One Man’s Plan to End Pet Over-Population

It all started when 10-year-old Dylan looked out his bedroom window and caught something out of the corner of his eye. He thought it might be a baby coyote, a reasonable guess since his family lived in Thousand Oaks, California. He got his mom, Lynnda, and together they went outside to take a look. 

The coyote turned out to be a dirty little dog with patches of fur missing here and there. Dylan’s dad, Joey, took a look at the small dog, a Chihuahua mix. She had obviously been on her own for a long time. “Her nails were so long they were growing into her pads,” Joey recalls, “and she had a tire mark on her back.” 

Some people might have walked away from the little dog. But not Joey Herrick. A confirmed animal lover, he also happened to be the President of Natural Balance Pet Foods, who regularly arranged the donation of millions of pounds of dog food to shelters across the country. After taking the Chihuahua to a vet and checking lost dog sites on the Internet, Joey and his family gave the dog, who they named Lucy, a forever home. A few weeks later, Lucy gave them a surprise in return when she had a litter of five pups. Joey and family kept one pup and canvassed their friends and neighbours to find good homes for the remaining four. 

Lucy’s story has a happy ending, but for many, many dogs like Lucy, the outcome would have been very different. Thousands of unwanted animals across North America are regularly abandoned and left homeless and hungry, or dropped off at over-burdened animal shelters where, too often, they are put down if no one adopts them. In the United States alone, nearly 5,500 cats and dogs are killed every day; an estimated two million animals die in U.S. shelters every year. 

It was painful for Joey to think about what might have happened to Lucy if his family hadn't found her. Never one to back away from a challenge, he decided to tackle the pet overpopulation crisis head-on. After selling Natural Balance Pet Foods in July 2013, he started the Lucy Pet Foundation, a charitable organization that reduces the number of unwanted cats and dogs by offering a mobile, low or no cost spay/neuter clinic services to high-risk animal populations. To get the foundation off the ground, Joey put in a million of his own money. 

In the four years the mobile spay/neuter clinic has operated thus far, the Lucy Pet Foundation has fixed thousands of animals, thereby tackling pet over-population and thus the number of pets being put down in shelters across the country. Since its inception, the Lucy Pet Foundation has spayed/neutered over 16,000 animals. When they are not performing surgeries, the mobile clinics vaccinate and microchip animals and also feature dogs and cats for adoption. Last year, the foundation fixed over 4,600 animals but the immediate goal is to increase that figure to 6,000 spay/neuters annually for each mobile spay/neuter clinic they have in operation. 

Joey and his staff also work hard to build awareness about the pet overpopulation crisis. The foundation’s chief veterinary officer, Karen (Doc) Halliday, regularly visits schools to talk to kids. Joey turns it into a fun event by providing colouring books that illustrate his message, and by sending along cool dogs like Surfin’ Jack, the foundation’s surfing (yes, really) canine mascot who sports a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. When the kids see that fantastic dogs like Surfin’ Jack could lose their lives, it makes the issue much more immediate and personal. 

The Lucy Pet Foundation has also found other, more innovative methods of getting the public’s interest. Joey made a splash—literally—when he developed North America’s first-ever portable wave pool for dogs, the Lucy Pet Crankin’ K9 Wave Maker, which holds 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters) of water and features an automatic wave generator. While Surfin’ Jack and his canine friends (plus one surfing cat!) are drawing people’s attention by riding the waves, Joey talks to the media about the Lucy Pet Foundation. 

Never one to make small plans, Joey intends to increase the number of mobile clinics he has on the road from a few to 40, so even more animals can be treated. Although he began in his home state of California, serving at risk populations in Los Angeles and surrounding areas, Joey intends to give the Lucy Pet Foundation a national presence. To fund this, he began an innovative, feel-good pet products company called Lucy Pet Products to support the cause. Working with Dr. George C. Fahey, a leading expert in digestive health, Joey, along with his partner Rick Rockhill, who has decades of experience in the pet products industry, developed a premium pet food that features Prebiotic Balanced Fiber (PBF). This diverse blend of fiber supports a healthy gut and enables optimal digestion. “It’s a game changer,” Joey proudly emphasizes. 

100 percent of the profits from Lucy Pet Products go to the non-profit Lucy Pet Foundation, which works tirelessly to reduce the staggering rates of pet euthanasia in North America. Perhaps predictably for this generous and warm-hearted animal lover, Joey refuses to take a salary from either the Lucy Pet Foundation or Lucy Pet Products. “I never took a dime from it,” he explains, adding, “I want all of the money to go towards helping the animals.” 

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