Friends For Life


This is Salise Shuttlesworth, your Reliant Gives Night Owl Facebook DJ. Some of you also know me as the founder and director of Friends For Life.

At the close of Mega Adoption today, I finally have a moment to sit still and look back at the 2 weeks we just lived. As I do, it still feels surreal.

I want thank Reliant for allowing us to have this remarkable opportunity. This contest is a brilliant way to give significant funding to good causes and also push those groups to get their message out. We appreciate deeply President Elizabeth Killinger and her forward-thinking Reliant tribe.

After a 10-day-long campaign, after a day-and-night battle with street signs and storefronts, our team, the Friends For Life Army, won the $100k Reliant Gives prize with a record-breaking 281,000 votes!

How did this win happen?

It happened, because you went to your address books, co-workers, people in line at Subway (yep), the retired aunt who has oodles of time, your ex (yep) and asked for help on our behalf. I'd like to thank all who came out of retirement to make voting their full time job. I’m thankful to those who gave up sleep and lunchtime.

I loved reading your Facebook updates. I don't know most of you, yet you shared your stories and your photos which kept us going in this grueling marathon. We learned that Stephanie voted every time she fed her newborn, Gretchen pushed past a migraine to get 1,000 votes in a day, and Rilla voted while on vacation in Canada, accruing a nice $300 ATT bill. Pam gathered her team over on their lunch hour to relentlessly vote. Cynthia voted her entire 3 hour and 45 minute dialysis session. Victoria would not quit until she hit 3,000 and Bailey was voting on no less than three devices all the time. Matthew lost his beloved dog during the competition and rallied a huge team to vote in her honor. Steve put in 10 hours a day before calling it a shift. We even know a certain helicopter flight commander who (jokingly?) asked her flight crew whether they wanted a smooth ride or a bumpy ride—and it all depended on the voting!

We read that some of you voted on a megabus ride, in Colorado Springs, over shrimp cocktail in Dallas, in Napa Valley and in Michigan. Some of you were voting under the tablecloth at galas and during conference calls at work. (We’ll never tell who.)

Some of you reached your allies on our behalf and they became our allies—ferret rescue, Lost and Found Pets Cypress Texas, basset nation, foodies, print shops, historians, vegans...they all became part of the FFL ARMY. So did Shirley Manson and Garbage, Kam Franklin of the Suffers, Esther the Wonderpig, Homer the Blind Wonder Cat, Houstonia Magazine, Paper City…

You were not slowed by national boundaries or time zones. We asked and Slovenia answered. So did Poland, UK, Sweden, Malaysia, Scotland, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, Germany, Canada (ever so politely), Australia, Japan, New Zealand and many we are still learning about!

You all did that. You helped connect us.

Why did you vote?

Rachel: "You have been helpful in letting me courtesy list strays dumped on the road. And, you took in the dumped cat named "Oliver" (the FELV + BIG maine coon cat) a few years ago after we nursed him back to health from blocked bladder/kidney infection."

Scott: "Pretty Girl owes her life to you, and Reliant owes me as I try to keep her cold enough (even with her summer haircut!)"

David: "You gave me food for my best friend. I will never forget it."

Monika: "You are what the future wants. Love from team SLOVEenia : )"

Maybe the most touching window into who was helping us save the “unsaveable” and why came from Rachelle, who posted on Facebook:

“I teach at a disciplinary alternative school. My students were so excited to be able to help the animals. They all voted any time they got the chance, giving up any free time they had rather than sleeping or visiting. They know what it's like to be neglected and forgotten, so they were thrilled to be able to help.”

You voted, because you believe what we believe.

We never exclude an animal based on age, medical need or breed. We welcome difficult behavior cases that take time. We distribute over 3 tons of free animal food through our food bank a year. We have just passed giving away our 2,600th free spay/neuter surgery.

All of that takes money. To be exact, it takes about $1.2 million a year. As Houston shelter budgets go, that’s tiny. But for us, the new players on the field with the different way of looking at things, it is simply miraculous to be this size and have this reach. And we are just scratching the surface of what we can do for animals and the people who love them.

As we have edged our way to being the fastest growing shelter in Houston, fundraising has become a big part of my life. I have a confession… I hate fundraising. I truly do.

But this last fundraising effort, this fundraising meets teambuilding—wow! I was hooked! I moved my computer to the kitchen – aka the “war room." We had post its, legal pads, graphic templates and time zone charts hanging all over. Laundry piled up and take out containers seemed to just appear. If you wonder how Friends For Life became the fastest growing shelter in Houston, you now have a microcosm to see. We, the FFL staff and volunteers, are relentless and focused. We are willing to leave absolutely nothing on the field. And you, FFL Army, walked step-by-step with us for those 10 long days.

So how do we ever thank you?

I have been thinking about that for days now.

How do we thank you for staying up all night when you were so sick of it that you didn’t think you could stand one more minute? But you did. And then another. And another. And you became the FFL ARMY. How do we thank those of you who do not live in the same place or even speak the same language but came together under one principle: Every Animal Matters?

This is how we thank you:

The days that we lose the battles, we will never give up the war. The days that our hearts break, we will cry and get up to try again. The more “experts” who work to quiet us, the more firmly we will speak our truth. We will comfort the puppies with mange and get them well. We will keep the bottle babies warm and fed until they can grow up to find a home. Heartworm and ringworm will never be death sentences at our shelter. We will make sure the seniors and the frightened are safe. We will never judge an entire breed at once. We will know that they, like people, are individuals with their stories and their lives are precious. We will come early and stay late and continue to do this work with our whole hearts. We will continue to work to get food and veterinary services to people before they have to get animals to shelters. We will think proactively. We will reinvent and expand daily what a shelter truly means. We will never do something just “because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

And we will never, ever stop.

That is our promise to you, our very precious FFL ARMY.

Stay with us. The next step for Friends For Life is a medical clinic unlike Houston has ever seen. We will need you every step of the way. The Reliant Gives Rally is over but we need you social media warriors, rescuers, adopters, donors and dreamers.

Yes, we were a long shot to win this as the smallest group and the first animal charity ever included.

But the long shot is kind of our thing.

Some individuals to thank:

Friends For Life staff – I'm so proud of you! You voted on your days off, your lunch hour, in the bathroom and you engaged everybody you knew. You got this done the way you get things done every day at Friends For Life. You are the very best!

Halina Dodd for creating the beautiful campaign look and feel and staying up all night for most of 10 days to make sure we had fresh graphics, great photos and our team dropbox was always brimming with new treasures to share. If you liked the look of what we did, you liked Halina’s work.

Roger Clemens came to the shelter to give us a shout out. Yes, That Roger Clemens. We were star-struck for a good while. Then, of course, we went back to voting.

Matthew Dunn – thank you for bringing the Department of Dance to our vote-a-thon... and for being our official Friends For Life DJ. You all made the vote until midnight party a blast! Everything is better with your soundtrack behind it!

Victoria Windham and Michael Brocato--damn. We do not know how you logged those thousands of votes but we are forever grateful.

Big thanks go to Karen Clarke, our volunteer, foster, friend and Reliant employee who submitted our name to this competition. I’m grateful to Reliant for selecting us out of the 70 charities that originally were in the running and to Karen for being a tireless and relentless advocate. We are the first animal cause to be included in this program but hopefully the amazing response that you gave will inspire them to include additional animal groups in future Reliant Gives campaigns.

Finally, a heartfelt thanks to Carolyn Levy, the no-longer anonymous donor, who offered the $100k match midway through the campaign. Your generosity added fuel to our fire! Your gift will help many animals who have no chance anywhere else. We love you.

FFL ARMY: The best is yet to come. Onward.