Welcome back to "The Animal House." I'm Sam Litzinger. Nearly eight million cats and dogs are brought to animal shelters in America every year. And every eight seconds, one of them is euthanized. Those alarming statistics drove award-winning filmmaker Steven Latham to the creation of his most recent project, "Shelter Me." It's a PBS documentary about shelter pets and the people they impact. Steven, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
Great to be here, Sam. I appreciate it.
Talk about your own personal experience.
Well, I grew up in western Massachusetts. And I grew up with all kinds of animals. I had cats and dogs and horses and rabbits. I worked on farms growing up. So I was around animals my whole life, but when I moved to Los Angeles, I really got exposed to shelter pets. I adopted my first shelter pet five years ago. Since then, my pack has been growing. I added two more. And I'm constantly fostering pets and currently I'm fostering three dogs. So my pack is six animals. And I really believe in getting involved with your local shelter, helping out in many, many ways and fostering is definitely an excellent solution to helping these beautiful animals.
Talk to us a little more about the actual filming process. I'm surprised you haven't ended up with like 300 dogs and cats because I can tell you're an animal lover. And every time you go into a shelter and are shooting video, you know that some of those animals aren't going to make it through the rest of the day and you wanna take them home. How do you deal with that?
You know, it is tough. I do love these animals. And I made a promise to them, when I’m in the shelter, that I would help them. "Shelter Me" is a show that's turning into a series. It's airing on PBS. You know, we're focusing on this two-way street. So "Shelter Me," the title, is a double entendre. It really represents the refuge that you give an animal, but in return, what does that animal do for you? And we tell three very separate stories in the film that really illustrate that. You know, we show animals that were strays and we follow animal services as they capture these strays.
And we follow their journey from the streets to the shelter to being adopted. Our second story is we actually show shelter pets that are being paired up with prisoners. And this is a women's prison where the pets are literally living with the prisoners 24 hours a day. The prisoners train them to become service animals. And at the end of four to six months, those animals are then given to people with disabilities. So if you really think about all of the lives the shelter pet touches, it's remarkable. Every woman that's gone through the program in the last nine years -- not one of them has returned to jail for committing an infraction.
So this is a win-win-win program. And we, again, wanna scale these as best practices to have other jails and institutions use shelter pets in their program. And then the third story is one that's a tsunami that's coming, in terms of our returning war veterans, our heroes from Iraq and Afghanistan that are returning with PTSD. These veterans are suffering in silence. And if any veteran is listening right now, the overriding message is, don't suffer. You're not alone. What we show with these two veterans from Iraq, who have debilitating PTSD, they were paired up with shelter pets and their lives were literally saved.
These two veterans were about ready to call it quits, right about ready to commit suicide. They were self-medicating. They were on other medication. They weren't leaving their apartments. Once they got their pets and they realized that somebody cared for them and they have to care for someone, it's like the roof opened up and the sunlight came in. They saw for the first time a glimmer of hope. And they began their road of healing. And it's a really beautiful story because they're not cured yet, but they're definitely doing really, really well.
Some great stories and some really practical ideas, too. We've been speaking with filmmaker Steven Latham about his recent project, "Shelter Me." It's a PBS documentary about shelter pets and the people they impact. And it's going on from just being a documentary to an entire project. Steven, thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Well, a friend of the animals is a friend of mine.
What does it take to run one of the 5,000 community animal shelters in the United States? Well, aside from generous people and a lot of patience, what many of these organizations need most is a steady supply of sheets, blankets, towels. That's where Texas resident Lori Birdsong comes in. She's the founder of Linens For Animals, which provides comfort and protection for thousands of dogs and cats in 19 states -- so far anyway, 19 states. Lori joins us from Dallas, Texas. Glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
Thank you, Sam. Glad to be here. Thanks for inviting us.
How did you make the connection between -- at some point you must have said, okay. There's a lot of stuff. And then you said, wait a minute. Something can be done with this stuff.
Well, actually, I was out handing out little baskets of tennis balls to our local shelters. And one of the ladies that I tried to give it to at the shelter said that she didn't want my tennis balls, that they needed linens. And I said, what do you mean linens? And she said, you know, like blankets and towels and blah, blah, blah. And so I made it a point to go and find her some linens and didn't realize how difficult a task it would be. You know I thought I'd call the hospitals and the nursing homes and found out that, generally speaking, most of those places and entities don't do their own laundry.
They have laundry facilities that do that. And so I finally, after four or five months of searching and searching, found the local laundry facilities here in Texas that do the laundry for our tri-city area, Dallas-Ft. Worth area and started knocking on their door and proving to them that with the tax write-off, they could make quite a dent in their taxes on one hand. And on the other hand, they could help the animals in the shelters and the rescues and in their national rehabilitation facilities. Slowly, slowly we started making great friendships with these different entities. And the rest is just the craziest thing we ever started. It's gone national and it's exploded.
You know, aside from the generosity and spirit that the companies had, you made it work for them. That is, it made economic sense for them to do something like this.
Exactly. One of the companies that donates to us wrote off almost half a million dollars last year. So A, they wrote off all of that money, and B, they literally helped hundreds of thousands of animals. And I mean literally they've helped hundreds of thousands of animals. And actually, we have 23 states coming to us in Texas at this point. And now we're finally connecting the dots. We had two loads go out of California this week, one to the Philippines actually. So we're just finally in this national expansion, spreading the wealth, so to speak.
In the end, why did you choose to do something on this scale? You may ask yourself that when you're particularly busy and swamped with work, but, you know, you could have said when you took the tennis balls in and they said, okay, we need some linens, you could have gone out and got some linens and said, okay, I've done my bit. You chose to do a lot more. How come?
God, she made me mad. She really did. I mean, it just sparked a thing. And you know, I just didn't know until my phone blew up, you know, how much need there was and that no one had ever -- well, that I knew of at the time -- had ever figured this out. And so once I figured out the need and my desire to help, it just sort of literally took on a life of its own.
We've been speaking with Lori Birdsong, founder of Linens For Animals. Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Thank you, Sam. Glad to have been here. We really appreciate you spreading the word.
With only one foot, clams sure get around. How do you get them to stay put? This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying build them a garden. Biologists at Simon Fraser University have been studying how Pacific littleneck clams grow in clam gardens. Clam gardens are an aquaculture technique used by indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest for at least two millennia. To create perfect clam habitat, ancient aquaculturists built rock walls in the intertidal zone and terraced the beaches.
This extended the tidal level where clams grow bigger and live longer. In spring 2011, researchers buried about 1000 clams on 11 beaches, terraced and not terraced in British Columbia. In the fall, they dug them up to compare growth rates. The result? Cold, wet scientists and evidence that indigenous people on the west coast increased their food supply by manipulating the environment. Instead of hot-footing it away, clams at a garden stay put and grow faster. They're just chilling at the beach, happy as, well, clams -- until chowder time. Then not so much.
The Loh Down on Science online at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA CREF.
This is Sandra, follow us on Twitter at @lohdown.
Dr. Gary Weitzman is here with answers to your questions about pets, next in "The Animal House."
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