Many college students miss their pets as much as their families during their time away from home. For alumnus Jordan Ross (Economics ‘05), this bond became especially important as he recovered from domestic violence (DV). Unfortunately, this relationship was threatened when he discovered many recovery shelters would not accept his furry companion.
As a result, Ross launched PetsEmpower.org, a nonprofit foundation devoted to helping survivors of domestic violence find temporary homes for their pets so they can be reunited later. Ross shares his story below:
Why is this company meaningful to you?
After Cornell, due to domestic violence, I ended up on the streets in Boston with my black lab, Jazz, and realized shelters prohibit pets. Thankfully, after struggling for a year, I found a group home connected to the Pine Street Inn (a men’s homeless shelter) to foster Jazz and was reunited with him. The program allowed time for me to take care of myself and find a pet friendly apartment. I was also pleasantly surprised when the men looking after Jazz revealed how he lifted their spirits and how much they loved him. I was happy to see fosterers also deeply benefit from this temporary arrangement.
I had nine great years with him, and he passed away a year ago. Jazz provided love, comfort, and joy was my best friend and constant companion. From this experience, I realized other people go through similar challenges. Up to 65 percent of domestic violence victims are unable to escape their abusers because they are concerned about what will happen to their pets when they leave. One million DV survivors in the US are in need of pet care in order to enter a domestic violence shelter.
What was the most challenging aspect of launching your nonprofit?
Nonprofits are a completely new industry with impact measurements instead of revenue. I previously built real estate development and previously worked in corporate finance and in education as a high school teacher and coach. Overall, however, it’s been a smooth transition since my heart is connected to PetsEmpower.org, and I believe in our mission 100%.
What resources have you used to start your business?
I bootstrapped so far and will apply for startup funding with impact data from the ongoing Boston and Providence pilots.
How do you plan to expand your company?
I intend to connect with regional and national media profiling personal stories of DV survivors and their pets utilizing our services. We will show PetsEmpower.org preserves healing and therapeutic relationships. PetsEmpower.org is a thought leader through our “PetsEmpower.org Introduces” podcast. With 224 million Americans spending over $60 billion annually on their pets, we need to educate US pet owners on how DV survivors also deserve to maintain loving pet relationships.
I am also connecting with corporations and foundations looking for social impact. Over time we’d love to collaborate with PetSmart and other national pet industry foundations. We will also sell PetsEmpower.org t-shirts, socks, and fleece blankets and hold doggy fashion shows and dinners. As long as we raise funds, we can provide grants and have national and international impact. Right now we are looking for fosterers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, throughtout New England and Central New York.
Walk me through a day as a founder of a nonprofit.
I start my day with my yellow lab, Kariya, at the dog park and then swim at the YMCA. I then head to the Social Enterprise Greenhouse in Providence, RI. I meet with mentors, distribute flyers at veterinarian offices and dog stores, post online for volunteers, write website content, and reach out to DV organizations to build relationships. I speak with members of our Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, communicate with our public relations student team at the Boston University PR Lab, and attend entrepreneurship networking events.
How can the Cornell community support you?
We are looking for prospective advice in terms of direction and recommendations. We’d love to network with social impact angels and are appreciative of introductions and guidance. We’d be grateful to partner with socially conscious commuity groups. We also have opportunites to serve on both boards. The Board of Advisors provide advice on an informal basis and meet quarterly. The Board of Directors work closely with me, meeting once a month, and provide ongoing direction.
I’d love to connect with veterinary school and socially conscious students, alumni, community members, and student groups passionate about our mission. I am looking for volunteers to share our social media (please like us on Facebook at PetsEmpower.org!) and connect with community organizations, animal rights groups, and DV organizations locally. We are looking for fosterers in MA, RI, CT, NY, and across New England.
I am also looking for help identifying speaking engagements and would love to visit Ithaca and NYC this fall and speak to Cornell student clubs. We have outreach opportunities to change lives of pets and DV survivors by planning group dinners at local restaurants where we receive a percentages of sales or by selling PetsEmpower.org merchandise.
Is there anything else you would like to share about PetsEmpower?
One million DV survivors’ pet fostering needs are unmet, and I’m determined for DV survivors to not have to choose between their own safety and their pet relationships. For me, my relationship with my black lab Jazz was the most important one in my life. Please join me in together building PetsEmpower.org as the leading worldwide foundation preserving pet relationships for DV survivors. We will save the lives of pets and people and promote positive health outcomes. You can make a difference!
I’m happy to speak further at firstname.lastname@example.org.