It took Jamie McAtee reaching a low point in her own professional life for her to find the inspiration to help others. In her case, the "others" are slobbering, furry creatures that found an ally in McAtee when others turned their backs, closed their doors or abused them, often to the point of near-death.
McAtee's creation four years ago of Rescue4All, a nonprofit animal rescue organization dedicated to saving the lives of often unadoptable and medically needy dogs, has made a difference for hundreds of animals. It's also come to dominate McAtee's life, and inspired dozens of her fans to nominate the 40-year-old Montana native, a Spokanite since 2004, to be one of this year's Peirone Prize winners.
"Jamie is the founder of the best dog rescue in the state and beyond," wrote Rescue4All fan Merrilie Davidson in support of McAtee's nomination. "She takes all breeds, special needs, and has become an expert at saving dogs with mega-esophagus, a condition that prevents food from passing from the esophagus to the stomach ... She has the biggest heart in the world and will move Heaven and Earth to save a dog, whatever it takes."
McAtee demurs at such compliments, and in conversation she often speaks of "we." That really should be "I" since she's essentially a one-woman gang in making Rescue4All function — albeit a gang with thousands of vocal supporters, and some very important partnerships in the rescue world that allow her to serve the "problem" pups that are her specialty. She's quick with a self-deprecating joke, and just as quick to pull out her phone to show pictures of rescued dogs — both happy ones in new foster homes, and horrifically housed ones saved from a recent puppy-mill bust in Stevens County, in which a sheriff's deputy called her with nearly 50 abused and neglected dogs in need of help, like, right now.
Rescue4All might have never come into existence if McAtee's former employer, a mortgage-sales company, hadn't gone belly up, leaving her unemployed and struggling, in more ways than one.
"No one was hiring, so I went from making a ridiculous amount of money for a 20-something to being on unemployment for the first time in my life," McAtee says. "I'd always identified my self-worth with my job. So the universe, or God, or whatever your belief is, it taught me that the world is not about me, and my job does not make me who I am. That really brought me to a space of, 'What can I do to not feel depressed, and what can I do to give back?'"
She started volunteering at the Spokane Humane Society, where she immediately saw how many animals came into the system that never have a chance of finding a home. Some have expensive and ongoing medical issues. Some are considered "problem" dogs with an aggressive past.
"I had no idea the inner workings of a rescue organization," McAtee says. "I had no thoughts that I'd ever open a rescue, or run a rescue. But once I saw there are dogs there that no other rescues would take, I was like, 'OK, I can do this.'"
She launched Rescue4All in 2013, creating a foster-home-based rescue from the ground up with the support of friends and family. She took positive aspects of other organizations and manages to keep her rescue debt-free, with all costs of caring for the dogs paid upfront, thanks to donors attracted to Rescue4All's mission.
McAtee's passion, and that of her organization's fans, is on full display on the Rescue4All Facebook page, where new dogs available for fostering and adoption are introduced and past success stories are celebrated. It's part of the "better community for our animals" that McAtee is building, and part of her mission to show the world that dogs often considered too challenging to adopt — through no fault of their own — can be the joyful pets people want when given a little love and attention.
"It's about having people understand what these dogs come from," McAtee says. "Through training and dedication and time and exercise — and they come from these shitty situations — they can be their best dog if you put in the time and effort to have them be that way." ♦
Positions: Founder of Rescue4All, volunteer at Spokane Humane Society, owner of J.Mac Marketing and Creative Design
I give back because... if someone doesn't take that leap to step up and help, no one else will.
I look up to... Mother Teresa. She didn't do what she did for attention. Her essence was just helping to make the world a better place.
I wish that... people would just learn to be responsible. And spay, and neuter, and socialize; learn how to communicate with their dogs so I wouldn't need to exist.