My Furry Valentine
For hundreds of Greater Cincinnati families and individuals each year, Valentine’s Day has become a holiday to treasure…as it represents the day their lives joined with a life of a furry (and even feathered) looking for a forever home. It happens because of what has grown to be the largest mega adoption event in the region, My Furry Valentine, that attracts over 1400 visitors and has more than 700 animals (dogs, cats, birds and some other species) from dozens of rescues. If you are looking to add a non-human friend to your household, you just may find your new companion Valentine’s Day weekend!
(More information on My Furry Valentine is below.)
Hers is a very important role that includes writing the application and vaccine requirements, communicating with the rescues, helping them set up on Friday, and coordinating the team of veterinarians and vet techs who check in every animal before opening the doors to the public.
The role is a perfect fit for Melanie, who, as executive director of UCAN (nonprofit spay and neuter clinic), already has a relationship with many area shelter and rescues. AND the heart for this cause. She herself shares a home with her son and five rescues – two dogs (Peanut and Blackie) and three cats (Katniss, Grayson and Calypso).
Melanie came into this line of work because it is her passion. Prior to joining the staff team at UCAN, she was a private practice attorney for 25 years working with nonprofit organizations. She and her son began volunteering at a no-kill shelter as a way of her teaching him the importance of giving back. It was a fateful activity that would change the course of her career – and he life.
“It got to be so depressing,” she told me. “We’d see the animals all get adopted and then the next week, all of the cages would be full again.”
She saw spay/neuter as a solution and began supporting UCAN financially. Then she joined the Board, having served as director, then vice-chair, and then chair of the Board before ultimately joining UCAN’s staff as executive director in 2012.
“People love their pets. Some say you should not adopt one if you can not afford the care but I don’t believe it. There should be community resources to allow them to have that animal,” she said. “There are so many benefits. Everyone deserves the love of a pet.
“Almost every day someone comes in and I have never had to say no. I enjoy getting grants to enable us to do free spay/neuter to help people who can not afford it,” she said.
UCAN was founded in 2001, to stop the endless cycle of unwanted births and euthanasia. The two main reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services. UCAN solves both of these issues. It provides low-cost spay/neuter services and free transports to its Colerain Ave clinic from several locations in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana. The nonprofit clinic performs over 13,000 surgeries each year and this past year began offering low cost vaccinations also.
Melanie and the rest of the My Furry Valentine team will be very busy February 10 and 11, doing their part to help hundreds of animals find their forever homes.
Looking for a dog or cat (or other small animal)? Plan on being there!
My Furry Valentine Facts:
Where: Sharonville Convention Center (11355 Chester Road; 45246)
When (and cost):
Early Bird Entry Saturday, February 10th 10am – 12pm: $25
Saturday, February 10th 12pm – 5pm: $5 ages 5 & up
Sunday, February 11th 10am – 5pm: $5 ages 5 & up
For a list of participating rescues and to see pictures of many of the adoptable animals, please visit www.myfurryvalentine.org.
In her own words…
Lisa Jones, My Furry Valentine event manager, revisits a long journal entry written after returning from a mission trip to South Africa
Our last night in Mamelodi I’m asked at dinner “so Lisa did South Africa live up to the expectations you had before you came?” I hadn’t really thought about it. I heard “life-changing”, “you won‘t ever be the same again”. Perhaps I managed my expectations well by not forming many before I left.
At the Johannesburg Airport we are greeted by probably 20 women from Mamelodi. When I say greet, I mean they have whistles, horns, duck quackers and they grab me as soon as I’m out the sliding doors from baggage claim. They hug me and pass me on for more hugs. They are singing and dancing (making LOTS of noise) and throwing the biggest party ever and I’m crying like an idiot – exhaustion, right? Only the first of many times I saw immense joy radiating from South Africans.
Our first of two days of medical clinics starts out well enough. I volunteer for intake which entails asking the patients their name, living situation, HIV status, etc.. This seems easy and unemotional, or so I think. My first interpreter Mel is amazing. He is 18, smart, funny, mature and so sweet. I want to pack him in my suitcase and bring him home with me. But then he takes a break and I get Girly. Girly wants me to pray out loud for the patients. I don’t want to generalize so I’ll say that most (but probably all) South Africans like to (and are good at) praying out loud. I hate to pray out loud. After praying for about 15 people we intake an 84-year-old woman. She has no fingers on either hand, walks with a cane and wears a black knit GAP cap to cover all the scabs on her head. She is so sweet and full of smiles and she is the same age as my mother. After we pray with her I need to take a break to have a long cry, overwhelmed again. I play with some kids, do cartwheels with them and eventually go back to work with Girly.
That night I write in my journal “Thank you God for this unbelievable difficult day. Thank you for Mel, thank you for Girly. Thank you for filling me with enough of your holy spirit to reach out to these people. Thank you for my little old lady. She pulled me closer to you God, continue to open my ears, my heart and fill my mouth with the words You want me to say and I promise to continue to know more of you.”
Our second medical clinic was set up in Phomollongh which is essentially a squatter’s camp. Dwellings are made of whatever can be found. Metal rooftops are held down by rocks, overturned wheelbarrows, car seats, bikes, whatever. Conditions are far worse today, many more translators needed. The look on most faces is blank and empty. Far fewer smiles today, and shoes. And I am numb. I took blood pressures and tested blood sugar levels at triage. At the end of this day we meet the 5-year old girl that will haunt everyone on this trip. She lives alone with her younger sister, abandoned by their mother. A neighbor (who has brought them to the clinic) tries to look out for them but they mostly eat whatever they can find among the piles of garbage that seem to be everywhere. Her clothes are in shreds. Since it takes about 3 hours for a patient to be seen at our clinics, waiting in line, then intake, then triage, then nurses and doctors, everyone has seen this little girl.
You cannot not see this little girl. Her eyes are yellow and red and swollen and glassy. And they are vacant and dead. Something is seriously wrong with her. One of our doctors tells us later that night through tears that she has a Chlamydial eye infection which means she is being raped.
- And then there was the 11-year old pregnant girl.
- And then there was the woman who came to us directly from the hospital, with the EKG pads still attached to her!
- And then there was the epileptic woman who was carried in a chair to the clinic for treatment.
- And then there was the little boy with cerebral palsy cradled in his father’s arms, mother also by his side. Eyes rolling back into his head, no body control, being continually kissed on the forehead by his parents.
- And then there were all the children holding out their hands for our pizza at lunch or offering up empty soda bottles for us to refill with ours – and having to look the other way because we couldn’t start a feeding frenzy.
- And then there was the sweet little girl happily dancing in my arms to Bob Marley’s “One World” who 15 minutes later would fall fast asleep on my shoulder.
South Africa is a bit of a contradiction. I met people there who don’t just have faith in God they have complete dependence on Him. And I saw things there that might make some people question whether there is a God. In revisiting “expectations” about South Africa I would have to say there are a few things to safely expect on a visit to SA.
You will want to return there before you have even left the country.
You will see unending joy and abundance where you would expect hopelessness and despair.
You will want to pack up someone you meet and take them home with you.
Your transportation will break down, it is just a matter of time.
To many, Carolyn Evans is better known as Cincinnati’s very gifted and kind hearted PhoDOGrapher whose art is capturing the beautiful relationship between pets and their humans, and their very real emotions. Carolyn is also the heart and soul of what has grown to be one of the largest animal rescue adoption events in the region – even nationally – called My Furry Valentine.
She will tell you, it is a journey she never intended to take but sometimes in life your heart draws you down paths you hadn’t discovered. Carolyn grew up in an animal loving household. Dogs, bunnies, cats, hamsters, gerbils, mice and even a bird were part of their menagerie. Her role model for understanding and appreciating the welfare of animals was her mother. Together many years ago, mother and daughter were among a crowd protesting the capture of beluga whales.
You could say, caring for animals in need was just part of her DNA. It was about 20 years ago when Carolyn founded a non-profit called Happy Tails, that created note cards featuring touching stories and photographs of adopted animals. She couldn’t volunteer at shelters (as the vulnerability to come home with additions to her clan was too great) and saw this as a good solution. On the back of each note card was a description of the shelter or rescue group from which the animal came. Money raised went back to the shelters. Back then there was no such thing as PetFinder or rescue websites so this was an even more valuable service.
One thing led to another. People she had photographed and people who admired her work began asking for more photos, and soon PhoDOGrapher was born. In addition to photographing people and their non-human companions, she also photographed shelter dogs who were about to be euthanized in hopes of helping them find happiness again in a new home. I remember many of those images, portrayals of dogs whose lives were at risk because people had let them down. Carolyn’s talents have helped save countless animals.
She also joined the board as president of nonprofit, United Coalition for Animals (UCAN). UCAN opened our region’s first low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic, offering an effective and humane alternative to euthanasia in tackling overcrowded shelters.
And, somewhere along the way she began holding small adoption events. However, a small thinker does not describe Carolyn. In 2012, she founded My Furry Valentine, an adoption event traditionally held over Valentine’s Day weekend that has grown so large that it now needs to be held in a convention center. In 2015 alone, the event helped facilitate the adoption of a record 813 animals. In five years, My Furry Valentine has collectively helped facilitate the adoption of over 2000 animals. It is a huge accomplishment with wide support from the media, sponsors, and rescue organizations.
Lisa: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Carolyn: For me, what is most rewarding is knowing you have impacted someone’s mindset on adoption. There are many people who would not have made the choice to adopt an animal if it were not for our event. Even greater than the numbers of direct adoptions through the actual event, we are planting that seed in people’s minds who, down the road, choose to bring an animal into their life this way. We are also making a long term impact by directing people to the rescues and shelters, who they may have otherwise never heard about. For many of our 2000 plus adoptions, those people were first time adopters and we made them a lifelong adopter instead of a buyer.
Lisa: Tell us about your own pets.
Carolyn: Currently our home includes two dogs, Abby (a black flat coat mix) and Jack (a golden retriever/irish setter mix) who found their way to us shortly after our other two dogs passed away.
Jack is my photography muse as he is very photogenic. He was the cutest, furriest puppy at an adoption event we had just stopped at so that I could deliver a donation. I convinced my husband to come inside; and, after he had told me that IF they were going to get another dog, it would be older and smaller, he grabbed this flub ball who was not even potty trained. That was it.
Abby was a stray that a friend found wandering the streets of Covington, Kentucky in an area where animals are frequently abandoned. Our plans were to just foster her temporarily but we ended up keeping her.
Lisa: What would you like to say to people about animals who are up for adoption?
Carolyn: Many animals end up in shelters and rescues through no fault of their own. They are often victims of circumstances outside of their control such as a change of life for their caregivers. But they have big hearts and they can forgive. They may need training and patience to fit into and adjust to their new family and home, but there are huge benefits.
All too often puppies and dogs find their ways into shelters, for many reasons, often for no fault of their own. They are the victims of circumstances beyond their control, like an illness or death in the
family, divorce, growing family, family relocation, or improper training and preparation from owners.
Nearly 3 million of them are euthanized every year in the United States.
All I have to do is walk into my parents home where I am greeted with 40 pounds of love to be reminded these animals deserve places they can call home. I see all the time through my dog training clients and friends the beautiful gift of adoption.
Coming up this Valentine’s Day weekend is our region’s largest pet adoption event, My Furry Valentine. It will be at the Sharonville Convention Center from 10 am to 5 pm.
My Furry Valentine is hoping to find homes for 550 animals during the Cincinnati pet adoption weekend event. The event is fun, family-friendly and free to attend. This year’s My Furry Valentine is hosted by phoDOGrapher and presented by Top Dog sponsors IAMS and Tri-County Mall with additional financial assistance from The Joanie Bernard Foundation.
Have you been wanting to add a furry companion to your household? You are about to have one of the largest selections from which to choose at My Furry Valentine, February 15 (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and 16 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). It will be held at FLEXI USA in West Chester, Ohio.
The mega-adoption event founded and led by Phodographer Carolyn Evans brings together dozens of Cincinnati area animal rescue groups with a common goal of finding homes for more than 550 animals.
In addition to adoptable pets, the event features: family friendly games, face painting, arts & crafts, a rescued farm animal petting zoo, and a variety of pet vendors. Parking and admission are free. Pet adoption fees and applications vary. All pet adopters will receive: a professional photo of their new pet, goody bag overflowing with free pet supplies, toys, treats, coupons, an Alcott adventure leash and collar set, and 1 large bag of IAMS pet food.
I attended the event last year and it was such a great site to not only see so many dogs with great love to give, but also seeing so many people walking out with new found companions.
If you are planning on going, I want to encourage you to give thought before hand as to the best dog for your life. I have a list of some considerations on my dog training blog at http://www.SoMuchPETential.com.