Jme Thomas' life has basically gone to the dogs, but she couldn’t be happier.
At any given time Thomas has several animals in her home, and she can spend as many as 10 hours a day chauffeuring them to and from vet appointments, foster homes, and appointments with their potential new families.
Thomas (whose first name is pronounced as Jamie) is the executive director and a founding member of the nonprofit Redmond-based animal rescue Motley Zoo, which has rescued and placed about 425 dogs and a number of cats since it started taking them in May of 2009. Though the group has a number of volunteers and volunteer foster homes, all of the dogs that come through the program make their first stop at Thomas’ home in east Redmond.
Thomas, who was an entrepreneur and fashion designer before she launched her full-time volunteer career nearly three years ago, said she knows the career change might seem drastic to some, but for her it was a natural shift from applying to Project Runway (she tried out three times for the show and almost made it one year, she says) to running with the big dogs—and the little dogs, and the medium dogs.
Before launching Motley Zoo with her husband Bryan and board member Nancy Jones, Thomas had been working on a business plan that entailed creating a fashion line that would allow her to pursue philanthropic interests. She had also been fostering dogs with her husband for some years and said she had an epiphany that she could skip making money to give to charity and just go straight into philanthropy.
In the meantime, after working with some other rescue organizations, Thomas had developed ideas that she believed would help her create a rescue that used business fundamentals to allow it to do the most good possible—while honoring the commitment of the families that make the work possible.
“We try to emphasize that people are volunteers, and we respect and appreciate them,” she said.
In addition, the rescue vigorously seeks out grants and does fundraising so it can rescue animals that other organizations can’t afford to. For example, Motley Zoo often foots vet bills for animals when their owners have to relinquish rather than pay for costly medical care. Motley Zoo has two “pet projects”—Look of Love and Get a Leg Up—that it uses to raise funds for common, but costly, eye and leg procedures.
People who provide foster homes help Motley Zoo learn as much as it can about each animal so it can match the pets with their new families with no surprises. Though Motley Zoo serves mostly dogs and cats, the organization has placed exotic pets such as lizards, birds and even a cow at one time, says Jones, who serves on Motley Zoo’s board of directors and has fostered 26 dogs for the organization so far.
Every adoption begins with an application, and every application is reviewed by the board of directors, which checks into such things as the potential adopters’ vet records with previous pets, Jones said.
“If they haven’t kept up well on vaccinations for another pet,” for example, Jones said, Motley Zoo volunteers educate potential new owners so they understand that bringing in a new pet could put the family’s current pets at risk of disease when a new animal might, though vaccinated, introduce a risk of disease into the home.
Thomas is a dedicated leader for Motley Zoo, fostering partnerships with other groups, shelters and businesses such as Petco, which offers the group space for adoption events and meetings, and hosts Motley Zoo’s cat condo at its West Seattle location, which Thomas says generally provides a more effective and faster way to place cats than foster homes.
While Thomas rightly gives a lot of credit to the group’s volunteers, Jones said Thomas’ unflagging energy is what drives the organization forward in its mission.
“I don’t know how she manages and juggles what she does, but she does,” Jones said.
Motley Zoo has foster homes all over the Puget Sound area and is always happy for whatever help people can offer, whether it's respite foster care over a weekend, or short-term placements called “dog-dating” that allow a family to do a test run with a pet.
Sometimes an adoption meeting doesn’t work out. On a recent Friday, for example, Thomas had two darling dogs with her at the in Redmond for meetings; one didn’t work out, and the other canceled. Thomas says she goes to Petco for such meetings six or seven times a week.
Though she was a little sad the meetings didn’t work out this time, Thomas said there were other families waiting to meet both dogs, and they didn’t seem to mind a bit heading back home for a bit more of the Thomas’ halfway house hospitality.