One photographer, one dog: Saving lives in Puerto Rico

Shannon Jackson joined the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine team when we visited Puerto Rico this summer to document our shelter consultations there. She took many of the wonderful photos that illustrate our earlier coverage of the trip, but there’s so much more to her story. She agreed to share it with us here.

VIlla Michelle Adoptathon Day 1I traveled to Puerto Rico in July with Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to being the Communications Specialist for FYCS, I am a freelance photographer.

I was asked by Dr. Julie Levy to travel with her on shelter consults, as well as a two day adoption event at the Villa Michelle Animales in Mayaguez.

Upon our descent from the air when arriving in San Juan, the first thing I noticed were all the blue tarps on top of homes that were still devastated from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. I spent the next few days visiting and documenting the consults at various shelters with Dr. Levy and Inga Fricke, Director of Sheltering Initiatives and Outreach for Humane Society of the United States; It was inspiring to not only witness the resilience of the Puerto Rican shelter professionals as they spoke of rebuilding everything that was lost during the hurricanes, but it was equally as inspiring watching the people I was traveling with offer assistance to help the shelters do more pet adoptions and teach best shelter practices to reduce euthanasia of homeless animals.

On the the fourth day of our travels, I arrived at Villa Michelle. The vet students and other veterinarians and staff from UF Shelter Medicine were there already working tirelessly to help prepare for the approaching event – vaccinating, creating systems, records, and working side by side with the Villa Michelle staff.

As a photographer and communicator, I am always looking for “the story.” I spent a lot of time on my trip observing the people I was documenting and getting to really know them. I also met and fell in love with a little grey dog with an underbite who ended up coming home with me. His name is Rico and he is now one of 9 rescue pets that my wife and I call family. Rico reminds me every day why high-volume shelters need people like Dr. Levy, who founded programs like Maddie’s that make immediate impacts but also train others to continue to make those impacts into the future.

I returned to Florida, inspired to do more to help Maddie’s, which is funded by grants and donations. I started fundraising for them and also for Santuario de Animales San Francisco de Asís, another shelter I visited in Cabo Rojo that was devastated by the hurricanes. I used the platform of my famous cat, Smush’s Instagram, which was fitting because Smush was saved by a Maddie’s alumni. The fundraisers were so successful that I decided to form my own 501(c)3 nonprofit, which was established on July 31st, 2018. It is called The Smush Foundation.

When Dr. Levy asked me to document the trip to Puerto Rico last Spring, I was excited, but I never expected to become a part of the story. Everything comes full circle. -Shannon Jackson, shannon jax productions

Learn more about the Smush Foundation.