmers.” I’ve never even heard of that. So that’s nice to–.Oh, you should Google it, Swimmer Puppy Syndrome. And it’s usually when the well, big box where the mom is keeping the puppies is too small and she sits on them so they kind of get flat, like a pancake. Wow, that is–how I never even heard of that? That is so unique and awesome. Let me not, no,–. Right. I mean, they have issues, but I’m educated. I genuinely just learned something that I’ve never heard of before. Right, so I make these little boxes. I did a lot of research, and I found it on YouTube. Somebody built these great little boxes that you put him in, that hold them in the right correct walking position. You put AstroTurf down on that. You put treats at one end, and so they have to walk from one end to the other, to get a treat. It’s pretty amazing. How did you learn how to work on an animal that has that syndrome? I had a really good mentor. Dr. Jean Zeller was my vet. He taught me all these groovy little tricks. And now I work with Dr. Joe Vaccaro, who is out of Metairie Small. And they were both amazing that because they were willing to look at these animals and say, “this isn’t a dead end for you. Try this.” And so they would give me ideas to research. I research and we work together and find solutions. Didn’t always work, but a lot of it did. Wow, that’s pretty awesome that you have that knowledge to help an animal that has a syndrome like that because that’s just not something that you hear very often.

So you said that you were with a vet. Do you guys do any type of medical care within your rescue? Or do you work closely where you can take the animals that you take into a local vet? Our vet is actually one block down from us, which is pretty amazing. So they do pickups and drop offs for spay/neuters and we do drop off appointments all day, every day of rescues, and Dr Joe or Dr Michael will see them in the clinic, and then either we pick him up or somebody walks it back down to us. If it is a really bad case, like, say, we have a round of parvo, like we’ve had in the past, that everybody gets it, we have a separate floor for quarantine floor. The vets will actually come to us and do the exams there so that we’re not putting parvo or distemper into their clinic. They’re pretty great. That’s a really nice working relationship we have with them.

So when it comes to the animals that you take in to the rescue, do you guys do any type of foster programs? Or how many animals do you guys usually keep in your facility? That’s a varying number. Depends, like during kitten season. Our numbers are pretty high because you could put a mom and five kittens in one kennel. Where is at the end of kitten season, those kittens have gotten bigger if they haven’t been adopted, so they’re bigger, so you can’t have five kittens in one kennel, they need five kennels. So we have anywhere from 80 to 100 cat at a time and probably 70 to 80 dogs at a time in our program. We rely heavily on foster parents, so I’d say easily 1/3 of our animals or in foster homes at any given time and the rest are in our main building. On Napoleon are, at one of the boarding locations, just as to give a little bit more room. We have specialized foster family, like for bottle babies we have, we even have one that makes swimmer puppies walk. I train them and then they took off, and now they’re my swimmer puppy fosters. We have old dog foster’s. We have blind dog foster’s, death dog fosters. We have the whole gambit of foster’s and they’re just amazing people. And they’re always there. If I put out a plea on social media like, “Hey, I just got this and it should really be in a home.” We usually get multiple emails of people saying “I could do it, I can help.” Wow, that’s great. I love to hear that you’re very in tune with your community, and you’ve got that great support system because that truly helps on organization to have the support from the people that surround it. Can’t do it without them. We’re there for them. They’re they’re for us. It works. Exactly.

You know, you’re very in tune with this whole animal rescue. And I absolutely love that because I can tell that you’re passionate. You’re dedicated. You take the time to really sit down and figure out how are we gonna save more animals? And how are we going to do this? And it inspires me because you go over and beyond and you don’t find people like you. So,. Thanks. Yes, you’re very welcome. And you’ve clearly been in the animal industry a long time. Is there any memorable story that you have that really hones in on why you got started? Why are you in to save as many animals as you can? I think I was actually born like this. I used to rescue butterflies growing up, and spiders, and I would bring everything home and luckily, my parents were nice enough to let me do it. But I think it was Hurricane Katrina for me, that turning moment, me and my husband. Like I said, I’ve been rescuing my whole life. But we have been doing it together and taking dogs into her house and then to go through this really traumatic experience as a community and not being able to help at all with my neighbors because I didn’t have a house. I didn’t have a home. I had the ability to do a lot, and I did everything I could. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t take these animals into my care because I didn’t have a home either. I was staying in a tiny apartment next to the river that hadn’t flooded, and it wasn’t mine, so I couldn’t bring rescues in. And that just, about devastated me, you know, more than probably losing my house and everything I owned all of my pictures from growing up is that basically my hands were tied. I could go out on the boats during the day, but at the end of the night, these animals were no longer being helped. And I was like “if I just had a place, if I just had a place then I could help this, I could help that, and I could bring them in”. And so finally I said, “Enough.” Hurricane Katrina was August 29th and I bought the building that the first location was in on March 9th, so that’s not that long in Katrina land, because the waters didn’t really recede for a good month after August 29th. Yeah, hearing you and the struggle and everything. I’ve never been through something like that. So it tugs on the heartstrings with me. You turn such a crazy event, and you just kind of spun it like I’m gonna do this because this is what I meant to do. And this is what I love doing.

So you guys already offer so much And you know, you kind of shared with me a lot of the stuff that you guys were doing. But is there anything, future-wise that you see your organization doing? Like, what is your future vision? I’d like to have, and I’m already working on this, more free spay and neuter clinics in my building for residents who can’t afford to do it on their own, once again going back to spaying/neutering because it is everything and having vaccine clinics and microchip clinics more frequently than I am now. So that all the pets are getting vaccinated. We have a lot of parvo, we have a lot of distemper., we have a lot of FIP and feline leukemia here in the South and I’m sure other places. But if we could just help vaccinate, spay, and neuter these pets, we can lower the pet population. It just takes all the rescues like me doing the same thing, at the same time to make a difference. And I think we are. So I would love to spay and neuter, double the amount I do right now. I would love to vaccinate all over the same time, I’ll it put a microchip in them, in case they get lost, they get back home. I want to point out something that you had mentioned–was if all the rescues and, you know, all the people that are in the animal welfare industry work together. It will truly make a difference because–. Absolutely. We’re all working towards the same goal. And I feel like sometimes that gets kind of lost in the madness that’s going on. Yep. And at the end of the day, that is what’s most important–is saving the lives of animals. And we’re all in this together. Absolutely. It’s all about them.

Well, you know what? I truly have learned a lot from talking to you. I learned about not only organization your story, your community, all of these different things have really inspired me. They really have. And I’m so happy that I got to talk to you. If anybody is looking to get in contact with you, whether it be for adoption, fostering, volunteering, how can one go about getting in contact with you guys? Our website is Zeus, zeusrescues.org and our email address is zeusrescues@gmail.com. And our main home number for adoptions and questions is 504-309-2144. We’re open from 10:00 to 4:00, 7 days a week, and we’re at 2528 Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans. Well, thank you so much for sharing that. And I hope that if there’s anybody in your area that’s willing to help out or just to stop in and hang out with you guys and all the animals that you guys take in, I hope that this podcast, and any of our listeners that helps them go about seeing you guys and check you guys out. Perfect. Thank you so much for having me. This has been fun. This flew by. It does.

And is there anything else that you want to share with us before we wrap things up today. Actually, I heard a good quote, and I’m sure everybody’s heard this quote before. But I just heard for the first time yesterday, and its “Rescue is not just a verb. It’s a promise.” Wow, that’s amazing. And I think everybody that’s in rescue–the verb, also understands that promise. Absolutely. And it’s much bigger than that. It’s not just taking in a dog and saying, “Hey, you know, I rescued this dog.” I mean, there’s so much more that goes into what you guys do, whether it be rescuing the animal or their medical needs, or feeding them, or playing with them, or paperwork for that matter. Like there’s so much that goes into this. And this is why I love doing these podcasts, is because it really hones in on how important you guys are to the community, how important you guys are in an animal’s life, like you guys don’t just take a minute and push him back out like you guys are genuinely making a difference for each and every animal. Yep, and we love every minute of it. Well, most every minute of it, except when you’re covered in poop, etcetera. Well, that’s just part of the job, right? Part of the rescue. The small price you pay for that happy, little tail wagging animal at the end of the day, right? Exactly. All right, Michelle. Well, I look forward to touching base with you in the future, and I really wish you guys the best. I think that you guys are in a great location. You’ve got a great community and you’ve got a good mind set and head on your shoulders. I can see you guys going far, and I love that. And I can’t wait to check in with you guys. Thank you so much, Kimberly, for having me. This has been a lot of fun, and I hope that I reach new people that hadn’t heard about me before. And maybe we can work together as rescues. Yes, absolutely.

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