Since 2007, San Francisco resident and animal lover Sherri Franklin has changed the lives of nearly 6,000 senior dogs. As the founder and CEO of Muttville, a non-profit organization specializing in the rescue and adoption of older animals, Franklin’s mission was to change the way people saw elderly dogs — not as undesirable, but as soulful and kind.
Franklin’s story is one of hope and sacrifice as she dreamed up a way to give senior dogs a safe place to find their “furever” homes. As the saying goes, never mess with a woman on a mission! Enjoy this heartfelt story of one caring person whose vision to save lives became a beautiful reality.
Sherri Franklin Is An Animal Lover
Sherri Franklin’s home has always been a safe place for senior dogs in need of a foster parent. Being a long-time animal advocate and shelter volunteer, the decision to help older pooches was a no brainer. In an interview, Franklin discussed her love for older dogs that other people deem “unadoptable.”
She said, “I’ve always loved the ‘oldies’ and had a soft spot for the dogs that were considered unadoptable due to their age or behavioral issues. After a while, I realized that I could probably be doing more, so I started fostering these dogs and finding them permanent homes.”
Before Her Non-Profit, She Volunteered At Shelters
Ten years before Franklin thought up a business plan for a non-profit, she was an avid volunteer at the San Francisco SPCA. There, she saw a rotating door of older dogs coming in and out of the shelter but never leaving with a furever family. Senior dogs tend to be the first ones slated for euthanasia.
“I would see these dogs arrive at the shelter with so much hope and joy in their eyes, and watch as it slowly disappeared,” says Franklin. She knew there was more she could do for the senior dogs. But what could she possibly do?
A Beagle-Basset Mix Named Heidi Changed Her
While working at the SPCA, Franklin met a beagle-basset mix named Heidi, an elderly pooch who came to live at the shelter because their owner had passed away. Franklin became enamored with the animal, always playing and bringing her on walks.
But one day, when she went in for her shift, her furry friend was nowhere to be found. Franklin had to come to terms with the truth: no one had adopted Heidi, and she had been euthanized. Unfortunately, Heidi’s fate isn’t that uncommon for older shelter dogs, something that didn’t sit well with Franklin. She wanted to help the senior dog population.
Older Dogs Are Less Likely To Get Adopted
According to research, dogs that are seven or older are less likely to get adopted. And because of overcrowding in shelters, they’re more likely to be put on a euthanasia list. Being an animal lover, Franklin was not okay with her friend meeting that end; she had to do something.
“I am not one of those people that can just watch something and not do anything about it, so I knew I needed to get involved,” says Franklin. The problem was, what could she possibly do? But when there’s a will, there’s a way.
An Idea Started To Take Shape
After a lot of thinking and brainstorming, the beginning stages of what is now known as Muttville came to be! According to their website, the mission behind Muttville is to “give senior dogs a second chance at life.”
But it wasn’t easy to get to where the organization is today. Franklin’s idea was brand new, so she was starting entirely from scratch with no direction or non-profit background. How was she supposed to found and fund an organization? She had no clue where to start!
Everything Started Out Organically
With no previous non-profit experience, Franklin was playing it by ear. “I would look up adoption applications on the web and say ‘okay, let’s try out that type of form.’ The growth was always organic from the very beginning,” she says.
She also couldn’t run the entire operation on her own. She needed help. Starting with her friends, Franklin began to recruit volunteers for her senior dog vision. It didn’t take long for word to spread! Volunteers began organizing fundraisers, and even Girl Scouts were giving their cookie proceeds to Muttville.
2007: The First Year
The first year of Muttville was in 2007, and it was a trial by fire. The organization was being run out of Franklin’s home because there wasn’t enough money to rent space for a shelter. But she believed in her vision and business plan, so everything was bound to work out. Right?
With the help of her many volunteers, Franklin was able to rescue 27 senior dogs in the first year of the non-profit’s operation. The news was quickly spreading of Muttville and Franklin’s mission to save senior dogs, and the number of rescued and adopted dogs just kept growing!
She Had To Make Older Dogs Marketable
Franklin wasn’t sure how to market the older dogs, or if there was even a market for them! She went through a few different strategies, one being “let’s make senior dogs sexy.” Since other shelters weren’t doing much in terms of marketing the elderly animals, it was as good a place to start as any!
Franklin says their marketing mission grew from there. The goal was to make senior dogs look like the best dogs ever, focusing on how soulful and easy to care for they are. Franklin even went as far as to say, “they’re like putting on your favorite pair of slippers.”
She Started With A Few Different Marketing Strategies
After working out a few different strategies, Franklin soon realized that to attract different kinds of people, she was going to have to utilize different marketing ideas. Instead of talking about how old the dogs were and how it’s sad that they were brought to a shelter, Franklin decided to put out hopeful and positive stories about the rescues.
As social media wasn’t big at the time of Muttville’s creation, to get the stories out, Franklin and her partners decided to create a beautiful webpage. Now, however, sites such as Facebook and Instagram are very important for sharing stories and other news regarding the non-profit.
2010: Finding A New Space
After the first year of Muttville, Franklin began receiving hundreds of emails regarding senior dogs, asking her to take them in. By 2010, she had rescued nearly 600 elderly dogs, making her home in the Bay Area feel a bit smaller than it used to!
With the increase in furry residents, Franklin decided that it was time to relocate the operation to a proper building. The only issue was that the company is non-profit, and they didn’t have the funds to rent out space for a prolonged period of time.
Franklin Solicited Donations
As rent money for a new space was a concern, Franklin made a plan to solicit donations from the public. After all, the Bay Area was fully aware of her mission by that point, so she was sure some would be willing to help. She was right!
After posting out inspirational pictures and videos on social media, as well as sending out newsletters explaining Muttville’s mission, Franklin was able to raise $100,000 by 2012! With that money, Muttville signed a lease for vacant office space at the San Francisco SPCA adoption center, the place Franklin used to volunteer.
The Space Was Perfect!
The rented space is located on Alabama and 16th in San Francisco and was perfect for Franklin’s needs. The vacant building has a spacious layout, giving the rescues a great place to roam and play. “A shelter is generally not a happy place for a dog, so we have made ours more like a home,” says Franklin.
“Our facility is 4,000 square feet. It’s cage-free with dog beds, sofas, and ramps everywhere.” But her main goal is not to spoil the dogs but to get them to one of the 50 foster homes she works with, in hopes of finding an adopter.
Now That They Have A Space, What About Other Funding?
With all of the great causes out there, a big question Franklin is frequently asked is how Muttville is able to stay afloat. It is a non-profit, after all. The answer is simple: the money comes from fundraisers, private donors, and foundations. In 2015, Muttville was able to raise $675,000 from the Moolah for Mutts event that’s hosted once a year!
Even though that seems like a lot of money, Franklin says that it’s a constant challenge keeping up with funds. This is because more of the money goes to vet costs for the senior dogs for things such as microchipping, vaccines, and wellness exams.
They Find Ways To Save
The good news is that because the elderly dogs are so well taken care of at Muttville, all of the pets Franklin rescues move on to permanent housing! With an adoption fee of $200, it’s nice to know the non-profit’s funds will never go dry — there will always be dogs to rescue and adopt.
It also helps that the staff is made up of 250 volunteers who aren’t compensated in the traditional sense. What they get is even better, the knowledge that they are part of something that helps better the lives of innocent animals.
Seniors For Seniors!
One Muttville program that has become increasingly popular is Seniors for Seniors, an initiative that has senior humans coming in to adopt a senior dog free of charge. Franklin says that many families will bring in their older family members in hopes of finding them a furry companion.
The families are even able to sit down with an adoption counselor, so they find the perfect senior dog! Franklin says, “A lot of our older dogs have come to us from senior owners, so they’re used to a lap and a mellow life. We do a lot of matchmaking.”
Franklin Has Learned A Lot
In an interview with Driven for Women, Franklin said that the biggest thing she learned while starting a non-profit was to “pick your board wisely, not just your friends!” Starting an organization such as Muttville requires a tremendous amount of teamwork, so you need to hire the right people. If they happen to be your friends, great, if not, find someone else.
Also, she’s learned how to ask for help when she is unable to do something. Franklin admitted that “being able to step away and say ‘no, I don’t know everything, I don’t know how to keep my books or write a budget,’ is huge!”
Franklin Is Thinking About Next Steps
Muttville has grown substantially since its creation in 2007, now having a building and various programs for the senior dogs. One such program is “fospice,” hospice for foster dogs. Franklin’s plans for the future include creating a manual for other shelters that want to start a similar program for their rescues.
The non-profit is also looking into hosting a conference. They want to create a space that allows rescue workers and volunteers to share their stories about what their shelters are doing. Since “adopt, don’t shop” is becoming increasingly popular, Franklin wants to bring people together to discuss trends in rescue shelters in hopes of bettering the adoption process.
Neuter, Spay, And Educate
When asked what the most impactful way a person can help dogs, Franklin’s answer is simple: neuter and spay! It’s important because the homeless dog population is a real issue, so making sure your pet is taken care of is a big help.
Another way to help is through education. Franklin says that if a parent teaches their children at a young age that a pet is a lifelong commitment and not just a Christmas gift for one day, then more dogs will have happy lives.
The Future Looks Bright
Franklin’s hope for the coming years if to find the non-profit a furever home. The space they are renting now is becoming too cramped because of all of the senior dogs Muttville has been able to rescue. Franklin believes that if they had their own space all of their programs with senior citizens, “fospice,” and humane education would be able to grow.
Franklin says, “We could do so much more of everything if we had our own home. That’s my big goal before I leave Muttville.” There’s no telling what Muttville would be able to accomplish with a larger space!
Franklin Wants To Share MuttVille’s Blueprint
The second mission Franklin hopes to achieve in the coming years is to share Muttville’s blueprint with other shelters. After various trials and errors, Franklin and her team have found a blueprint that works for their senior dog rescue non-profit. Her hope is that the formula will work for other shelters looking to revamp how they go about getting their older pets adopted.
In an interview, Franklin said, “there are people that have come to us, from as far away as New York, to follow our blueprint and start their own senior animal rescue or add seniors to their other programs.” Here’s hoping other shelters adopt Franklin’s plan!