Actress Elaine Hendrix is one of the driving forces behind an animal welfare organization that truly puts its money where its mouth is.
As a celebrity, I get asked to participate in a lot of causes,” says actress Elaine Hendrix. “But I was starting to feel a bit schizophrenic with all the different charity events I was attending. I decided I could make the most impact if I had a more singular message and platform of my own.”
A veteran of more than 100 movies, television shows and theater productions, including Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 and 90210, the busy performer found it difficult to choose just one charitable cause to which to devote her time. Then she made what she calls her “fortunate mistake” of watching an undercover fur industry video. “It was literally one of the most disturbing and traumatizing things I’ve ever seen,” she says. “In that moment, my life was changed forever.”
A formidable team
Elaine Hendrix teamed up with Scotlund Haisley, a veteran of animal-related causes who has worked with major organizations like the Humane Society of the United States. Scotlund has had experience with virtually every animal welfare issue, from dog fighting and animal hoarding to saving dogs and cats from natural disasters, and now wanted to start his own group.
“Having over 20 years’ experience in many areas of animal protection, I’ve identified the gaps and needs in this field on a national level,” Scotlund explains. “I recognized the need to have an organization that can give 100% attention to specific issues, and that offers the necessary resources to address large scale animal suffering from beginning to end. There is also a need for a service for animal shelters that assesses their operations, policies, procedures, facilities and philosophy, and offers them direction in holding themselves to the highest standards.”
In late 2010, Elaine and Scotlund founded Animal Rescue Corps (ARC). Half a dozen additional team and board members subsequently joined the Washington, DC-based organization, including a veterinarian and a director of outreach. “Having worked in the field for so long, I had the ability to identify some of the most compassionate, committed and competent professionals in the field,” says Scotlund.
Action and example
According to Scotlund, ARC focuses on three main areas: rescues, training/education, and shelter assessments. It assists any animal in need, from household companions like dogs, cats and birds, to horses, pigs and even wild animals.
“Our ultimate goal, as we conduct our work, is that we educate the world on the issues that involve animal suffering and help people make the connection between their choices and that suffering,” Scotlund says. “I believe the best way to make change is through action and example.”
Elaine Hendrix agrees that teaching by example is vitally important. “The reason I feel so passionate about what we do is because it’s down and dirty hands-on work,” she says. “We’re actually out in the world interacting with people in various communities, educating through direct action, and removing living beings from harm. For me, it’s the greatest way to make a difference.”
And what a difference ARC is making, even though it’s not yet two years old. From removing over 100 dogs from a Tennessee puppy mill to rescuing another 200 from a native community in Quebec and holding a spay/neuter clinic for its residents, ARC is all about positive action.
ARC also conducts customized assessments of shelters, rescue groups and sanctuaries and offers training courses for volunteers, professional rescuers, law enforcement or anyone who works with animals and addresses animal cruelty.
The work is endless
Although Elaine Hendrix has seen progress in many animal-related issues over the years, she knows there’s still a long way to go. “Approximately 25 years ago, 18 to 20 million animals were being euthanized in the US shelter system on an annual basis because they didn’t have a home,” she says. “Today, that number is down to four to six million. That’s a huge decrease, yet four to six million animals being killed every year simply because they don’t have a human to claim them is ridiculously absurd and wrong.
“At this point, the work to save animals is endless,” she adds. “Just when you have one victory, you’ve got two more horror stories coming up right behind it. That’s why it’s important to educate. In all my travels, I find that most people want to do right by animals, but they just need to know what that looks like.”
Scotlund also sees great strides being made, along for a need for further improvement. “The animal protection community is growing every day,” he says. “As it grows, our voices are louder and our actions are more impactful. More puppy mills have been penetrated in the past five years than ever before. As a result, proactive and reactive laws pertaining to puppy mills are being passed. Spaying and neutering has started becoming the norm. Community members, now armed with knowledge, are also speaking out against the absurdity of breed specific legislation, and more and more people are finding the only responsible way to get animal is through adoption.”
Scotlund points to animal agriculture, involving both domestic and farm animals, as a lingering problem. “Every year, billions of dogs in puppy mills, farmed animals, horses and other animals that fall under the authority of the Agriculture Department suffer in the hands of billion dollar industries,” he says.
Every penny counts
ARC’s main funding comes from private donations, although it also gets some donated services and products and is seeking corporate sponsorships. “I don’t know that I ever truly believed it until I became an officer of a non-profit, but every single penny we get literally makes a difference,” says Elaine. “We have such a small administration at this point, and we are bringing a whole new meaning to the term ‘multitasking’. Anyone who gives to us on any level can absolutely feel good about where they are investing their hard earned resources.”
A memorable case
As part of the founding group, Elaine devotes a huge amount of time and energy to the organization. “ARC is now my second fulltime job, next to acting,” she says, adding that she has been involved in many of its cases. “Each one is different and carries different memories for different reasons,” she says.
A March 2010 puppy mill bust in Warren County, Tennessee, is one of the most memorable for Elaine because it was ARC’s first case. It stands out in Scotlund’s mind as well. “We walked through row after row of tiny, filthy, dilapidated wire cages,” he recalls. “We locked eyes with hundreds of desperate, forgotten dogs who had faced extreme weather conditions while wallowing in feces, most without access to water or food. That day, Animal Rescue Corps made the first promise that the suffering we witnessed would end forever.”
Elaine Hendrix agrees with Scotlund about the emotional impact of that case. “When we got the call to deploy, it was such an exciting and affirming call to action,” she says. “Then we actually pulled those animals out of hell. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.”