this is placeholder if 

we decide to do news


Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Saving Sunny, Inc. was founded several years ago, after a little red Pit Bull Terrier dog fell from the sky and made a massive splash into our lives. When Sunny was thrown from the Clark Memorial Bridge in July of 2009, I was astonished, not only by the horrific act of cruelty she’d endured, but by her ability to completely disregard it and maintain an unyielding love for humankind. She exemplified resilience in a way I’d never seen before — unremitting and unwavering love for the very species that had tried to mortally harm her. She had to fall off an eighty-foot bridge and then swim through treacherous, rushing waters just to accomplish what she had to know was her true purpose in life. Those of us that would eventually form Saving Sunny didn’t know how or what to do to change the dynamic for dogs in Louisville — so Sunny told us. The same notion goes for when I met Maureen Keenan just a few short months after Sunny made her waves in Louisville. We met under quite particular circumstances and found common ground in unearthing our goals, passions, and a shared value system. Maureen was a force of nature to me and to so many around her, having been a prominent political and social activist for years with a gift for working with animals. We formed an innate, familial bond from the beginning, and realized that the dogs we so desperately wanted to help had some clear parallels to the marginalized communities that had been fighting for rights and discriminated against for so many years. The plight of the “pit bull” seemed to bear striking similarities to that of people of color, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and more. Judged not by their individuality, but by their outward appearance. Subjected to discrimination, violence, and even death, simply because of who they are or the way they look. We couldn’t sit silently and ignore these symmetries. We couldn’t merely form a dog rescue that cared for dogs and blindly bypassed their humans. We couldn’t advocate for equality without supporting all walks of life. We couldn’t excavate these correlations and create an organization that would do anything but promote diversity, inclusion, and compassion in our community. We set out to form a non-profit that would treat every individual like Sunny did — with a relentless drive to make every living being feel cherished and important. It seemed to be purely her existence to greet and to love every person with unabashed joy. Oh, to be more like Sunny every single day . . . one can only hope.

So, what does it mean to be a dog rescue that promotes diversity and inclusion, and how can we do this through helping the animals of our community? For us, it’s been growing and evolving into a dog rescue and a community support program. Through the dog rescue facet of our program, we rescue and re-home dogs, often those maligned by only their “blocky-headed” appearance. They go on to live happy and healthy lives in families and communities where they can help shape the hearts and mind of those that discriminate against “pit bull” dogs based on fear and media-hype. Through neighborhood support and our Community Dog Resource Center (CDRC), we form relationships with low-income pet owners living in “resource deserts” and work to assist them with these resources, so that they may keep their beloved pets, rather than having to relinquish them to a shelter (a reality for so many families). Assistance, for us, only works when we approach families and individuals with a judgement free mentality — to treat every situation with the knowledge that simply because it’s not our way, doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way.

The diverse and intricate relationships we’ve formed through our CDRC are what keep us going, day in and day out. Like *Ron, the dog-owner of three who suffered a stroke and a myriad of other health issues, who needed wheelchair-accessible housing, a wheelchair ramp, and help caring for his dogs while he recovered. Or Marchelle, the home-grown rescuer that saved her beloved Chihuahua, Poppy from the street amid gaining custody of her three young grandchildren and a stomach cancer diagnosis. Or Tony, caregiver to his terminally ill wife and loving owner of two pups, Cane and Able, that were difficult to walk on leash and behave in the home. Are these people not deserving of the companionship of a pet because they need a helping hand? Are they not worthy of assistance because of their socio-economic status, or age, or skin color, or gender? Or are these people the actual beating heart; the essence of Saving Sunny? Aren’t they exemplifying resilience, just like Sunny did? If we do not reach out and lend a hand to our neighbors that love their dogs like their human children, just as much as we do, can we ever actually call ourselves compassionate? At Saving Sunny, we believe advocating for animals and their humans is the only way to reduce owner surrendered pets and, ultimately, shelter deaths. “One of my favorite things about Saving Sunny is how it’s opened my eyes to prejudices I didn’t even realize I once held,” said Volunteer Coordinator, Jessica Carner. “What sets Saving Sunny apart in my eyes is the ability to set aside knee-jerk reactions to potentially difficult situations and evaluate them with a fresh perspective. For example, if someone isn’t super great with writing and has a tough time filling out an adoption application, it doesn’t mean that person will not be an excellent dog owner. If a pet owner contacts (us) about having to give up her dog, it doesn’t mean that person is a bad person . . . people need understanding and empathy, not judgement and refusal to help.” “At the first CDRC I came to, I watched (the Saving Sunny team) talk to every person there,” said all-star volunteer, Katie Cooper, “but there was one woman in particular that had no plans on spaying/neutering (her dogs). She declined, but we still proceeded to give her food, flea and tick prevention, and tags anyway. It was my third CDRC that she signed up. I believe it’s the way (we) treat everyone with respect that helps in making people want to do the right thing.” Sunny had no idea that her mere existence changed the entire dynamic in Louisville, not only for the dogs that shared her “breed,” but for the people that owned them, as well. Her lion heart inspired us to spread love and to speak out for untapped communities everywhere. And, while we are proud of what we’ve accomplished and the narrative that has only begun to unfold in Louisville and beyond, we know that we must continue to learn, grow, evolve, and become more diverse and inclusive. Sunny cradled every living being with love, with the warmth of the sun. If we can keep striving to maintain her outlook and mentality on each and every situation, we will one day truly honor her legacy. Written by Kelsey Westbrook, Co-Founder of Saving Sunny, Inc.

64 views0 comments

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

We all want to think the best of each other, although sometimes the violence and vile acts we see on the news make it difficult. The story of Isis, one of our most abused rescue dogs, is a dark story that has challenged the love of even the most forgiving among us. We want to share this tough story with you to illustrate how pit bulls, often the most feared and abused dogs, are able to love and trust humans even after going through living hell.

Isis was one of the few dogs saved by law enforcement each year out of thousands from cases of abuse, neglect, unlicensed breeding and fighting. Kentucky is home to many rescues, but our commonwealth has also been ranked as the worst state for animal protection laws for the 10th consecutive year. Dogs like Isis, who naturally want nothing more than love and a home, end up tortured and often killed for the profit and amusement of a few horrible people.

Fortunately, Isis (then called Cinnamon at the shelter) was one of the lucky ones to be found and rescued before it was too late. When authorities saved her, she was covered in puncture wounds all over her body and had gaping holes in her armpits. Her mouth had been duct taped shut (intake images can be found at the end of this blog). A victim of baiting, breeding and direct abuse, Isis received veterinary care and had to remain with Louisville Metro Animal Services (LMAS) for over a year. She was evidence in the court case against her abusers — a status that kept her both from being rescued or adopted out during that time.

“When Isis’ former owner’s court case came to a close, talks of the question of her death began fluttering about the shelter staff. She was a confiscated fighting dog. She was used as a vessel to create life and for monetary gain, there’s no way she could be rehabilitated or possibly live the life of a normal dog. Despite her horrifying past, Isis gained the love of a staff member, Emily. The small, fawn pup with horribly scarred skin and butchered ears won her heart, and eventually Emily would even use her body as a human shield in her quarantine kennel to keep her from being euthanized.” — Kelsey Westbrook, Co-Founder of Saving Sunny, Inc.

Rescuing Isis the Pit bull: From Shelter to Home

When Saving Sunny, Inc. was able to pull her from LMAS, Isis was affectionate toward women but still wary of men. Our board member Tiffany, who is also an experienced dog trainer and foster, took Isis home with her tail wagging. But Tiffany understood that Isis’ rehabilitation couldn’t be accomplished by humans alone. Because her dog Captain (short for Captain America) was no stranger to helping his abused brothers and sisters, Tiffany knew Isis needed them both.

Because of Isis’ bravery, Tiffany decided that she deserved a superhero type of name. This is when Cinnamon became Isis, named after the Egyptian goddess of protection and healing. When Isis arrived at Tiffany’s house, Isis met Captain and became scared, biting him in the face. Isis had forgotten how to be a dog, mistrusting and fearful of other dogs. Fortunately, Captain is an experienced leader who has helped many foster dogs regain their confidence and learn how to be one of the pack. It takes a special kind of experienced dog to deal with the mistrust, aggression and other behavioral difficulties abused dogs must face on the journey to their new lives.

Isis’ aggression didn’t phase Captain. Tiffany and Captain went to work on confidence building and implementing rules/structure/boundaries for her so she could relax. In Tiffany’s own words:

“She very quickly became [Captain’s] BFF and they were inseparable. He played a MAJOR role in her rehabilitation. They had a bond that was very, very hard to break up when she went to her perfect forever home.”

Isis rehabilitation went beyond superficial and emotional scars, however. During Isis time with Tiffany, she had 2 ACL surgeries which required lots of crate rest and long recovery times. Tiffany’s then boyfriend now husband Seth patiently also spent time with Isis, helping her overcome her fear of men. The love, care and structure provided by Tiffany, Captain, and Seth helped Isis endure her physical hardship and learn what it meant to have a loving home. Tiffany walked them together every day, allowed them to hang out in the house together, and eventually both dogs spent time in the yard on leash. Captain respected her space and was patient with her, and eventually she started trying to get him to play. From that point, they were inseparable best buds and Captain was like her security blanket. Literally, she would sit on him when it stormed because she was terrified of thunder and his calm energy helped her relax. Captain was the perfect dog for her rehabilitation because he is confident, he reads dogs well, knows what they need and adjusts to their needs very easily. Once she was best buds with Captain, Tiffany took Isis to make a few other dog friends, but it was quickly apparent to all that she would likely remain dog selective throughout her life. Despite a long rehabilitation with love, training and expert care, Isis would continue to have quirks and would need a home who could love and respect her unique needs. Tiffany and her family were not going to place Isis in a situation that would set her up to fail. After all Isis had overcome, they were willing to wait until the perfect adopters came along, no matter how long it took.

Isis Finds her New Family

Tiffany had spent a year with Isis, longer than any foster before her. Because Captain and Isis had bonded, Tiffany was very close to keeping Isis. She felt that if a PERFECT family didn’t come along, that she wouldn’t be able to separate Captain and his foster sister. Even the most experienced fosters become attached to their foster pups. After all, they expend their time and emotional energy opening their hearts and homes. Under foster care, the rehabilitated dogs have come a long way, and their future happiness and safety also feels like the responsibility of the foster family.

In November, seemingly out-of-the-blue, Tiffany received an email with a foster application that seemed too good to be true. The potential adopters understood that Isis would not be comfortable around small kids or strangers, and were committed to educating those around them about approaching her gently. Their immediate love and commitment to Isis convinced Tiffany that Isis had found her new family. In Tiffany’s own words:

“We scheduled a meet and greet and I was nervous/anxious…all the feelings. We had the meet and greet the night before Thanksgiving, and Isis stayed. I was a ball of emotions. Shortly thereafter they finalized and Isis was home for good.”

After more than a year and a half with her new family here in Louisville, Isis’ life would again change. Her parents adopted Max, her new big brother seen pictured to the left, the day before starting a road trip that would move them permanently across country. In June of 2016, they packed up and drove 2500 miles visiting Badlands National Park and Yellowstone. Isis saw prairie dogs and the eruption of old faithful, but didn’t take to the outdoors — “the opposite of her brother Max”, according to Isis’ new mom Ashlee.

In her new home in Vancouver, WA, Isis stays in bed as long as possible. Whether her parents’ big bed, the guest room bed or several dog beds and couches, Isis sleeps in a long as possible. The one activity that gets her off the couch is playing and digging in her big back yard with brother Max. Isis also loves sunbathing, and her parents take Isis and Max on walks along the Columbia River in warm weather. They even have a summer trip planned to see the Pacific Ocean, where Isis and Max will get to play in the sand and surf.

“She leads a charmed life, it’s the least we could do considering how loyal and loving she is to us, and how patient and kind she is to Max. We are forever indebted to team of people who brought her to us, they taught her how to be the best dog she could be and helped us become better owners. We never set out to be ‘bully breed’ owners; we got lucky. It was her sweet face we fell in love with and it changed our lives forever. After seeing the love, loyalty and comedy they bring to our family I’m not sure if we would ever adopt anything but [pit bulls].” –Isis’ adopted mom, Ashlee

A Happy Ending And More Wagging Tales to Come

Although Isis has left her foster family, she will always remain in their hearts. Tiffany and Captain continue to welcome other dogs in need of love and care into their family. Their big hearts, patience, and skill allow abused dogs like Isis to have a second chance. To forget about the trauma and become the silly, loving, lazy family dogs that they truly are.

A lot of organizations are not capable or willing to give a dog with Isis’ history the chance that they so desperately deserve. That is one reason why our rescue organization, Saving Sunny, is so unique. This organization started for the Isis’s of the world — those mistreated and feared dogs who want nothing more than a family of humans and fur-siblings to love and protect.

Unfortunately, Isis story is not as unique as it sounds. These types of dogs, abused yet full of love, exist all over, and here in Louisville we are working to give them the chance they deserve. Please click the link below to learn how you can help us save dogs like Isis, and check back in the coming weeks for more stories about tragedy and triumph, love and family.

Written by volunteer: Brandon Stettenbenz

*warning* graphic images below

21 views0 comments

Photo by Jess Amburgey

When a white Malibu pulled over to the side of the Clark Memorial Bridge in 2009, patrons and waiters at Joe’s Crab Shack saw a small bundle thrown from the car, which dropped 85 feet to the water below. One keen-eyed observer noticed it wasn’t a bundle of trash, it was a small red-nosed pit bull.

Many Louisvillians are already aware of this story: the dog’s miraculous survival; her subsequent adoption by Kelsey Westbrook, one of the waiters at Joe’s Crab Shack; and the founding of the organization Saving Sunny, an animal rescue and education nonprofit here in Louisville. It’s an honest to dog heart-warming tale of how kindness can change lives, of how each of us can have worth even if someone has thrown us away, and how love can bring redemption and hope.

Last week, after several months of battling cancer, Sunny died at the age of 7. Insider Louisville spoke with Westbrook about Sunny’s life and early death, how the conversation has changed around pit bulls since Sunny came into Westbrook’s life, and how to say goodbye to a friend. How Sunny Got Saved When that little pit bull was tossed from the bridge, the Louisville Fire Department’s dive team was practicing maneuvers on the waterfront. One of Westbrook’s co-workers at the Crab Shack called 911, the dive team was alerted and they quickly plucked the pup from the water.

The dog’s sunny disposition was evident from the start, according to Westbrook, who met the boat at the shore.

“She was wiggling and shaking off, and jumping up, and so excited, carrying the same disposition people have loved. She had that since day one,” she remembers.

Westbrook knew many pit bulls were euthanized in Metro animal shelters, and that this wiggling pup wouldn’t stand a chance if the firefighters took her to the shelter. So she asked the firefighters if she could foster the dog.

Sunny’s story, like so many of the great true stories, is marked by several improbable moments. Beyond the fall, beyond the near collision the dog had with a passing barge, beyond those firefighters serendipitously being close enough to act, beyond the fact that those firefighters, legally speaking, should have said “No.” Technically, the pit bull should have gone to Metro Animal Services since police chose to prosecute the driver of the Malibu. She would have gone into a quarantine cell as evidence in an ongoing court case. She would have stayed there for 18 months, the time it took to prosecute the person who had thrown her from the bridge.

Eighteen months, locked in a cell alone. Westbrook is quick to point out that Metro Animal Services does their best to take care of every animal, and walk them and keep them company, but she also knows the reality isn’t always pretty. Animal services works on a tight budget.

But those firefighters chose to use a little human decency, and they sent the dog home with Westbrook, who named her Sunny.

Of course, Westbrook’s original intention to merely foster Sunny and help find her a home was discarded almost immediately. “After 12 hours, I was, like, nope. She’s my dog, I love her, she loves me. We’re a family.”

Starting Saving Sunny

Within 24 hours, Westbrook and Sunny, as well as Nala, Westbrook’s other dog, were all facing eviction, since Westbrook was immediately thrust into the world of breed-based discrimination.

Staring in the ’70s and ’80s, as dog fighting came to the fore of the national consciousness, pit bulls have been portrayed in the media as vicious killers. In some areas, breed-specific laws have been passed against so called “bully breeds” that include all the breeds generally referred to as pit bulls. Louisville doesn’t have any breed-specific laws, but many apartments or rental properties include breed-specific prohibitions. Westbrook’s landlords contacted her after seeing her on the news and informed her that she had to get rid of the dog, or move out within 48 hours. She immediately pored over her lease to see if there were any breed-based prohibitions, and saw there were none. She then began making phone calls.

“I contacted the news outlets that had just been covering me and said, ‘This is what’s happening, I’m being evicted,’” she says. The media covered her impending eviction, and the landlords got so much heat from the public, they ended up backing off.

But it was a frightening introduction to the world Westbrook had stepped into with her act of kindness.

She already was beginning to consider how to fight back against breed discrimination when she received a phone call from Maureen Keenan, a local attorney. Keenan was a passionate dog lover who had recently attended a seminar at best Friends Animal Society. They sat down to talk about what they could accomplish together, and Saving Sunny was born.

“We didn’t set out to be a pit bull rescue, but we became one by default because we would rescue them,” says Westbrook. At the time, other rescue organizations weren’t working with bully breeds, but Westbrook found that the animals who needed the most help, the ones that needed extra care, were these maligned breeds of dogs.

Saving Sunny has helped thousands of dogs — sometimes finding them homes, sometimes just helping owners find the resources to be better dog owners through Saving Sunny’s resource center. (Full disclosure: They helped me find my dog, Buster. He’s another red-nosed pit bull that might have been euthanized if Westbrook, Keenan and everyone at Saving Sunny hadn’t helped Buster find his forever home as part of my pack.)

Louisville’s Dog

I admitted to Westbrook in our interview that my family sort of considers her and Sunny extended members, and asked if she ran across that reaction frequently.

“Absolutely,” she says. “Especially people who have met Sunny, they feel like they have an intrinsic connection if they’ve adopted a dog from our program.”

Sunny’s impact goes way beyond adopters like myself. Westbrook says the media’s tendency to follow Sunny since the day she was thrown off the bridge has taken Sunny into a lot of hearts and homes. “And we post updates of her on social media. People love to find that connection — I think it was just special with her, (because) she just radiated positive energy to everyone,” says Westbrook, who paused before adding, “She was kind of Louisville’s dog.”

As Louisville’s dog, she repped Saving Sunny at loads of public events, becoming an ambassador for her breed. “She changed the tone for so many other dogs like her that came along,” says Westbrook. “She wanted  to be everyone’s family member, but it (made) people look at pit bull dogs like family.”

The Diagnosis

In February, Sunny went in to see a vet for what Westbrook thought was an abscessed tooth.

“My vet called me and said, ‘Kelsey, this isn’t a dental abscess, it’s a mass.’ She said, ‘I don’t wanna scare you, but I can’t take this out. It would require removing a portion of her jaw.’”

Westbrook agreed to have the mass biopsied. While she waited for results, the mass grew and started to restrict Sunny’s breathing. “The same day we got the results back that it was cancer, we were in the emergency room because she couldn’t breathe.”

While the vet couldn’t remove the cancer, they performed a “de-bulking” surgery, essentially removing the easy-to-get portions of the tumor so Sunny could breathe. “Immediately after surgery, she went back to normal,” Westbrook says. “Bouncing around, hiking, rollerblading, swimming, everything. And we started exploring all our options.” She felt traditional radiation was out of the question. The side-effects were too harsh. “It burns the skin, causes really uncomfortable side effects — side effects I would never let Sunny go through.”

Part of this comes from the way radiation therapy works. The radiation burns only in certain shapes — squares and rectangles — so portions of skin and tissue that aren’t cancerous are damaged. But some vets are starting to use a kind of radiation therapy called stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT). It’s done on humans here in Louisville, under the flashy name “cyber knife.”

“They can make shapes, go in and out of a nasal passage, do all these things that will only target the tumor,” explains Westbrook. It also takes a lot less time. Normal radiation requires dozens of sessions on successive days. SRT only takes three sessions.

Sunny underwent the process, and Westbrook and her pack waited for results. It would be three months before they knew whether the therapy was effective.

She Loved Water

Westbrook, her boyfriend Jamie Davis and Sunny’s siblings Nala and Pierre made the most of the time they had. She particularly remembers a trip to the ocean, calling it something from Sunny’s bucket list. “She loves water, which is funny for a dog that got thrown off the bridge.”

Shortly after their trip to the beach, Sunny’s condition worsened, and after another visit to the vet, it was clear Sunny’s cancer had completely regrown and was not responding to treatment.

“It was a devastating blow,” says Westbrook. “Seeing her at the beach, two days earlier, running around jumping in the waves, it was crazy to see there was a tumor in her mouth the size of a human fist.”

They began to look at end-of-life care, bringing in Dr. Courtney Bennett of Heart’s Ease Veterinary Hospice. Westbrook calls Bennett “the most wonderful angel on the planet Earth.”

Bennett helped Westbrook and Davis make decisions about when to let go of Sunny, to ensure they were making decisions based on what was right for Sunny.

As many pet owners know, in moments of grief, it can be easy to makes decisions based on denial, based on our own unwillingness to let go. Westbrook says she’s glad they had Bennett’s help. What’s more, by delaying too long, Westbrook risked having the decision forced by Sunny’s illness.

“There was a risk when we got toward the end that we could end up in an emergency situation, like her not being able to breathe, and have to say goodbye then, when it’s traumatic, (in a hospital) on a silver table. We didn’t want that.”

With Bennett’s in-home care, when Sunny said goodbye, she was surrounded by her pack — humans and dogs — sitting on her favorite blanket in Westbrook’s backyard. Her day was filled with treats, belly rubs and sunshine.

“When Courtney showed up that day, I was laying with Sunny on the blanket and she got up and ran to Courtney and wriggled left and right,” Westbrook recalls. “She was still holding true to herself until the very last day.”

Sunny is Gone, But Saving Sunny Lives On

Westbrook has taken a little time away from the responsibilities of Saving Sunny, but it’s just a momentary break to grieve. “Our work in the community, everything we’re doing, it’s not gonna suspend,” she says. “That would be a disservice to her legacy.”

“I love nothing more than hanging out with dogs and drinking beer,” says Westbrook. “I need to surround myself with my Saving Sunny family.”

Sunny made an impact on many lives, and she will be missed. Donations can be made to Saving Sunny to continue to support the work Sunny inspired — helping other dogs that need a second chance. While she is gone far too soon, it’s still remarkable to think how much she meant to so many people, including me.

Sunny was marked for death when she was thrown off that bridge on that bright and sunny day seven years ago. But she lived, because sometimes people are kind. Other dogs — including my best friend Buster — lived because sometimes kindness can stretch beyond one initial act of of grace and affect a whole community.

Go home and kiss your dogs. Kiss your kids, hug you friends or scratch your cat. But more importantly, be kind to someone or some creature you don’t know. Be kind, and watch that kindness ripple outward and change the world. Written by: Eli Keel

39 views0 comments