Why True Animal Advocacy Starts with Advocating for Rescuers

Thursday, Jun 23, 2016


At Sparkie, to us being an advocate for animals means also being an advocate for animal rescuers. After all, without rescuers we’d have no rescue animals! That’s why we feel so lucky to have met David Cowardin, who can teach us all a thing or 2 about what being an animal lover and animal rescuer supporter is all about.

I connected with Dave through LinkedIn (we swear we don’t meet every one through LinkedIn here at Sparkie!) after seeing him post about his work in an animal rescue group interest page. As I was on the hunt for more feedback on the product we had built up to that point, I had a hunch he'd have an interesting perspective to offer about the needs of rescuers that could inform our product roadmap moving forward. After all, according to his post, he had just spent over a month writing and shooting content for his book Down South Justice: Animal Rescue in the Deep South.

I’ll be honest, the first thing that struck me was Dave’s youthful face. I remember asking myself why a young guy would want to tell a story like this, especially since 9 out of 10 times an "animal rescuer" is likely to be a (middle-aged) woman, not a 27 year-old, all American boy.

Dave Cowardin, author of Down South Justice: Animal Rescue in the Deep South

Dave and I connected over the phone and his humility and depth of knowledge about rescuers' needs instantly shone through. He told me that when building our product, keep in mind just how fiercely passionate rescuers are. His anecdotes about people he met who went so far as to mortgage their house to keep their rescues afloat really touched me. “Biting off more than one can chew” seemed to be a common theme. Making software that could in some way control that urge would be a huge win.

He also mentioned the isolation rescuers feel in their work. He noted that some people he had met weren’t even aware – just 10 miles away – that other rescuers were doing the same work as them. They weren’t sure how to connect and had little outside support, so Dave spent a lot of time when he was down in Alabama just helping rescuers meet other rescuers (and this suggestion contributed in part to our decision to start our blog, SPARK!, which provides useful tech tips and resources to rescuers).

I also asked Dave if I could pick his brain on video editing as I was gearing up for a road trip down to North Carolina to meet with my co-founders. Not only did he give me some great video tips (which we’ll feature in future blog posts) but he outright offered to be our video editor!

Maybe I’ve lived in NYC for too long, but I immediately thought, ‘what’s his angle?" "How much will he charge us?" "Why isn’t he asking for something in return?” I slowly realized that the offer is just who Dave is, and the epitome of what it means to give yourself selflessly to a cause. I spent a lot of time that day thinking about if I was doing enough to help...

Dave then had a question for me about halfway through our conversation, "Did you read my book?"

Gulp. "I haven't," I replied, feeling like an idiot for engaging him without coming more prepared. I ordered it that night and started reading. The second I hit anything even remotely sad, like mentions of seeing dead dogs on the street, I closed it. You see, at Sparkie, being ‘inspiring’ is one of our founding principles…so I reasoned that if I read his book, I would be too sad, and therefore not inspired...so it was OK not to finish it (amazing what we can convince ourselves of if we try).

I finally picked it back up 4 months later after I had the realization that ‘inspiring’ doesn’t have to mean ‘happy’ and that sad stories on the surface can, in fact, turn out to be some of the most hopeful. I’m sure glad I had that epiphany.


Down South Justice: Animal Rescue in the Deep South is one of the more inspiring stories I’ve read in the past year and pushes me to push myself to do more to help rescuers. Here's why.

Imagine having just graduated from college and being able to get almost any job you wanted…but instead you decide to pack up a van, drive for thousands of miles, and film some really bad (and really good) things happening to animals in Alabama. Then imagine, once down there, coming face to face with animal abusers and dog-fighters and having to stand up to them (sometimes risking your own life) just to get the footage you need. And then on top of all that, imagine trying to stay as objective as possible in order to preserve your journalistic integrity.

Able to picture yourself doing that? I knew I couldn't.

But that’s exactly what Dave (along with his friend Joe) did in their quest to shed light on what’s going on with animal rescue down South.

Dave on his road trip down south

Down South Justice is part tribute to animal rescuers and part coming of age story, of a somewhat naïve Minnesotan who has to come to grips with the harsh realities of rescue on the front line.

[The rescuer] managed the steering wheel with her wrists as she teased a cigarette out of its pack... She reminded me of a skydiver who relied on the adrenaline of a jump to feel alive. I wondered if her vigilante behavior, which began out of a need to save dogs, was transforming into a need to feed herself with that rush of adrenaline.

- Down South Justice

In his book, David rights with a piercing earnestness. No hype, no exaggeration, no melodrama; just what he’s feeling, when he’s feeling it. At times, it can be difficult to tease out and get through all the emotion, but that makes it all the more relatable.

He balances providing realistic details about the harsh truth of rescue in Alabama (where rescuers face things like dealing with uncooperative politicians and carrying guns to protect themselves from dog-fighters) with strong, objective arguments in favor of animal rights (for example, citing studies that show animal cruelty often leads to more violent crimes against humans).

I wondered if that same feeling, that sense of being overwhelmed, was what caused so many people to ignore the plight of animals in the South. It’s easy to coast through life with blinders on, and maybe that blissful ignorance was the problem. Maybe Alabamians were conditioned over time to look the other way, to see a dog as an inanimate object. I didn’t know if it was right of me to blame them, so I chose to ignore.

- Down South Justice

What I like most about Down South Justice is that anyone – animal lover or not, Northerner, Southerner, young, old – can relate to David’s story. After all...

  • Who hasn’t faced a situation where what they were ‘told to do’ and what they knew was ‘right to do’ were in conflict?
  • Who hasn’t been so angered by an unfair action against an innocent individual that it took every ounce of energy (and sometimes energy from others) to hold back?
  • Who hasn’t wanted to just say ‘F-it’ and escape from difficult or tiring situations?

We’ve all been there at some point – maybe even all at the same time. More than anything, Down South Justice proves that it’s possible for us all to be courageous, push ourselves, and even break rules, if necessary, in the name of animal rescue.

We can’t thank David enough for his amazing contribution to animals and rescuers. He continues to be active in the animal rescue scene and is currently exploring new subjects for his next documentary. If you're a rescuer that would like to get in touch with Dave, contact him at lolavisuals.com or dave@lolavisuals.com. And either way, be sure to read his book and watch the documentary.