For our ongoing series of profiles of amazing animal rescue charities, the Pixie Project founder Amy Sacks tells Wunderdog about her family’s involvement in helping pets as much as people
‘If you can’t laugh and drink a whiskey afterwards, you’ll go nuts and you get jaded – and nobody wants to come to you!’ Amy Sacks is a woman after our own heart. She has been involved with animals and people in desperate situations for as long as she can remember. And she has never lost faith.
When Amy was young, her family always had blankets, food and dog supplies in the car for homeless people. No trip in and around their hometown of Portland was complete without stopping to help – not even to the movies. Amy’s mother Ann, who in 1981 founded her eponymous tile business, Ann Sacks, which today has more than 17 showrooms in the US and London, would give her number and offer to pay for the spaying/neutering of the dogs living on the streets with their humans.
The ‘animal thing’, as Amy calls it, stuck with her. ‘In college, I fostered and worked for a mobile spaying clinic: the vet would drive up to a farm, and I would clean the ears and vaccinate the animals,’ she says.
The ‘human thing’ was never far away, either. After college, she worked with homeless people as well. In 2006, Amy and her family set up the Pixie Project. The non-profit animal shelter based in Portland, Oregon, takes in and rehomes dogs, cats and assorted other pets from people who can no longer care for them or that were pulled from local rescue shelters. Together with her parents, brother and cousin, Amy has been able to avoid some of the ‘political BS’, as she calls the daily grind of large organisations, and instead the Pixie Project does one thing differently: it is a strong advocate of people as well as dogs. ‘I found that people working in arranging pet adoption weren’t that nice to the people they deal with,’ she says. ‘I wanted it to be different.’
‘A lot of rescue centres? are sceptical of so many people. Do you want [prospective adopters] to go to a breeder? Do you want? their friend to buy them a dog because they feel bad for them, after being rejected by shelters?’ Amy has seen and heard the rejection arguments from restrictive rescue shelters far too many times. ‘I never had a fenced-in yard, but people get rejected by shelters for that. It’s enough to make my head explode.’
In fact, the Pixie Project doesn’t even do home-checks. Instead, Amy and her 20 employees use something quite radical: common sense. A member of the Pixie Project team has a lengthy conversation based on a seven-page questionnaire with prospective adopters, so animals are still placed with great care, but standard issues such as a garden are dealt with sensibly, not by tick box.
‘We take an enormous amount of information from our potential adopters,’ she explains. ‘There is a high level of screening and? thought that goes into every placement. We also ask applicants about training. If, for example, they like [dog behaviourist] Cesar Millan, we use the opportunity to educate on why we don’t do dominating training.’
The result is impressive: the Pixie Project has around 50 animals in its care at any time, split fairly evenly between cats and dogs, in their own kennels or in private fosters. The non-profit also runs a low-cost clinic to help pet owners who wouldn’t be able to take their animals to the vet at full cost. Each year, the Sacks family finds homes for more than 700 pets, and the clinic treats around 2,000 animals. ‘We have a great reputation and a following in Portland,’ Amy says.
That reputation is, without doubt, down to her unwavering compassion towards the humans as much as towards the animals. ‘We offer a great deal of pre- and post-adoption support, and most of our adopters are local,’ she explains. ‘When someone returns a dog, don’t judge her – help her! We had someone return the dog because her daughter got cancer, and they didn’t have the time anymore. I sent her loads of pictures of the dog when it got rehomed. If you are in a sensitive area as we are, you have to put kindness into it.’
And a bit of money, too. Her mother’s business success has helped: Ann Sacks Tile was sold in 1989 to Kohler, but Ann stayed on for another 14 years as president to oversee its expansion. Her entrepreneurial spirit didn’t falter with retirement, and in 2008 she founded Fetch Eyewear, an affordable, yet sleek, eyewear brand. ‘When my mum retired, she couldn’t find any glasses she liked, so she set up her own company,’ Amy explains as if that was the obvious thing to do. Fetch’s frames tend to be more petite than your average drugstore pair, something both Ann and Amy suit (see left). Crucially, 100% of Fetch’s profits go to the Pixie Project, making around 5% of the non-profit’s annual income. The rest comes from supporters and fundraising events, such as the annual Pixie Party.
When the day is done, dozens of phone calls fielded and a couple of homeless animals found new couches to snooze on, Amy might finally be able to sit down and cuddle her 15-year-old cat Phoebe she has had since college, her Shepherd-Mastiff mix Boone, fellow rescue pooch Sadie and perhaps the odd foster dog (‘I have a thing for old, crusty chihuahuas’). And together with her family and her team, she might have a whiskey too – to make sure the Pixies never get jaded.
Cheers to that.