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Carol Novello of Mutual Rescue: “How adopting a dog can help people live happier & healthier lives”

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When I was being considered for the board of directors at HSSV, I had to decide if I was willing to make a large financial commitment to the organization — a much bigger philanthropic donation than I had ever made before. I remember feeling like I was prying my fingers off my […]

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Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When I was being considered for the board of directors at HSSV, I had to decide if I was willing to make a large financial commitment to the organization — a much bigger philanthropic donation than I had ever made before. I remember feeling like I was prying my fingers off my check book to get myself to write that check. I also felt like I’d been incredibly fortunate in my career and financially blessed and that I really wanted to give back. I needed to get comfortable with the uncomfortable idea of giving money away, which wasn’t a concept that I was raised with.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Carol Novello. Carol is the founder of Mutual Rescue™ and author of “Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too” (Grand Central Publishing, April 2019). Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that highlights the connection between people and pets in order to inspire and support life-saving efforts in communities across the nation and world. Mutual Rescue’s first short film, “Eric & Peety,” went viral around the globe and has been viewed more than 100 million times. For more information, visit www.MutualRescue.org.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I spent many years in high tech before ending up in animal welfare. Specifically, I was a senior executive at software maker Intuit for many years, and I also have an MBA from Harvard. I never planned to run a non-profit, but after joining the board at Humane Society Silicon Valley back in 2009, I was subsequently asked to become president of the organization. It was purely serendipitous that I ended up there.

Can you share the interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the things that people asked me when I transitioned from the for-profit, high-tech world to the non-profit, animal-welfare world is “Why are you helping animals when you could be helping people?” I thought it was a very curious question and it seemed so obvious to me but, in fact, many people do not see the connection. That led to me creating a presentation I started giving in the community called “Helping Animals Helps People.” I wanted to make a strong connection for people to understand the truly profound ways that animals can change people’s lives.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I left high-tech and was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, I put together a list of ten criteria of what I was looking for in my next role. One of the criteria was “being able to bring my dog to work.” I did not set the bar high enough, as it turns out. That criteria has been far exceeded because I now have a job where having dog and cat hair on my clothes actually increases my credibility rather than detracts from it!

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?

Mutual Rescue is a national initiative that I founded to change the conversation from “people OR animals” to “people AND animals.” It came out of the initial presentation I started giving to elevate the cause of animal welfare and illustrates through authentic storytelling how rescuing animals impacts the lives of humans, often in quite profound ways. The initiative’s award-winning films have been viewed more than 153 million times across various social media platforms around the globe. I have also written a book called Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too that captures these inspirational stories and also shares the latest scientific and academic research on how animals impact humans physically and emotionally. In addition, Mutual Rescue is driving engagement through the Doggy Day Out program by working with local shelters across the country to encourage people to take shelter dogs on outings for recreation and exercise. The national awareness created by Mutual Rescue encourages engagement at the local level by people adopting, donating, and volunteering — ultimately creating happier, healthier lives for more people and animals.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Mutual Rescue came about because so many people came together in very unexpected ways. One of our board members at Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV), Sally Bourgoin, introduced me to a creative producer David Whitman. Sally had known David when she was on the board of the Tech Museum in San Jose and David was the producer of The Tech Awards (Silicon Valley’s version of The Oscars). David wanted to do something with animals, so when Sally joined HSSV’s board, he asked her to make an introduction. I shared with David that I wanted to make the concept of “helping animals helps people” more magical. He actually coined the phrase “mutual rescue” and suggested we start making short films to really make the idea come alive. With the release of our first short film, the idea grew into a much bigger initiative to drive national awareness and elevate the cause of animal welfare.

Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that will help people feel great?

Adopt a homeless animal! Spending time with animals is one of the best stress-relievers around.

Volunteer for, and/or donate to, a cause you care about. Getting outside of yourself and doing something for others puts a lot of things into perspective

Meditate. Tending to our inner experience is one of the most important things we can ever do for ourselves.

Is there a particular book that made an impact on you? Can you share a story?

I love Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat by Gwen Cooper. She writes about a particular incident when an attacker broke into her home; her blind cat sensed the presence of the intruder and literally hurled himself at the attacker and drove him out of the apartment. The fact that her cat could sense the presence of such an evil, ominous energy without actually seeing the attacker reminds me that there is so much more than what is visible in the world. And, that the cat would attack the intruder to save his “person” demonstrates that love and loyalty is not just something in the human realm; it is much bigger and truly universal.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would say I already have! Mutual Rescue is about wellness for both animals and people. In the book Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too, there are four sections: Heart, Body, Mind, and Connection. The chapters within those sections illustrate the ways animals and humans can transform each other in these areas and lead to greater well-being and health for both.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I love how the Mutual Rescue films and book have touched people’s lives. With so much divisiveness going on, sharing stories about love, hope, and redemption feels like it is bringing more light into the world.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

· Choose “wonder” over “worry.” When I was first introduced to David Whitman (who is now Mutual Rescue’s creative producer), we were discussing how to breathe magic into the idea that “helping animals helps people.” I made a conscious decision to not worry about things I didn’t know. Specifically, I didn’t know exactly how we might work together or where the funding would come from. Instead, I opened up my imagination to wonder what might be possible. And in fact, the solutions and funding emerged out of that willingness to wonder. Had I not taken that approach, I would’ve just shut down the idea out of the gate by being too worried about having answers to the unknowns. Worry is about constraint and lack. Wonder is about curiosity and possibilities. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize it is a much more effective and positive way to problem-solve.

· Practice gratitude regularly. Running an organization requires a lot of problem-solving and it’s so easy to focus on what needs to be fixed. One of the things I’ve incorporated into staff meetings is to every so often ask each department head to share something that they are grateful for — it helps to re-train our brains to look at all of the things that are going right which is easy to overlook in the routine of day to day problem-solving. I really wish I’d done this earlier in my career as I feel like I would’ve enjoyed the journey a lot more.

· Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When I was being considered for the board of directors at HSSV, I had to decide if I was willing to make a large financial commitment to the organization — a much bigger philanthropic donation than I had ever made before. I remember feeling like I was prying my fingers off my check book to get myself to write that check. I also felt like I’d been incredibly fortunate in my career and financially blessed and that I really wanted to give back. I needed to get comfortable with the uncomfortable idea of giving money away, which wasn’t a concept that I was raised with. When I joined the board, there was no discussion about me doing anything other than volunteer for the board. So, ironically, if I hadn’t decided to make that philanthropic commitment, I never would’ve become president of HSSV or had the opportunity to create Mutual Rescue.

· Follow the bread crumbs. I’m fundamentally a Type A personality, which means I like to have a plan and drive that plan to completion. But the world changes quickly and while it’s always a good idea to know where you want to go, being too wedded to one outcome limits how something might evolve. When Mutual Rescue started, Doggy Day Out wasn’t part of the plan. It was purely about storytelling. However, as people responded so enthusiastically to our short films, they kept asking how they could get involved. At the same time, we’d been working at HSSV to get a dog adopted who had been with us for a long time. We couldn’t find anyone to adopt, foster, or take him for an overnight. But when we asked on social media if someone would take him out for the afternoon, we were flooded with responses. Photos from his Doggy Day Out adventure ultimately led to him being adopted. Seeing these breadcrumbs led to Mutual Rescue working with the handful of other organizations doing these programs to create a best practices toolkit. Now, other shelters can download this toolkit to get the program up and running quickly in their ow community. We also created an online directory to make it easy for people to find these programs and get involved at the local level.

· Know your own value. When I’d been out of college for a couple of years, I decided to apply to business school. I was talking about this decision with one of my parents’ neighbors. When I told him I was considering applying to Harvard, he made a comment about overreaching that pretty much shut me down in the moment. I actually spent a few days wondering “Who was I to apply to Harvard?” and I almost decided not to!!!! Clearly, I wasn’t overreaching since I was ultimately accepted. I learned an incredibly valuable lesson in not defining myself through someone else’s opinion of me and not letting someone else’s opinion of me define my actions and what I am capable of.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” — Albert Einstein

I’ve found that the more coincidences happen, the more flow there is in my life and the more help I seem to be getting in ways that I never could’ve imagined. Mutual Rescue grew out of one coincidence after another — from how I found out about various stories, to finding talented people to help drive the initiative, to how funding “showed up” when it was needed.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I love Brené Brown! She has a wonderful quote that I reference in my book: “Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” The reason I reference it in my book is because I’m amazed at how animals can display courage and actually be role models for humans in that regard.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Facebook: @MutualRescue; https://www.facebook.com/MutualRescue/

Instagram: @MutualRescue; https://www.instagram.com/mutualrescue/

Twitter: @MutualRescue; https://twitter.com/MutualRescue

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/carolnovello

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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