Animal shelters, no matter how posh or spare, can be lonely places for the animals who wait there for their forever homes. Even if the animals are treated with care and kindness, nothing takes the place of being at home with a loving family. So one man spent ten nights in the Humane Society of Pasco County to shed light on the struggles public shelters and their animals face. And his efforts have helped lead to improvements at the shelter as well as adoptions.
32-year-old Kris Rotonda of Safety Harbor, Florida became an animal lover when he rescued his dog Jordan, a 13-year-old German Shephard, Bullmastiff, and Samoyed mix from Pinellas County Animal Services.
“She saved me and changed a lot for me,” Rotonda said.
When Jordan passed away from cancer, Rotonda knew his mission to help animals was just beginning. He started a foundation in Jordan’s honor, called Jordan’s Way, to help shelters in need.
He secured partnerships with animal food companies like Chewy and Purina. But he knew something more radical needed to be done to draw attention to what it’s really like for a dog to live in a shelter.
So he decided to stay in the shelters. In cages. Each night, with a different dog for ten nights.
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“(Shelters) are often overlooked,” Rotonda said. “I kind of wanted to wake up Pasco County and the community a little more and put myself in the position of these animals to understand how solitude gets to you and how to deal with it. It’s very difficult, and it gives you a different perspective.”
Before he spent ten nights at the Humane Society of Pasco County, he stayed overnight for 72 hours at the YOUR Humane Society SPCA in Sumter County. He asked the staff to treat him like a dog, taking him outside for only an hour and half to play and use the bathroom. He couldn’t shower. The shelter smelled terrible and the air was filled with constant barking.
“I told the shelter, ‘Don’t give me any special treatment. Treat me like a German Shepherd.'”
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When Rotonda expressed his interest in staying at the Humane Society of Pasco County, Vice President Christine DePaolo was skeptical. She finally agreed but checked on him for the first few nights to make sure he was okay.
While Rotonda was staying in the shelter, he posted live videos each night on the shelter’s Facebook page. He requested donations such as harnesses, toys, food, and money to help support the shelter.
He slept on the cement in a cage and watched Everybody Loves Raymond on his iPad while cuddling with the dogs.
And Rotonda’s actions helped. Each video received more than 1,000 views—and helped many of the dogs get adopted.
“He’s helped clear our kennels out,” DePaolo said. “They get adopted rather quickly after his live videos. Some come the next day, and we’ve had dogs that come to us and 24 hours later they’ve got a new home. And one day we had a donation of $1,100 waiting for us.”
“He’s brought a lot of attention, and we’re incredibly grateful for him,” DePaolo said. “For many years, people didn’t know where we were or even that we existed. But now they do.”