By Helia Zarkhosh, RedRover Communications Coordinator

What does a typical day look like for RedRover staff members? How do we answer the call for help when people have nowhere else to turn? In our new series, “Leading with Empathy: Behind the Scenes at RedRover,” we’ll share staff stories about our efforts to bring animals from crisis to care. 

In the first of our series, Director of Programs Rachel Stevens shares her experience working with the family of our most recent fundraising campaign for Athena, the dog rescued from near-death in a ditch. 

Director of Programs Rachel Stevens and her rescued yellow lab, Charlie.

The RedRover Relief team receives an average of 20 applications a day. In 2020 alone, we processed 4,515 Urgent Care applications, and our case managers carefully consider each one to determine if RedRover can assist. Our staff is continually moved by the devotion and care people express for their pets – and how so many go above and beyond for their animal family members.

When Rachel received Kayla’s Urgent Care grant application for a dog named Athena, she knew there were some big obstacles. After being hit by a car, Athena had two badly broken legs and road burn across her body – and she also tested positive for heartworm. Treating any one of these conditions is costly; combined, the bill was almost insurmountable. Our grants typically assist with gaps in funding up to $200 or $300. Kayla was doing everything she could to fundraise on her own, with the goal of raising $12,000 to cover the full cost of Athena’s care – but there were no guarantees we could provide the amount she needed.  

“I immediately knew I wanted to help, mostly because this family went out of their way to give this dog – that they just happened to find – a second chance,” says Rachel. “[Kayla] was also doing an incredible job fundraising on her own. I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure how we’d be able to since our grants are usually smaller. Then I looked at her Facebook fundraiser, and when I saw that she had already raised $6,000, I thought maybe we can actually make a difference and help her get to their goal.”

That’s when Rachel pitched it to the rest of the team: Could we share this story with our supporters and get Athena the help she so desperately needed?

Athena awaiting surgery.

We launched our fundraising campaign on Wednesday, February 3, while Athena was already in what would end up being the first of two complicated surgeries to repair her fractured limbs. By Thursday morning, generous animal lovers like you had helped us reach our goal of $3,000! Rachel was in constant communication with Kayla and the veterinary staff taking care of Athena: 

“I communicated with Kayla multiple times daily by phone and text, with the vet about the surgeries and our grants, with our Communications team to keep everyone current [on Athena’s status], constantly checking the Facebook fundraiser for updates.”

As Rachel describes, making decisions about who we can assist based on our eligibility guidelines can be heartbreaking – but we focus on what we can do. 

“It is hard because we see a lot of cases that we can’t help with, so that’s why it’s important to focus on the ones we can help. Our funding truly is helping that animal get treatment. We’re giving those animals a second chance they wouldn’t have had otherwise. That’s by far the most rewarding part of my job – knowing that we made a difference in that animal’s life…and ultimately in people’s lives.” 

Athena with her new mom, Kayla, after being released from the hospital.

Rachel approaches her role with compassion and empathy, carefully considering the circumstances of every applicant she speaks with. “They’re going through something that is possibly one of the hardest things they’ve experienced, feeling financial pressure, and I just put myself in their shoes…if I was in a situation where [my dog] Charlie needed vet care and I couldn’t afford it, that would be absolutely devastating. So I always want to help as many people as we can.” 

Thinking back to last week when Athena was the focus of all our efforts, the theme that comes to mind is “hope.” Rachel says, “I think about the video on Kayla’s Facebook fundraiser where Athena is laying on the ground, literally unable to move, and still wagging her tail. She had so much love to give even though she was in such a terrible situation. Kayla and her family gave Athena hope and I feel like Athena gives me hope, too…that despite everything she’s been through, she has love to give and loves people and other dogs, and is hopeful for her second chance.”

Read more about Athena’s “happily ever after” in her Happy Tail.