SAVING SUNNY, INC. PIVOTS TO MUTUAL AID MODEL


Saving Sunny was officially formed in January 2010, after an incomparable, life-changing, and earth-shattering red dog fell from the sky the summer before. Since our inception, our guiding principle has always been compassion. At the root of all of our decisions and our growth - from the birth of our new programs to examining the old - we’ve always asked ourselves, “How can we make the world a more compassionate place for animals and their humans?” Over the past 11.5 years and many evolutions, we’ve always held compassion as our true north, in all decisions we made. That included sending compassion to ourselves while also holding ourselves accountable, always being willing to learn and grow. As we move forward as an organization, it is time for us to consider the good we do, how we may do it differently, and how it affects everyone around us -- particularly the most marginalized members of our community.


A good friend once said that “2020 gave us all 20/20 vision.” It may have been the most difficult year our society has ever collectively faced, and it also shined a bright light on the disparities plaguing our communities. Through the strength and leadership of Black and Brown activists, organizers, and educators, it also provided us with the tools we need to divest from systems that are designed to harm people. Whether we like it or not, we are part of these systems. We are committed to learning the history behind them and practicing harm reduction in all we do. Living through a pandemic and a global uprising has shown us - we cannot function in the same way we always have. Nothing is the same anymore, and truth be told, it shouldn’t be. We should all be leveraging what power we have for good.


Saving Sunny founded the Community Dog Resource Center in 2014 with the goal of preventing dogs from entering the shelter system, by providing free resources for historically excluded communities in the way of dog food, medical care, spay/neuter surgeries, behavior support, transportation, and more. These resources often provided lifesaving care, and proved to assist families that may find themselves facing financial burden when it came to caring for a pet. There is no denying that this service is worthy and needed, however as 2020 hit us all smack dab in the face, so did the opportunity to understand why this exact route may not be the path for us any longer.




Despite our efforts to bridge the gap for pet owners struggling to keep their beloved companions, we still must own and acknowledge the fact that we are a group of white, cisgender and queer women going into disenfranchised communities, spending money on things we have decided people need for themselves to survive and thrive. We made the decision that everyone deserves the companionship of a pet, but we did not allow those people to choose how that looked and felt for them. We acknowledge that we withheld power by choosing the resources people need, instead of simply empowering communities to decide for themselves through monetary support. This is white savior behavior. These are the power dynamics that the non-profit industrial complex enjoys draping a thin veil over, so we can wrap it up and make it look like we’re seeking equity in our communities, like we’re playing a huge role in amplifying marginalized needs and voices. We touted the phrase, “judgement free zone” while subconsciously believing we deserved to make these choices for others. In doing so, we implied that we knew better than they did what they really needed. This realization came after much learning, discussion, and introspection, and isn’t something we take lightly.


This is not to say that any of our programs or what we’ve done in the past decade + has been done maliciously. We believe we’ve done a lot of good, and we know the many lives we’ve impacted would echo that sentiment. The people we’ve served have become woven into the fabric of our lives. The animals we’ve helped are living, breathing proof that we’ve done so much good. Yet, with the global reckoning of 2020 came a juncture -- a juncture wherein once you see injustice in your own life and even your own behaviors, you can’t unsee it.


"We sat at this juncture for a long while and had to make some hard choices about our future."

Is there a fundamental problem with rescuing dogs? NO! Is there something terrible about operating a pet food bank or giving away free flea and tick prevention? Of course not. But there’s a problem when we look around at our board of directors, at our animal welfare community, and see all white faces of a certain socio-economic status. There’s a problem with deciding that anyone is worthy of a pet. There’s a problem with holding power over others. None of us should get to play god -- that’s white supremacy in action. There comes a point when we simply have to ask ourselves if what we’re doing is upholding the systems that are harming people. And once we begin asking that question, we then ask, how do we leverage the power that we have? How do we reduce harm?



There are many problems with the non-profit industrial complex (NIC), and as an organization, we have chosen to divest from the traditional systems associated with it. This is not to say that there aren’t incredible organizations doing amazing, important work. We do not believe that being critical of the NIC and this belief are mutually exclusive. After all, if you see value in something, shouldn’t you want it to be the best it can be? In many communities, non-profits are the only way people have access to essential resources. Many people make charitable donations to these organizations, including our own, because folks feel compelled or inspired by the work. However, from the ability to avoid various taxes, for large-scale donors to route funds through 501(c)3 foundations, to the way problems are addressed situationally as opposed to systemically the NIC has become a trillion dollar-a-year industry in an oppressive capitalist society. A core tenet of capitalism is poverty -- it only works when people are unable to get access to the resources they need to survive. Our societal systems were designed so that some folks must always be suffering. We are simply not willing to be the ones that use our position of power to decide when, where, and what people do with the funds raise in their names.


This is a very lengthy, albeit necessary way to say that at the end of 2021, Saving Sunny will no longer be operating our Community Dog Resource Center in its current form. Instead, we will be operating under a grassroots framework that supports abolitionist organizing and mutual aid. What does this all mean? In short, it’s simply giving money directly to the people that need it. Not soliciting for donations, then buying the things we think people need, then collecting data from them, but simply giving away our funds. Redistributing our wealth. Quite literally, sending money to anyone in need as long as we have the funds to do it. We will do this in incremental waves, and the only thing we ask in order to receive funds is that you own a pet. We will first start with BIPOC, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming, and disabled pet owners. Then, we will open up requests for all community members. You will not need to provide any documentation to receive funds from us, and we’ll send it directly to you via Venmo or CashApp. We will post these request days on our social media in the upcoming months, and we will do this until our funds have run dry.


Mutual aid is a form of solidarity-based support, in which communities unite against a common struggle, rather than leaving individuals to fend for themselves. We are moving towards this mutual aid model because we believe in it, and it’s time we leverage our power in this community, and let the pet owners we love and care for make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Without moving towards this model, we believe we are withholding this power, and we’re inadvertently saying we don’t believe folks can make the best decisions for themselves. That is simply not true, so we’re trying something different. Something that’s proven to empower communities to thrive.


When I first took Sunny home in 2009, I remember so vividly walking through the streets of Old Louisville with my bouncing, wide-mouthed, smiling pit bull dog, and people would often move to the other side of the street to avoid her. I recall a moment when I looked down at her, so innocent and energetic and pure, and as a welcome breeze on a humid Kentucky day shook the dogwoods around us, pale pink petals sprinkled her face. I felt so hurt that people feared her, and wouldn’t even give her a chance.



Now, I live in a neighborhood adjacent to Old Louisville, and sometimes I walk past my old apartment. There are pit bull dogs everywhere. Families and young people and even elderly folks cherish them. Our city is different when it comes to these dogs. We don’t have breed-specific legislation in Louisville, and their faces have been on billboards and TARC buses and magazines and TV commercials thanks to our Pit Bull Dogs Are Family campaign (and more). Every single accomplishment within Saving Sunny, whether it was an adoption or a visit to a hospital or a fundraising event or school programming or our most cherished Sunny’s Sol Fest -- an event that hosted hundreds of pit bull dogs and their families annually -- I have always felt her light. Her legacy wasn’t simply to survive a harrowing act of abuse and then be famous. That was just the beginning. It was to continue to do good, to change minds, to open hearts. Even now, she has been gone since 2016, and Saving Sunny continues to make an impact. This is why I firmly believe that even as we move to a mutual aid model and intend to redistribute all of our wealth, she still shines, perhaps more than ever. Sunny was always challenging me, forcing me out of my comfort zone, and pushing me to new limits. This moment is no different. I hope you all will join us in sharing in this moment, basking in the glow of Sunny’s everlasting light, and embracing our future.




There are no words to adequately thank those that have made up the soul of Saving Sunny. Board members, volunteers, adopters, donors, our family members, and our community. We are forever indebted to you and so deeply grateful for your trust and support throughout these last 11.5 years. You’ve kept us going through the darkest moments, and been the gift in our moments of triumph. Thank you simply doesn’t suffice.


With endless love and solidarity,


Kelsey Westbrook,

Co-Founder of Saving Sunny, Inc. & team


If you want to learn more about mutual aid here is an article explains how it has been a pivotal function and collective form of care and survival amidst the coronavirus pandemic: https://www.vice.com/en/article/y3mkjv/what-is-mutual-aid-and-how-can-it-help-with-coronavirus