Kristen Cardoza talks with us about a program that is changing the lives of dogs and their owners in Northern Virginia. NOVA Pets Alive’s community pack walk program, ResQ Crew, is helping reactive dogs and their owners one pack walk at a time. Welcoming all dogs and their owners, ResQ Crew has created a safe and fun environment for working on socialization, exploring local parks, and building community.
Welcome to the professionals in animal rescue podcast where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. 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. Now, on with our show! Kristen Cardoza is a lifelong animal lover and has been active in the rescue sheltering community in the DC metro area since 2011. She’s been a volunteer and foster with Nova Pets alive since 2017 and joined US a board member in 2018. She manages Nova Pets Alive Community Pack Walk program called RescueQ Crew, which welcomes all dogs but specifically aims to create a friendly, judgment free space for active dogs and their owners. She also manages a number of creative projects, including holding puppy photo shoots and designing event and marketing materials. Kristen currently resides in northern Virginia and shares her home with her husband and their rescue pity. Layla. Hey, Kristen. Thanks for coming on today. Thanks for having me glad to be here. Well, we’re really excited to have you. And I’m so excited to talk about rescue Walk. But first, tell us about you. Kind of give us your story and how you got into animal rescue. Well, I grew up with a household full of rescue pets. We always had dogs and cats all over the place. Even some fish and hermit crabs and the like s I always had a love for animals. Ah, but really, when I got started, an animal rescue was after college. Actually read the book Lost Dogs by Jim Grant and that really inspired me to look for opportunities in which I could help dogs and animals in need. Right after I think I finished that book, I was really pumped on, and I was looking for opportunities in my local area. And I started volunteering with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue and was originally a dog handler and helping the transports and eventually became an adoption coordinator. So that was a really great experience. Nice. I bet you get to experience lots of different aspects of rescue with them. Yeah, Yeah, I got to kind of see it you know, for multiple perspective, it’s a pretty large rescue. So that’s definitely been something that’s been helpful, kind of as I continued on my journey. Um, so that was around 2011. I want to say, on 2012 my husband and I adopted our own dog Humane Rescue Alliance in D. C. Shortly thereafter, I kind of took a break from volunteering to focus on her. She’s a great dog. I just want to be able to focus on our own dog. At the time I took a short break then I want to stay around 2014 maybe actual started volunteering at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. I’d since moved from D.C. out to Fairfax County on, and I was there as a dog walker, working with some of the kind of behaviorally challenged dogs you might say. I’m doing some, short term fostering and things like that. That was also really great expanse. So both of those experiences prepared me really well, in my current position as a board member, volunteer and foster for Nova Pets Alive. Very cool. So then from there, then what happened? So actually, it was a group of us who knew each other from our local rescue and shelter community hanging out on a weekend. And we just had this little idea. What if we had a way to organize group walks for our dogs. Hence ResQ Crew was born. We were literally just sitting around in a in someone’s living room and we started the Facebook group, and it really took off from there. A number of us do have reactive dogs. Ah, whether its leash your activity, people reactivity all sorts of, you know, little issues that we wanted to work on and have a place to do that. So we started a Facebook group, and then just through word of mouth, the group really grew to what it is today. Wow. So you guys were literally just sitting around, just kind of, you know, enjoying life, having a chat and saying Wouldn’t it be great if we could walk our dogs together and kind of scheduled this and other people could join? Yes, absolutely Just a little idea. Now give us an idea how big this little idea has grown now. Yeah, So we started in, I want to say August of 2015 and today we have about 250 active members. There was a period of time where a group actually swelled. So I think almost 700 members because Animal Farm Foundation very graciously did an article about our group said that garnered interest kind of across the whole United States. So we had a lot of folks joining the group just to kind of see what we were about. See what we’re doing. But since then, we have kind of started a separate group just specifically to organize walks in our local area in northern Virginia. So that’s about 250 people right now, while but 250 people is a lot of people to be getting together and having walks. Yeah, you’re not. It’s not 250 people ever on a single walk. I think most for walks or maybe between, you know, for tow up to 15 people and their dogs at a time. So Yeah. So now how How do these work? I mean, you know, you’ve got a schedule walk, but I’m just trying to figure out the logistics. Right. So you said 4 to 15 people with their dogs showing up. I mean, maybe kind of walk us through how one of these things works. Yeah, our group is pretty flexible in the way that any group member can schedule a walk and we do everything through a Facebook group. So folks, just go ahead and set up a walk. Ah, we do have kind of a ah tip sheet on how to set up a walk. So ah, you know, picking locations that might be more ideal for dogs with reactivity, something with a wider path, maybe. Or where you can step off. Or, at the very least, this warning folks that you know there’s a high probability will encounter bikers and walkers and dogs and things like that. But really, we just set up the walk, invite the whole group and whoever can join, joins. Our group does span now from kind of what was our home base in Fairfax County. But we spread, you know, north into the suburbs. of Maryland and south into Prince William County. Interesting. So now one of things I know that you mentioned is that, you know, leash leash aggressive or reactive dogs are also welcome. So tell us a little bit about that. How does that work? Yeah, actually, I think that’s kind of one of the cornerstones of you know why we started. I know I was really excited for this because my own dog, Layla, is a bit least reactive. And, you know, I found it embarrassing. You know, I was frustrated, and I understand where other people are coming from. Our group definitely prides itself on having created a safe, space, safe environment where people can work on that. Because I think from my own experience, when your dog is behaving that way in public, you know, you get embarrassed, it makes you want to walk them less. But that doesn’t really help it all. What you need to do is kind of work through it. So our group is often, you know, depending on the walk. It’s usually a mix of dogs with some kind of reactivity and dogs that are what we call you know. Our dogs are stable dogs on, you know, really works, you know, even on my own dog. It’s funny. It’s like she knows that on those walks it is her job to be the stable dog, even though the neighborhood she can still, you know, the reactive. So it’s kind of funny to see that as well. But it’s been really amazing to see how some people, you know, they joined a group in there. They think their dogs hopeless. They’re really, you know, at the end of the rope there. And, you know, I we encourage them. You know, just come on a walk, you know, see how your dog does. And there’s really something that we call the pack walk magic. Where usually in the beginning, we’re all gathering dogs are standing around. There’s a little anxiety, but once we get moving, most dogs do beautifully on. But maybe not with every dog on the walk. But you know, they might find another calm dog that they can do really nice parallel walking with. And there’s so many people that have been really amazed and shocked at how well their dogs can do with other dogs. Yeah, no, I can totally imagine that because the pack mentality and working together in that common bond. So obviously that seems to have a calming effect on the dogs. But I’m also curious. What is the effect on the people? I mean, these people don’t all know each other, do they? No. You know, everyone’s friendly and supportive, and we start from there. But it’s interesting. I was actually just thinking about that because I think a large part of why the dogs, you know, behave better on the pack walks is because the people are calmer. I know that’s at least true for me. I feel like this is a safe space and that even if my dog does react, you know, everyone in the group understands. And I’m not going to be embarrassed. I think when people relax, the dog’s relax and it just kind of, you know, works really beautifully together. I mean, it brings together people from you know, all different backgrounds. Ah, you know, with all different experiences. And you know. But we’re all here because we love our dogs, and that’s that’s a great way to start a, you know, friendship in a group. Yeah, for sure. Now, I know this is a program now of Nova Pets Alive. So I’m curious. Is this all owned dogs rescued dogs? I mean, are there other people that will borrow a dog from a shelter? Yeah. So it’s all of the above, most folks probably bring their own dogs, many of which are, you know, rescues or former shelter dogs. But we do have a lot of folks who, you know, bring either a dog from a shelter for a day. Ah, to come out or they have their own foster dog. We even have some folks who are what we call our dog-less walker. So people who you know, maybe they volunteered a shelter or they just love dogs. And they want to come on the locks just for the experience. Or maybe to help someone who has multiple dogs and help them walk one of their dogs. Yeah, that’s really cool. I was reading that on your website that, you know, even if you don’t have a dog come out and walk with us. I was like, What a great way to get some socialization for yourself and dogs and people and just come along for a nice walk. Yeah, Yeah, we do walks, like all over the region from short. There’s something for everyone. Now, I know that you guys have been doing this for a number of years, and so you’ve probably kind of developed the program. If somebody’s listening this thanks to Hey, look, we want to start this rescue crew in our in our region and our city. Where did they begin? What would you tell him to do? You know, it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Someone recently reached out from California with that exact question. So I kind of, you know, started grabbing the information I had. Ah, I mean, really, I could just share our own story. Started with kind of a core group of, you know, 5 to 10 people who all had this vision on just gotta started. And for us Ah, it just grew really organically. But I’m sure there are ways that, you know, we could think about marketing and different things to get, get more people. Ah, to join. But I think just getting a group of people that are all committed to this idea, um and then just kind of spreading, spreading the word by word of mouth through, You know, your rescue networks and things like that was really effective for us. Now I’m curious how this program has been helpful or effective for Nova Pets Alive because recognizing that certainly do have foster dogs and people bring shelter dogs. But it’s really targeted at just people with dogs, right to go walking. How does this help the mission and spread the word of a nova pets alive? Yes, I know that Nova Pet’s Alive. You know, our mission is to, you know, stop unnecessary killing of animals in shelters. And I think one of the ways that we do that is by keeping dogs in their homes by, you know, avoiding going to the shelter. Also, one thing I learned and saw a lot when I was volunteering at our own local shelter of Fairfax County Animal Shelter is that you know, oftentimes people were giving up their dogs because of things like dog reactivity. You know, my dog is aggressive. I can’t walk my dog in public things like that and not saying that. You know, ResQ Crew’s going to solve every case of that. But putting this out in the community has been really helpful to a lot of people who, you know, thought their dog was hopeless. Thought they couldn’t walk their dog in public. And it’s given them the confidence to continue working on that on Keep their dog is a part of their family. Yeah, no, you’re right. That’s a really proactive solution to something that is a problem, right? And when people are on their last resort and they don’t know what to do, that’s often when animals were being surrendered to the shelter, so proactively working with them, giving them an outlet, giving them an opportunity, I can imagine forming people bonds as well as dog bonds as well. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, certainly this is for the dogs, but it’s really great for the people to I think just to have somewhere where you can, you know, sharing experience on the Facebook group and get feedback or you know you about an issue that you’d like to get advice on. But we’ve even done other soap outside of the pack walks. Ah, you know, ResQ Crew has been a really great opportunity. Connect people to people for things like, maybe my dog’s not ready for a big pack walk, but can we do a one on one pack walk. Um, so that’s something and I did with ah ah, woman and her dog. You know, we did just mini pack walks for a couple of weeks, and then, you know, then she felt more comfortable than she has since joined the bigger pack walks. Or they we have a dog who is a bit people reactive in its home. So, you know, I volunteered to go to their home and kind of be a practice stranger. Are so yeah, beyond the pack walks. I think it’s just a great way to just connect people and work on, you know, all sorts of different issues are dogs might be having Yeah. Did you guys ever think that when you came up with this idea, what, 556 years ago? That it was going to become this big? No, Absolutely not. I think it’s it’s great that it has, but yeah, it was just a little idea. We thought it’d be fun to walk our dogs. Yeah, exactly. Now I know for you. I mean, your background is a little bit different than some. I mean, you’re not somebody that works in an animal shelter and started is a fact or anything like that. You’ve got a different background. Yeah, so did my day job. I work in, like web development, but there is a connection there. So my web development kind of work. I get to apply that to my rescue work in that I’ve kind of led some of our more creative projects in Nova Pets Alive. Whether that’s working on the website, working with our communications and ah, marketing developing materials for our different events and things like that so I have been able to kind of apply some of the skills and knowledge I have from my professional life into my rescue work. Yeah, that’s gonna be really rewarding to be able to do that. I mean, I am similar to you. I work a day job in order to support my nights and weekends job? Yes, exactly. So now what’s next for you guys? I mean, I know you mentioned trying to make this kind of a repeatable program any any big plans for 2019. You know, I had also mentioned that geographically, our group has expanded a lot. So the core group of us, you know, are all based around Fairfax County and its since grown like North and south and East a bit s I am currently working on trying to identify maybe a few quote unquote captains for those other areas I already spend. You know, a good bit of my time doing these sort of recon missions for new places to walk, but would love, you know, some help with planning and organizing walks. Kind of in the areas that are a little bit further for me. So that is, you know, a place I’d like to kind of expand the group. Yeah. Now, recon mission sounds like a lot of fun to try and find new places to go and have these walks. Yeah, and I am extremely directionally challenged, so good getting health in that area. That would probably be better for everyone. I was going to say on your website, you guys have got a map of where some of these walks have taken place and it’s quite a large area. Yeah. I mean, like I said, we do, You know, everything from short walked. So long walks. Being in the DC metro area, we have a lot of great opportunities. Do everything from, you know, walking on the DC monuments, which is so much fun. And the attention we get when we do those walks is just, you know, amazing in hilarious, a little bit. You know, tourist stopping to ask if they could take pictures of their dogs. And then we can go, you know, all the way out west, you know, toward Shenandoah and do hikes out there as well, and then everything in between little neighborhood walks and things like that. Yeah, I’m curious. Have you started to really see now on impact in the community? Has this really spread? Do you see any positive effects community wide? You know, that would be hard to say. I think I really see it more at the individual level when people show, you know, individually share their stories. But I certainly think that when people have a great experience with the ResQ Crew, they tell their friend, they tell the neighbor and we have a number of rescues in the area that are also sharing information. One of the questions on our short registration form one for folks join our group is How did you hear about us? It’s always interesting. A lot of times it’s, you know, from a friend, but a number of rescues are also referring. Folks tell us, I believe you were mentioned in some, you know, online courses on dog behavior, which is kind of cool. Yeah. That is really cool to kind of see how this takes off and starting with just a simple idea. You guys have got a pretty active instagram and Facebook page. I love seeing all those pictures and all the happy faces of the dogs and the people is they’re taking these walks. Yeah, it’s been really amazing to be part of it. So now I’m just curious. What does a typical week look like for you? Because you’re you’re on the Nova Pets Alive board and you’re working a full time job and you run to the ResQ Crew. What’s a typical week look like for you? Yeah, it’s pretty busy. Um, so, you know, working my regular 9 to 5. Ah, evenings and weekends. It’s a mix of, like, things we talked about, you know, planning walks, doing recon, helping with creative projects. Like after after our chat Right now, I’m going to head over and do a photo shoot of a litter of puppies. We currently have, um, you know, working on event materials. So, yeah, my my nights and weekends are pretty busy and then Certainly carving out time for my my own family and dog. Yeah, exactly. Somewhere in there, you got a husband, and you’ve got dogs as well that you need to be taken care of. So, yeah, about time for them. Well, this has all been really exciting. Kristin and I really I love the ResQ Crew program, and I’m really excited to see if others will take the idea up and kind of take the model you guys have done and roll it out across the country. Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up? No, but I would be happy to talk to anyone who’s interested. You know, I am not an expert. I am not a dog trainer. But I would be happy to share our experiences and lessons learned with anybody else who’s interested in starting something similar in their own community. Yeah, so somebody’s listening to this and they say, Yes, I would love to. What’s the best way for them to get a hold of you s o. You can email me at email@example.com. You can also find that information on the Nova Pets Alive Website on the ResQ Crew page. That’s great. Well, thank you so much, coming on. Thank you for for working on this program. It sounds really amazing. And we look forward to talking to you again in the future. All right. Thanks so much for having me. Thanks for tuning into today’s podcast. If you’re not already a member, join the ARPA to take advantage of all of the resources we have to offer. And don’t forget to sign-up with Doobert.com. It’s free and helps automate the most difficult tasks in animal rescue.