Jill Rappaport is on a mission to spread the word about the plight of animals in need of rescue, and it is at the core of everything she does––from her popular “Bow to Wow” adoption segment that she presented for years on the TODAY show, to the numerous products she has developed to make the lives of pets and their people happier and easier. We sat down with her to learn about her many animal welfare projects.
TAILS: Tell us about your partnership with Overstock.com, which you’ve called a “marriage made in rescue heaven.”
Jill Rappaport: I was on a press tour for the Humane Society of Utah and I ran into the president and CEO of Overstock.com at a radio station. I had always dreamt of creating a segment where I could offer people fabulous deals on pet products and use shelter animals who are up for adoption as the models—one thing led to another and it just clicked. Overstock has the goods, I have my own line, they have this rescue site, and I consider myself to be the voice for the voiceless.
I’m so honored to be the face of their rescue site. I will have my store, Jill Rappaport: Shop and Adopt, and will have products that people haven’t seen before, at great prices, while featuring shelters and the animals in those shelters.
Were you surprised by the retail company’s decision to build a rescue site?
No, I was thrilled and loved the idea! First of all, anyone who promotes animals and rescue is my hero. Overstock is the whole plight of shelters… they are all overstock! So it really is perfect.
What kinds of things will you be doing as the face of the site?
We are in the process of figuring out exactly what the future will look like, but I was eager to shoot some videos immediately and promote the amazing animals who need homes. I wanted to start by [featuring] a shelter I know and can endorse personally so I went straight to the Humane Society of Utah and met with some of their dogs and cats. I especially wanted to include what I call the “underdogs” of shelters— seniors and animals who have black fur—who have a bit more of a challenge getting adopted. All of the animals I featured got adopted within 3 days!
That leads us to your “Bow To Wow” segment, which was controversially cancelled by NBC after six successful seasons of finding homes for New York’s pets in need. While running, you had a 100% adoption rate. What are your secrets for placing homeless animals?
Any time you can show sweet, wonderful animals and share their stories, it puts a smile on everyone’s face. Seeing a dog go from matted and terrified in his cage at the shelter, to an upbeat, happy dog being paraded in by Michael Phelps or Donald Trump, is amazing. It reminded people what they needed to do, and how great shelter animals are, and to check out who’s available in their own community. People could see these were healthy, happy animals who just needed some love.
And, you know, Michael Phelps took one of my “Bow to Wow” dogs. I actually wanted the dog he took—a Catahoola mix who I named Pippa—but he kept her and kept the name!
What do you think are the biggest issues in animal welfare right now?
I go into city run shelters, private shelters, rescue groups, it doesn’t matter, and it’s easy to get discouraged, because you look around and every cage is full. People need to understand that these animals are not second-class pets. There are still some people who believe shelter animals are damaged goods, and it drives me crazy! You could have the most amazing, perfect animals in the world who were given up because of the people in their life—a death, a financial situation, anything. People need to know that a shelter animal will give back even more because they know you saved them from a dire situation. They understand you were their last chance.
I wish people would just understand that there is nothing wrong with these loving animals except their situation. That’s the thing that upsets me the most: people need to know that when you get an animal from a shelter, you are getting the gift of a lifetime.
We know you have some other exciting products in the works. Can you tell us about a few of them?
I have an equestrian jewelry line with London Jewelers called Hannah’s Heart, named after my beloved mare Hannah, that supports the ASPCA. I’m also working with Dog Gone Smart on a rescue collection.
I’m also working with Metro, a retired racehorse who paints. He has become the face of racehorses, and his paintings sell for thousands of dollars. I’m creating a line of halters and saddle pads using his designs in the fabric. It’s critical to keep spreading the message that while their careers on the track may have come to an end, retired racehorses have many more years left to enjoy.
There’s also the Shelter Shake, which will launch exclusively on QVC. It is a bright orange cone that wiggles and shakes and entertains your pet for hours. We will be donating these toys to shelters, to help the animals be more engaged and relaxed so that they will have a better shot at getting adopted.
You’ll be making an official announcement soon, but can you give us the inside scoop on your new TV special debuting in early 2015?
It is so exciting! I created, am the executive producer, and host of “Best in Shelters,” the Westminster for shelter animals. It will be a primetime special to honor and pay homage to all the wonderful animals who need homes. The only difference between these winners and the Westminster blue ribbon winners is their situations. Hopefully they will get a one-way ticket to a forever home.
It is my wish that all of these wonderful products, TV appearances, and other projects I am involved in raise awareness for rescue and adoption, and that people understand that when you rescue, you get rescued.
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