Local Hero – A New Breed

September 30, 2011 by Tails Magazine in October 2011 with 0 Comments

A former biologist and business consultant brings her skill set to an innovative animal rescueLos Angeles Local Hero - Aimee-Gilbreath

People say the key to happiness is finding what you love to do and doing it for a living. Such is the case with Aimee Gilbreath, the Executive Director of Found Animals, an inventive new animal rescue model in Los Angeles. The organization was founded in 2005 by Dr. Gary Michelson, an orthopedic spinal surgeon and inventor with a passion for animals and other causes. Inspired by the plight of animals after Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Michelson decided it was time to apply his ideas about “active philanthropy” to a different type of animal welfare group. “Dr. Michelson could easily just write checks to existing animal organizations,” Gilbreath explains. “But instead he uses his background in innovation to help effectively leverage the traditional adoption model at shelters to get more traffic.”

Gilbreath began her career in the biotechnology field working in research and development for Motorola. After earning her MBA from Stanford University, she began working with a management consulting firm specializing in the health care and consumer goods industries and moved to LA. During this time, Gilbreath began volunteering with a local animal rescue group where she saw firsthand the issues with pet overpopulation and shelter euthanasia. It was here, also, that she first fell in love with Pit Bulls, so much so, in fact, that she adopted Rufus, her now-6-year-old “puppy” who stars in some of Found Animals’ social media campaigns.

Gilbreath became interested in working for a nonprofit. “I caught the volunteer bug,” she says. Serendipitously, she happened to be helping her boyfriend search for a job when she came across an ad that caught her eye. “It was like it was written especially for me,” says Gilbreath. That job posting was for the Executive Director position at Found Animals, the group’s first-ever employee. After updating her resume, which she hadn’t done in seven years, Gilbreath got the job in 2008. “I get to come to work every day and know that I’m making a difference,” she says. She finds that her business background helps in the nonprofit world. “Consulting gives you the training to quickly adapt and assess what’s working and what isn’t,” Gilbreath says.

Now more than 30 staff members strong, with a volunteer base of more than 100, Found Animals is making a difference in the Los Angeles animal welfare community. The organization has a strong focus on research, as evidenced by the Michelson Prize & Grants, a multi-million dollar program seeking scientists who work toward developing a low-cost, single-dose, non-surgical sterilant for dogs and cats.

The group also recently opened its first adoption center in a shopping center in Lakewood, CA. The 1,000-square-foot facility offers an upscale, retail-style atmosphere where prospective adopters can meet rescued dogs and cats as well as purchase everything from collars and leashes to pet beds and food. The center has had more than 300 adoptions so far, and Found Animals hopes to open more locations.

Working with 16 area rescue groups, Found Animals holds an adopt-a-thon twice a year with the organization’s staff helping market and man the events. More than 500 pets were adopted at the most recent event held this past June. In addition, Found Animals has partnered with the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority to add an adoption annex at the shelter specifically for cats where more than 600 animals have since been adopted.

Found Animals strives to be a resource to the animal community, not only area shelters, but prospective and current pet guardians and policy makers. The group offers a wealth of information on its Website, including manuals for new adopters in both English and Spanish.

For more information about Found Animals, visit FoundAnimals.org.

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