On a recent East Nashville afternoon I sat down with Elizabeth Chauncey and Sharon Green for a couple of cold beers and some conversation about the evolution of East CAN. Elizabeth, aside from being the face of the organization, is also the founding member and de facto leader. Or was.
Very quietly she has left the organization, as of August 13th, a couple days after the Tomato Fest. Over two hours we talked about the growth of the organization from a few people posting on the listserv to a large network of volunteers who work towards the ultimate goal: finding a human advocate for every homeless or endangered dog in East Nashville. To give you an idea of how the organization has grown under Elizabeth’s stewardship here is a quick history:
In August 2008 there was a dog that many people in East Nashville reported seeing running the streets in obvious pain and in need of care. This brought out a core group of individuals (including Sharon) who rallied around the cause of neglected dogs. In 2009 the first local television news story ran giving East CAN region-wide recognition. In the last two years support has grown exponentially shown by the number of companies and groups in East Nashville coming forward with ideas of how to give support. Usually the support is in the form of events designed to raise money. How much have they grown? Maybe the correct question is how much are they growing? To put the recent growth into perspective, in 2012, the full year’s vet bills amounted to $20,000. In the first quarter of 2013 alone, the organization has already paid for $14,000. Though no hard numbers exist, they estimate that they have housed in forever homes some 500 dogs. That is roughly a forever home found for a dog every three days. That does not even count the number of runaways reunited with their owners.
None of this sounds possible on the surface considering that East CAN has no facility for offices, dog housing, or even meetings. Meetings are held in living rooms, coffee shops, before/after rescue events. All external communication is done through e-mail, text messages, Facebook and the listserv. No one throughout the organization has ever accepted any form of payment for his or her time. And that time can be extensive. The core of the organization is made up of 5 voting members. All decisions are made through these 5 dedicated individuals. Elizabeth and Sharon both estimate that they are putting in a full time job’s worth of hours into East CAN.
It’s at this point of the conversation that I realize why this is a success. It’s the passion for the cause and their willingness to be uncomfortable, sometime very uncomfortable for the sake of our canine friends.
Seeing Sharon’s eyes well up four times while telling different stories, or Elizabeth describing some of the “field work,” gives me clarity and understanding. There is a tipping point where an individual moves from where most of us sit at concerned and supportive, to devoted and invested. Every member of the organization has a “dog who pushed them into action” story. These are stories that we see every day. There is just one unique situation that resonates for one person that pushes them over the edge.
Through the entire interview, I kept moving the conversation back to the topic that I had been discussing with Elizabeth before we met: the transition East Can will be going through with Elizabeth leaving and Sharon taking the helm. Boy were they resistant to that! I have 12 pages of notes about what they want the residents of Lockeland Springs to know about the organization, the welfare of the seemingly endless supply of dogs in need, how to engage your neighbors, what not to do with found dogs, alternate resources and the desperate need (please take note) of people willing to foster dogs, especially big ones, while trying to find forever homes or worried owners. What I really wanted to talk about, these two very inspiring individuals, they avoided like a taboo.
And every member of the voting council has the same fierce dedication and tireless effort. So much so that their group of significant others are unofficially known as the Wolf Pack. The wolf pack ends up doing a lot of the physical labor, dog house building and transportation, door knocking on houses with neglected dogs tied up in the back yard, etc. Interestingly, the voting members are all, and have always been, just women. I will say (I am sure to my wife’s displeasure) that one of the early morning puppy rescue attempts of a group of 5 puppies from under an abandoned house was the best singles pick up event any guy could possibly attend!
When asking Elizabeth about her goals, what she wants to do now that she is no longer involved, she talks about her staging business (Spaces By Elizabeth). “I’ve not had a conversation about anything except dogs in the past… It’s been a long time”. She also swears she is stepping completely away, cold turkey. Not a slow retreat. However, after doing some unscientific research, her East CAN facebook posts still outnumber her other posts by a clear 2 to 1 margin.
What about the future? My initial reaction (albeit an uneducated one) was panic when Elizabeth told me she was leaving. All I could think about was what the life of my sweet Basil (my East CAN rescue) would be like had Elizabeth not started what she did. And how many dogs in the future would not benefit from their human advocates. But after talking with Sharon Green it is clear. East CAN is here to stay, the growth will continue (as will the need) and though Elizabeth will be missed, there is a steady core group of individuals who will continue with their dedication to East CAN. There is a leadership training program in place, and a new group of feisty members joining to take up the reins.
When you tell your family and friends why it is that you live in East Nashville, and Lockeland Springs, what really makes this a community and not just a neighborhood or zip code, if you are not listing Sharon and Elizabeth by name, you are not telling the whole story. Elizabeth, thank you for all you have done, and Sharon, for all that you have done and continue to do. Simply amazing.