So Many Pets People Thought Were Unadoptable Are Being Saved, Thanks To This Woman

Photo Courtesy Bissell Pet Foundation | Illustration by Rebecca Hoskins

Just a few years ago, Zyler, a gray and white pit bull from Texas, found himself in a shelter. He wasn't in good shape, either. He had bad burns all over the ridge of his back, because someone had tried to rid him of fleas and ticks... using kerosene instead of the proper treatment. He was so sad and in such rough shape that people at the shelter worried he wouldn't be adopted. The shelter was overcrowded and lacked funding to get him the treatment he needed, so they thought putting him down might be the only option.

That was until Cathy Bissell, founder of BISSELL Pet Foundation®, stepped in and changed everything. She arranged for Zyler to be transported to Harbor Humane Society in Michigan, just in time for one of the foundation's Empty the Shelters adoption events. Thanks to his gentle and friendly demeanor, a family fell in love with him almost instantly, and Zyler was one of the first adoptions of the day.

“The first group of people that came in, a mom and a son and daughter, they saw Zyler and that was it. They just said, ‘This is the dog,’" Cathy told The Dodo. “He's absolutely living the life and it would have been over for him. Those are the great stories. But they happen every day at every shelter. That's what's so wonderful.”

Photo Courtesy Bissell Pet Foundation | Illustration by Rebecca Hoskins

Stories like Zyler’s, and Cathy's profound love of animals, are what inspired her to start BISSELL Pet Foundation in 2011. The foundation works to reduce the number of pets in shelters across the country, striving for every pet (dogs and cats alike!) to find a loving home. Beyond assisting shelters with adoption, the foundation also supports spay and neuter programs to prevent unwanted litters, and microchipping so that lost animals have a better chance of being reunited with their families. So far, the foundation has impacted the lives of more than 300,000 pets. The commitment to pets extends to the BISSELL brand as well: beyond making floorcare appliances with pet parents in mind, the brand also directly supports the foundation and its mission to end pet homelessness with every purchase of a BISSELL product. 

To ensure pet adoptions continued in 2020, Cathy and her small team pivoted its Empty the Shelters events accordingly. Instead of a national, one-day event, Empty the Shelters took place across the span of several days, sometimes even weeks, to allow for appointment-only adoptions and other COVID-19 precautions. This resulted in more than 17,000 adoptions in 2020 alone. 

“I've always loved animals. I actually wanted to be a vet, but it became too difficult because they had to euthanize,” she said. “My love was always there and I always say things come full circle. I ended up back where I needed to be: helping animals but in a different way. In a better way, I think, actually.” 

Photo Courtesy Bissell Pet Foundation | Illustration by Rebecca Hoskins

Cathy is also a dog mom to five rescues herself. They each have their own unique stories and struggles: Zoey, for example, was recently diagnosed with Prototheca, a parasitic disease that caused her to lose her vision, some of her hearing, and sense of smell... even though she is only two years old. When they first brought Zoey home, she struggled with fear biting, meaning she would bite when she was afraid, a habit that resurfaced when she suddenly lost her vision. 

"Zoey has come so far from her days of being timid and fearful, but when she started to lose her vision, she panicked and went into her own world," Cathy said. “Everybody at the animal hospital walked by her kennel and assumed she was mean, but she was really just so disjointed that she was trying to protect herself. She's not mean at all. She is sweet as could be. It made me realize that shelters have some dogs that are fearful, and people automatically assume they're mean, when really they just need to have someone understand them, spend one-on-one time with them, and give them a chance.” 

Shelter pets, Cathy says, are frequently misunderstood — and that’s one of the reasons she says some people may choose to shop rather than adopt. Changing that misconception through the work of BISSELL Pet Foundation is one of her key goals. 

“I can tell you that every time I go to a shelter, I could walk out honestly with at least 10 dogs — at least,” she said. “So when people are saying they're going for a certain breed, you get to a shelter and you see these deserving faces that are so cute. They're like, ‘Pick me. Pick me. And it tugs at your heart. You realize that the most important thing to do is adopt and bring them home.”

To learn more about BISSELL Pet Foundation, follow Cathy Bissell on Instagram or visit their website.