"Unleashing" the Next Generation of Female Leaders and Animal Rescuers

Thursday, Jun 2, 2016


Looking back, relative to other age periods, middle-school has to be one of the toughest. Even if you're a pretty normal kid, it can be a struggle. Add on top of that being shy, not having that much support at home, and other issues and then it becomes really hellish.

That's why the work being done by Dr. Stacey Radin over at Unleashed so moved me. After first coming across Unleashed, I knew I just had to learn more about this remarkable woman and the ground-breaking program she has created for adolescent girls AND rescue animals.

If you care at all about these 2 causes, or simply want to be inspired, then keep reading....

Dr. Stacey Radin started Unleashed 7 years ago as part of an experiment to solve a critical social question: "If we cultivate power in girls as they are developing their identities, experimenting with who they are...would they be a different generation of women years later?" Based on extensive research, Dr. Radin knew that to make the answer a "yes", then girls in her program would need a cause to rally around; a cause they cared enough about to feel comfortable asserting themselves for.

So after asking some potential program participants what they wanted to be involved in, the girls overwhelmingly responded with "helping animals." And so Unleashed was officially born.

Social activism would be the “assertive” power component of Unleashed, the fuel to propel girls to take personal risks, develop strong leadership skills, and collaborate with others with a common purpose. It is the combination of these two findings that created the basis of Unleashed.

- Unleashed website

To date, Unleashed has worked with over 500 girls and saved nearly 700 dogs in the process. The program currently partners with 25 schools in NYC and plans to expand nationally next year.

We sat down with this high-energy, no nonsense New Yorker to hear how she's empowering the next generation of young women (and possibly, animal rescuers).

Sparkie: Unleashed sprung out of a large body of work you did understanding the relationship between women and power. When did the animal piece of the puzzle come into play?

Dr. Radin: The two findings of the research that are the foundation of Unleashed is (1) early influences shape a woman’s perception of her power (2) when a woman is passionate about a cause she’s more likely to use her power effectively.

I identified adolescence as the age because from a psychological standpoint that is the stage when she is starting to experiment and discover who she is; my hypothesis was cultivating power, self awareness and insight at that age would impact her profoundly. I needed to select the cause girls are most passionate about and conducted focus groups; eighty seven percent of girls said animal rights and welfare was something they cared deeply about.

One of the Unleashed participants, and her canine companion.

Sparkie: Reducing the rate of adoption returns is a HUGE goal for rescuers - Unleashed has a 1% return rate – that’s amazing! What do you do to keep this so low? And what advice do you have for rescues that are trying to improve this number?

Dr. Radin: It's an integrative approach; the evaluation and screening process; making the experience more personal (my adopters call me the puppy matchmaker) and then combined with the follow up support and guidance every adopter gets. They get me as their puppy coach.

My advice is not to rush adoptions; that even if it takes longer to adopt its better to think long term whether that dog is likely to stay in the home versus get that pup adopted quickly; and there is the right puppy for the right person and chemistry plays a huge role in that.

Sparkie: Unleashed is part pet rescue part social program for girls – how do you balance running the two sides of the organization? And when do you sleep?

Dr. Radin: People ask me when I sleep all the time! It just doesn’t feel like work so I am constantly working. It's become more living an Unleashed life. I try to integrate both aspects so I am covering all basis and I am hyper and have tons of energy (and get bored easily) so having those two separate but equal parts makes my job interesting and engaging to me. And because a lot of the rescue work is focused on my adopters and providing support I feel it still provides me with the opportunity to leadership coach.

Sparkie: You must have a ton of awesome stories about the girls you’ve worked with, or the rescues you’ve saved, or both – what’s one that really stands out in your mind? And why is that?

Dr. Radin: The girl that stands out to me the most was early on, the first year of Unleashed, because I was still trying to assess if Unleashed had an impact on girls and what that was.

There was a shy 8th grader who had been bullied for years and was about to change schools when she saw Unleashed was being offered; she joined and really lacked confidence. Over the course of that year, she began to sit taller, speak out and use her power to make a difference. I once found her in a local pet store convincing the owner to donate products to Unleashed to make up for supporting the puppy mill industry. By the end of the program, she was able to transfer the animal advocacy skills she developed to be able to stand up for herself. Her parents thanked me for saving their daughter but in reality, she saved herself.

Puppy wise, we are now dealing with a pup who was bred to be sold and the breeder abused her, breaking her jaw. She was then dumped in a poor, rural shelter in South Carolina and would never have survived. She is in foster and now has developed parvo, probably because her immune system was weakened, and despite it all she’s a sweet loving girl who continues to trust people.

One of the Unleashed classes with dr. Radin (second from right)

Sparkie: Rescue, as you probably know, is a pretty female-heavy space. Why do you think that is? And as someone with a deep understanding of women’s potential to change the world, how can women in rescue specifically bring their unique skills and perspective to other social issues?

Dr. Radin: Yes I have found rescue to be predominantly women. I have thought about this a lot and think there are a few reasons. One, women are historically the change-makers in their communities. They are the ones who do step up and fight hard to change things they feel are unethical.

Two, as my research showed, it is easier for a woman to advocate for someone or something else than to advocate or negotiate for themselves. And, women tend to have an emotional connection and reaction to a helpless animal.

Animals are the least powerful members of society and completely dependent on people. At the core of every issue an animal confronts, if you dig deeper, it is connected to issues such as overall violence, poverty, bigotry, lack of compassion and empathy, faulty government policies and systems.

In regards to transferring the skills they develop to other social issues, animal issues are connected to larger systemic problems in the world. Animal rights and welfare is synergistic to human rights and welfare. So in order to create sustainable change, animal rescuers will need to start addressing the overarching problems in our country that do impact them.

Here Dr. Radin tells the Unleashed story

At Sparkie, we couldn't agree with Dr. Radin more. That's why we're building technology to help rescuers find more time to tackle the bigger welfare issues out there, not manage data. To learn more about our work and the work of Dr. Radin (and potentially bring Unleashed to your city) drop us a line at spark@sparkie.io and we'll tell you more!