Joey Herrick has a heart for dogs. And cats. So when he sold Natural Balance, the pet food company he had founded, he stayed in the business, so to speak, by founding the non-profit Lucy Pet Foundation to provide a mobile low-cost spay and neuter clinic.
He also has a heart for the Rose Parade. Natural Balance floats are the stuff of legend, and he brought the same flair for entertainment to the debut Lucy Pet Foundation entry, “Lucy’s Performing Rescue Dogs,” which won the 2014 Craftsman Trophy for Exceptional Achievement in Showmanship and Dramatic Impact for Floats 55 feet or more in length.
“I wanted to do the Rose Parade, because…I wanted to launch nationally the Lucy Pet Foundation and I couldn’t have afforded to get that any other way,” he told us in a phone interview last Wednesday. “The Rose Parade is terrific for that.”
The PR punch an organization gets from the Rose Parade—it’s estimated that 80 million people worldwide watch—spills into the media as well. Herrick got lots of free time on television shows such as KTLA, KNBC, CNN, Inside Edition, and in papers such as the LA Times and Pasadena Star-News.
“I’m basically putting my 28 years with the pet industry…and putting that into Lucy Pet Foundation,” he said. Herrick does not draw a salary as president of the foundation, and he paid for the float out of his own pocket. No donations were used to fund the float.
The float, designed by Don Davidson and built by Fiesta Parade Floats, was 75 feet long with three separate stages covered with soilless fescue grass sod to provide soft but durable surfaces for the animals. Flowering included 15,000 pink, yellow and orange roses, hot pink and purple carnations, Kermit mums, white beans, strawflower, statice, orange lentils, and coconut flakes.
Chris Perondi, owner of Extreme Stunt Dogs, and about half a dozen dogs and people played with flying discs, jumped rope, and performed other tricks as the float moved. “He goes to the shelter and pulls dogs off death row,” Herrick said. “The dogs just love him. He loves those dogs. It’s pretty cool—those dogs were in a shelter and at the Rose Parade, were seen by millions of people. It brought a lot of smiles to people’s faces.”
A special guest on the float, Daniel the Beagle, was not only on death row; he was pulled out of a gas chamber in Alabama where 17 other dogs had been euthanized. He greeted the keeper with tail wagging, and the man did not have the heart to put him back in. He was named for the biblical Daniel who spent the night in a lions’ den and survived. He was adopted by Joe Dwyer and has achieved the distinction of being the Lucy Pet Foundation spokesdog.
Lucy Pet Foundation is named after a Chihuahua mix found by the Herrick family. They found her wandering, unkempt and with tire marks on her body. When she was taken to the vet for spaying, it was discovered that she was pregnant. Her five puppies are now in “forever families” of their own.
Lucy’s and Daniel’s stories, videos, a link for donations, and information about the organization are on the website, so we asked Herrick to tell us from his heart what the foundation means to him.
“For years, when I had a pet food company, I donated tons and tons of food to rescue organizations,” he told us, “but once you start going to shelters and see it, you can’t ignore it. I want to change what’s happening. I believe the way to do it is a well-managed spay and neuter program.”
Though the pet adoption programs are doing great work, he says, there are not enough homes to go around. “The problem is there are too many dogs going to shelters. I want to stop that on a national scale. Five years from now, I want to have 60 buses going around the country.” Herrick has a slogan: “A quarter a day for neuter and spay.” “If 100,000 people in the country would do that, we could have 18 buses doing it for free.”
The first van rolled out last fall after the float was well on its way to being built. In addition to spaying and neutering ($40 for cats, up to $75 for a large dog), the vans offer vaccinations and minor vet care. The cost includes pain medication to take home. “It’s affordable for most people, but there are some areas where it needs to be free, because a lot of people just don’t have the money,” Herrick said.
To be clear, Herrick is not just asking for others to fund the program. “I put $700,000 of my own money to get this up and running. So people would know what it’s about, a real charity with a real purpose. My dogs and cats have been terrific to me and I’m returning the favor.”
The van alone cost $300,000 to build from the chassis up. If the vets want something for the van, he tells them to go ahead and not to worry about the cost. The staff is paid, and vets are trained by Chief Veterinary Officer Karen Halligan, DVM, to ensure the surgeries are all done the same way and that all the animals get first-class care.
“I want to change those numbers of 80,000 dogs and cats being put to sleep every week,” Herrick said, adding that there are many efforts but not a cohesive national program which he hopes to establish with Lucy. Educating the public is part of the organization’s mission, because spayed and neutered pets are generally healthier and roam less, but it’s not only about spay and neuter, it’s also about any animal’s situation, he says.
“For example, I think it’s appalling that gas chambers are still being used in many states.” It’s outlawed in 21 states, including California, and some other states don’t use them if drugs are available. “A movement is coming around—that’s why I had Daniel on the Rose Parade float. It got a lot of awareness. Most people didn’t know that this was happening, that’s why Daniel is the spokesdog for Lucy Pet Foundation.”
He also hopes to be able to mobilize response in emergency situations. “If there’s a disaster, I want to say, Lucy Pet Foundation is here. Have our vets come in and know that Lucy Pet Foundation does it for the right reasons. Nobody’s making $700,000 a year.”
Look for more antics from Herrick’s pooches on a float in the 2015 parade. He promises, “We are actually going to do another one. Lucy Pet Foundation will return to the Rose Parade.”
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