Once upon a time, Sherri Franklin was a successful (but uninspired) hairstylist in San Francisco. To find purpose in life, she began volunteering at the SPCA … and an old dog named Heidi captured her heart. Today, Franklin runs Muttville, a $4 million social enterprise that specializes in rescuing senior dogs. Research shows that old dogs over 7 are often considered “unadoptable” and put down even if they are in good health with friendly personalities. Franklin is committed to changing that statistic. In this inspiring podcast, learn how she basically changed everything in her life to make an impact in this world. Read more of Sherri’s story here.
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SUE: You’re listening to our series Good on the Ground...
VARIOUS VOICES: ...Good on the Ground...
COLLEEN: You’re listening to Good on the Ground from The Story Exchange, featuring women entrepreneurs making an impact in a world that needs fixing. I’m Colleen DeBaise.
SUE: And I’m Sue Williams.
SOT: (dogs barking)
SHERRI: Old dogs. Old dogs were my calling.
COLLEEN: Today we head to the West Coast...
SHERRI: My name is Sherri Franklin. I am the CEO and founder of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue in San Francisco.
SUE: ...to speak with an animal lover with a somewhat unusual obsession.
COLLEEN: Not a weird one!
SUE: A kind one.
SHERRI: When I see an old dog on the street, I have to stop and talk to the person and pet the dog. If I see puppies, I don't have that reaction.
COLLEEN: We’ll tell you how Sherri quit her career to start a $4 million social enterprise that rescues senior dogs.
SUE: Not the cute little puppies that everyone loves.
COLLEEN: Nope — it’s the old ones with grey faces and cataracts and arthritis.
SHERRI: We get dogs and we find out they have inoperable cancer, or they're in kidney failure, or they're in heart failure.
COLLEEN: Sherri’s organization — the aptly named Muttville — finds forever homes for these dogs.
SUE: And saves them from euthanasia.
SHERRI SOT: Oh my god, look at his tail wag!
SUE: Even if you’re not a dog lover yourself —
COLLEEN: I’m more of a cat person, personally.
SUE: I thought you might be! Well, whatever kind of pet tugs at your heartstrings, you’ll be inspired to hear how Sherri got Muttville off the ground...
COLLEEN: ...leaving a job that had become unrewarding to do what she feels is her calling in life.
SUE: Stick around.
SHERRI SOT: This is Gertie — she just came to us today from Yolo County and she’s just a darling little adorable apple-headed Chihuahua.
COLLEEN: That’s Sherri — she’s at Muttville’s 10,000-square-foot facility.
SUE: It’s really huge and, most importantly, it’s cage-free.
COLLEEN: Yep, cage-free — and she’s holding in her arms a super-cute senior dog who definitely has a lot of white around the muzzle.
SHERRI SOT: We don’t know much about her health or her background, but one thing we know for sure is that she is very lovable and she’s going to make someone really, really happy.
COLLEEN: Sherri finds senior dogs that need adopting, from shelters all over California — she even mobilizes in emergency situations.
SHERRI: We flew to Texas for hurricane Harvey and brought back dogs, senior dogs from there. We've helped with the fires in Northern California.
SUE: Most dogs are in shelters because they’re strays; others have been dumped. Still others...
SHERRI: ...come from someone who passed away and maybe cared for their dog really well.
COLLEEN: The common denominator is that they are old.
SHERRI: We rescue senior dogs over seven years old and find them new homes.
COLLEEN: Research from the Humane Society shows that old dogs over seven are often considered “unadoptable” and are put down, even if they are in good health with friendly personalities.
SUE: At overcrowded shelters, old dogs are usually often the first to be euthanized.
COLLEEN: Sherri is on a mission to show the world that old dogs still have a lot of love to give.
SHERRI: We are here to change the way the world thinks and treats older animals.
COLLEEN: Here’s one of Muttville’s volunteers — she’s petting a black-and-white German Shorthair Pointer mix named Daphne.
VOLUNTEER SOT: She’s very sweet and loving, and very energetic for her age. We think she’s about ten years old.
SUE: From the moment they arrive, dogs are cared for by Franklin and a staff that now numbers 20, and hundreds of volunteers.
VOLUNTEER SOT: That’s real cute! This little girl, we don’t have much history on, so one of the things that we always have to check for too is to see if they’re spayed or not.
COLLEEN: Dogs are vaccinated, deflead and dewormed.
SHERRI: One dog that came in, was so unhappy, cried all the time, didn't want to be touched, he was just kind of a grumpy old man. We had him get dental and they ended up removing almost all of his teeth and this dog, he went from being a 14-year-old, grumpy dog, to being an eight-year-old happy, loving, sweet dog.
SUE: Teeth are a big issue with older dogs.
SHERRI: We actually call it the Muttville salute, when the tongue is hanging out of the mouth because so many of our dogs lose their teeth.
COLLEEN: A dog whose rotten teeth have been removed can still eat perfectly fine, and...
SHERRI: Their adopters are happy because their mouths don't stink.
COLLEEN: But let’s talk about what Sherri was doing, long before she started Muttville.
SUE: Our story begins way back in the 1970s...
COLLEEN: ...in Southern California, where Sherri grew up.
SHERRI: I was a smart kid. I finished, graduated high school a year early and went to college, and really hated school and dropped out after three semesters and became a hair stylist because I wanted to be independent.
SUE: Sherri worked in Beverly Hills, then moved to Aspen, Colorado.
SUE (from tape): Aspen now is super high end, right?
SHERRI: When I moved there in 1976, it was very low key. Of course now everybody knows where Aspen is and millions of movie stars and billionaires live there.
COLLEEN: But back then it was...
SHERRI: ...a little post hippie era.
COLLEEN: She worked in a salon for a few months, then found a business partner who was a beautician.
SHERRI: We opened the first full service salon in Aspen. So we offered facials and waxing and manicures and pedicures. I had three stylists and there were about seven staff at our height.
SUE (from tape): That's a lot of business. That's scheduling, that's paying the rent.
SHERRI: And doing hair.
SUE: And doing hair.
SHERRI: I did hair every day. I had that salon for seven years.
COLLEEN: But after awhile...
SUE: ...even though the salon was successful...
SHERRI: I felt I needed a change. Living in Colorado, living in Aspen, is a little bit like living on an island. I felt like I needed to be out there in the world.
COLLEEN: Sherri decided to move to San Francisco, where her sister lived.
SHERRI: I had to start a whole new life, which is — if anybody’s ever done that, you know it's interesting, because you can really recreate yourself as well. I didn't know what I wanted to create for myself at all. I knew I was leaving. I knew I needed a new adventure.
COLLEEN: We’ve been sharing the story of Sherri Franklin, who started Muttville, a shelter for senior dogs, in 2007.
SUE: And we want to bring up something that was a real turning point for Sherri —
COLLEEN: It’s a sad story, but it’s a critical part of her journey. So, Sherri moves back to the West Coast.
SHERRI: I opened a salon in San Francisco and got on the map, was written about in the newspaper here. And I really just was not feeling so rewarded in my life.
SUE: And that’s when she starts volunteering at the local animal shelter.
SHERRI: That was a wake up call for me and I knew that this was where my life was going to take me.
SUE (from tape): So was there a particular incident that made you say, “I'm going to change my life. I'm going to work with animals?”
SHERRI: On my first day volunteering at the animal shelter I was volunteering at, it was this dog named Heidi. It was her first day too. She had been given up because someone had passed away.
COLLEEN: The dog was about 8 years old. She was a Beagle.
SHERRI: I don't know. She was a basset maybe. Beagle mix.
SHERRI: She had this waggly tail and she was so happy.
SUE: Sherri started going every day, before work, just to walk Heidi, the Beagle/Basset mix.
SHERRI: One day I came in and she was gone. I was like, “Great! She got adopted.” The truth was that she didn't get adopted. She was euthanized. I was heartbroken and I kind of — that was my calling then. Old dogs. Old dogs were my calling.
COLLEEN: And just like that...
SUE: Sherri became more than a hairstylist.
SHERRI: So I started taking dogs home one at a time from the shelter and fixing them up, cleaning them up, taking them to the vet and finding them homes. That was the beginning of my new life.
COLLEEN: Something we want to note for listeners...
SUE: Especially anyone thinking about launching a new career or starting a business or social enterprise
COLLEEN: We want to note that this did not happen overnight for Sherri.
SUE: Right. She continued to run her salon and bring senior dogs home to her house — lots of senior dogs — for the better part of ten years.
SHERRI: I had three dogs of my own and I'd bring one new one in. Then I'd bring more than one in.
COLLEEN: This was before Facebook, so Sherri would put up posters all over San Francisco.
SHERRI: It was me doing hair and having a big poster so my clients would end up adopting my dogs.
SUE: As time went by...
SHERRI: I was going broke spending a lot of money on vet care as well.
COLLEEN: She kept talking about starting a nonprofit.
SHERRI: But every time I read about how to start one and all the hoops you had to jump through, and, “Wait, I need a board of directors?” Every little step that I learned about nonprofits seemed to get scary.
SUE: We understand — we’re a 501c3 nonprofit ourselves — and it’s a lot of work to get going.
COLLEEN: So Sherri became a good student.
SHERRI: Every day I would get up and do one thing. I'd read one book. I'd go to one class. I'd go to different boot camps.
COLLEEN: She took classes at national organizations like the Foundation Center and CompassPoint.
SUE: She went to conferences, watched online videos and didn’t hesitate to ask for a lot of advice, which also helped her build her a network of supporters.
COLLEEN: And in 2007, Sherri finally launched Muttville.
SHERRI: That first year, I'm proud to say that we adopted out 27 dogs. Last year, just so you get a good picture of this, ten years later, we adopted out 1,052 dogs. This year we will rescue around 1,200 dogs in a year. But 27 was a big deal coming from my house on that first year.
SUE: News of Sherri’s mission spread by word of mouth throughout the Bay Area.
COLLEEN: Almost immediately.
SHERRI: A lot of people were drawn to this whole idea of senior dog rescue. We were the first in California and we were, I think, the third in the nation to actually start working just with senior dogs. It really struck a chord. Money started to come in.
SUE: Sherri’s never hesitated to ask people for money.
SHERRI: I am not afraid to ask, because I always felt like I wasn't asking for me, I was asking for the dogs.
COLLEEN: After three years, Sherri was finally able to pay herself — and a small staff — a salary.
SUE: And then it was time to move.
SHERRI: It got to the point at my house that I really, really didn't have a life at all. There were dogs coming and going, people coming and going.
SUE: We said this was an obsession!
COLLEEN: I can’t imagine running an animal shelter out of my house!
SUE: Neither can I! But Sherri said her house — a 3-bedroom San Francisco house with a big backyard, was completely set up for the dogs.
COLLEEN: Luckily for her, just at that point, the San Francisco SPCA was moving out of its facility — and Sherri knows the folks there quite well, of course.
SHERRI: I said, “Hey we'd really like to rent your offices, if it's possible.” They actually gave us an incredible deal. We now have about 10,000 square feet and we have a very new model for animal sheltering.
COLLEEN: Sue, you visited Muttville for the video we produced on Sherri.
SUE: I did indeed.
COLLEEN: And listeners can watch that video at TheStoryExchange.org. What’s the shelter like?
SOT: (dogs barking)
SUE: First impression is, it’s quite noisey. And to be honest, a bit smelly. It’s cage-free, so the dogs run all around the big main room. There are dogs on sofas, lolling on cushions, playing with each other. And lots of towels on the floor for the many accidents. But if you like dogs, which I do, it is such a fun place because the dogs are so friendly and playful. And being cage-free means it’s like being at home for the dogs.
SHERRI: It's not a sad, scary shelter. It is a very happy place. We believe that animal sheltering should be this way.
COMMERCIAL: We’ll share some celebrity recognition of Sherri’s work after this brief break. The Story Exchange is a nonprofit media company that provides inspiration and information for women entrepreneurs. If you like what you’re hearing, check out our podcast episode featuring San Diego entrepreneur Lucy Postins, who turned “human-grade” pet food into a multimillion dollar business.
LUCY: It’s basically people food that’s been formulated to meet the need of pets.
COMMERCIAL: It’s Ep. 7: The Honest Pet Food Jackpot.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS SOT: There are a million reasons as to why senior dogs arrive at a shelter.
COLLEEN: That is actor Neil Patrick Harris — and that soundbite is from when he hosted the CNN Heroes award ceremony in 2016.
SUE: Sherri was recognized for her work...
COLLEEN: ...adopting out 4,000 senior dogs since 2007.
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS SOT: That’s 4,000 slobbering kisses, hugs and drool-covered tennis balls to these blessed creatures, who still love us, flaws and all.
SHERRI: I believe that dogs can teach people to be kind. If you can be kind to your dog, then you can be kind to a human. Maybe.
COLLEEN: One of Muttville’s most popular programs is “Seniors for Seniors.”
SUE: The program is free. It places senior dogs in homes with senior people who are 62 and over.
SHERRI: Early on when I actually started Muttville, I knew that I wanted to address senior humans and senior loneliness.
COLLEEN: There’s also a weekly “Cuddle Club” meeting for seniors who can’t take pets home.
SOT: Aw, you’re such a good boy. Aw.
SUE: Oh, it’s so sweet. We have a great photo from that, of an older woman holding a sweet little dog.
COLLEEN: She just looks so joyful.
SHERRI: My favorite program that we started here is our hospice program. We get dogs and we find out they have inoperable cancer, but they don't know that. They're running around wagging their tail.
COLLEEN: Sherri has a network of volunteers who take the dogs home and give them love.
SHERRI: Some live six months. Some live two weeks. I feel it's a gift that we can actually help ease these dogs into a peaceful passing.
SUE: It’s a wonderful program.
COLLEEN: One last thing we’ll mention as this episode comes to a close...Sherri is not one of those people who grew up with pets.
SHERRI: I begged for a dog. Wanted a dog, wanted a dog, but really, that never happened for me as a child.
SUE (from tape): Why didn't they get you a dog?
SHERRI: We had a Guinea pig. There were four kids, and that was enough. I'm making up for a lot of lost time now.
COLLEEN: We thank Sherri Franklin of Muttville for sharing her story with us.
SUE: And we thank you for listening. This has been The Story Exchange. Join us next time to hear more stories about innovative and inspirational women doing the things you’d never dream of. Or...maybe you would.
COLLEEN: If you liked this podcast, please share on social media or post a review on iTunes. It helps other people find the show. And visit our website at TheStoryExchange.org, where you’ll find news, videos and tips for women entrepreneurs. And we’d love to hear from you, especially if you know someone who should be featured on this podcast: Drop us a line at [email protected] — or find us on Facebook. Sound editing provided by Christina Kelly. Interview recorded by Sam Shinn. Executive producers are Sue Williams and Victoria Wang.