Regular readers of the Memphis Flyer may notice the pet ad that runs most every week in the classifieds section of the paper. Indeed, for 21 years, thanks to the generosity of the Flyer and the dedication of animal advocates, the photo of a dog or cat has graced the section — along with a beguiling description of the animal’s charms and an appeal to humans to open their hearts. Because of that ad, which runs free of charge, scores of animals have landed in happy homes.
The ad originated when a few volunteer dog-walkers, including myself, at the old Memphis Humane Society on Central decided the animals there needed more visibility. Volunteer Seena Walker started taking the photos, writing the copy, and putting them both in my hands on Sunday nights. On Mondays I would get them to the manager of the classified advertising department, Penelope Huston (now advertising director for our parent company CMI), and the ads started running in the summer of 1994. “When I started the ‘pet of the week’ ad,” Seena recalls, “it was to connect the outside world to the rescue world. The Flyer graciously agreed to sponsor the ad, and it was very rewarding to see the dog or cat get adopted.”
When, much to our sadness, Seena moved to Arkansas four years later, another volunteer took up the cause. Angela Edmonds has held firm to her commitment for 17 years. “The Flyer ad was too important to [discontinue] when Seena left,” says Angela. “And it was a way I could contribute to a cause I cared so much about: the reduction in the number of homeless cats and dogs.”
When she first started taking the photos, Angela used a Nikon film camera, had the film developed, picked the best shot for the ad, and, like Seena, brought the photo and the write-up to my house on Sundays. That routine changed in 2006, when she bought her first digital SLR and could simply email the copy and the photo, which changed from black-and-white to color. Today Angela is using her third Nikon digital and sometimes a small Sony Cyber Shot.
At first, the ad mainly featured Humane Society dogs, but soon it widened its scope to spotlight animals from various rescue groups and area shelters. In choosing a dog or cat to photograph, Angela considers its situation and the length of time it’s been waiting for a home. “For instance,” she says, “a dog that has been at a shelter for a number of months, or the animal’s owner has died, or the family doesn’t want their cat anymore — [those situations] always take precedence.” Often she’ll showcase a dog or cat from the West Memphis Animal Shelter. “It’s near an industrial park and there’s not much traffic that passes by,” she explains. “They have wonderful dogs and cats but many would never be seen and would die without the Flyer ad.”
As for sparking a match between animal and human, “timing is everything,” says Angela. “I always imagine someone going to dinner on a Friday night and picking up a Flyer while they wait for a table and seeing the ad. There have been times when someone will call weeks later about a dog or cat they saw and could not get out of their mind.”
One person who couldn’t forget that special face and story was Angela’s friend (and mine), Rita Bartlett. “Rita has always loved larger breeds, rottweilers specifically,” says Angela. “She saw the ad for a little shih tzu named Billy Bob.” Not long after they met, Billy Bob had settled in at Rita’s home. She adores Billy Bob and treasures the ad that brought them together.
While Angela is pleased with every match, some adoptions stand out — because if ever animals needed a second chance, these dogs did. “There was Wray, born with a severely deformed face, who found a loving home with a couple through the ad,” Angela recalls. “And Faith, the puppy thrown from a moving car, now blind due to damage sustained to her optic nerve; she was adopted by a woman with another blind dog. And Annie, the one-eyed dog who was left homeless after the death of her elderly owner; she found a loving home.”
A civilian processing supervisor for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, Angela also works one day a week at Michael’s Arts & Crafts, as a certified framer. As if that’s not enough to fill a life, she’s also enrolled in the Ph.D. program in history at the University of Memphis, with special interest in the Great Depression.
And of course it’s no surprise she has several rescue dogs in her home, some of whom were not easily adoptable because of age, behavior, or medical reasons. Says Angela: “They have come from sidewalks and street corners, from families going through divorce, from shelters and puppy mills.” Beyond all that — and making sure she has a Flyer ad each week — she volunteers in transporting dogs to northern states, where there’s a shortage of rescue dogs. “I enjoy transport a great deal,” she says. “It is extremely rewarding to see those dogs in their new homes through Facebook or emails.”
She feels that same sense of reward through the Flyer ads. “It’s been an amazing gift and a wonderful forum to showcase animals that might otherwise die in shelters without anyone ever seeing them,” says Angela. “Every dog or cat that is euthanized had the potential to be a loving member of a family.” The Flyer, she adds, gives hope, not only to the animals but to the people committed to helping them.
One Flyer ad dog was named Buddy, and he’s still living the good life with Penelope Huston, the classifieds manager in the early years. “I saw his picture and fell in love,” says Penelope. “I love him even more 10 years later.”
Since 2006, DeShaune McGhee has been classified advertising manager, and though at times the paper has to drop the ad for space reasons, DeShaune makes every effort to include it each week. “I like being able to help connect a pet with a loving family in a loving home,” she says. And as Angela sums up: “The ad is, in a very tangible way, lifesaving.”