Shelter Me: A Conversation with Steven Latham

This week the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Emmy Award winning producer Steven Latham. Tune in to hear a conversation about the importance of animals in our lives, the impacts on the mental health of those touched by shelter animals, and the great work that Steven is doing to make the invisible visible through his Shelter Me series.

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Tina: Hey everyone, I'm Tina

Serena: And I'm Serena, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.


Tina: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Serena: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Tina: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the fields, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Serena: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You'll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website no need to explain

Tina: Serena and I are very big pet people, and in fact in our family, we literally consider our dogs our own personal emotional support pets.

Serena: Absolutely, in my house we have a dog and two cats and actually a third one we're caring for my oldest cat. We have right now living with us and support chickens as well.

Tina: We love the support chickens. And while we can't see enough about the power of pets to support our own emotional needs, we know that it's about so much more than that. Today we have a guest who's helped shine a very bright light on shelter animals and has told some very powerful stories through his creative films. You know how very much we love storytelling, Serena.

Serena: Absolutely. So Steven Latham is an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and a producer and director. He owns his own small but mighty production company focused on addressing social issues, many of them including shelter pets. He has produced and directed documentary films about solar energy, a feature documentary about the TED conference, and also a PBS series The Living Century co-produced with Barbara Streisand which tells the amazing stories of the 20th century through individuals who are at least 100 years old.

Tina: Steven is an animal lover and proud to share his life with his three shelter dogs Reba, Blue and Emma. They make him laugh and smile every day. The journey these dogs took to become part of his life was really the inspiration for creating the shelter me project. He's made a lifelong commitment to help shelter pets find great loving homes. I see it all the time on Facebook. He's on planes and taking pictures of all kinds of animals everywhere. He is also a friend of mine from my small town high school. Steven, welcome to the podcast.

Steven: Hey, I'm really really happy to be here and I'm really grateful for what you guys are doing.

Serena: Yeah, thank you. So I'll just so you have a very impressive body of work that covers a lot of different bases and we have to be honest, you know, we're big fans of rescue animals and the impact they have on mental health. So tell us a little bit of your story as it relates to this idea of rescue animals.

Steven: Yeah, so I'm I'm crazy about animals and I appreciate that you you guys like storytelling because you know, I was able to combine you know, my passions of my love of animals and being a filmmaker and with shelter animals, I found that it was a subject that was completely being sort of miscommunicated to people, to the public. Because I've always thought of shelter animals of as the same as my animals, you know, my house or anybody's couch, they just don't have a home yet. And there's lots of reasons why there's animals in the shelter. But one of the challenges was to or is still is to be honest is to how do we let people know that your first choice should be go to the shelter to get an animal? Because your shelter is really a mirror to how your community is doing. Because when you deal with overpopulation or neglect or, you know, with hoarders, with backyard breeders, there's lots of situations. So one of the ways that people can get involved is by going to their local shelter and fostering adopting or doing all kinds of things. And I didn't people I talked to, I didn't feel necessarily getting that message and there were a lot of people that were still buying their animals. And this was just a really good opportunity to showcase the beauty, the wonder, the love that a shelter pet can do. And I just find stories all over the country that reinforce that idea.

Tina: So talk a little bit about what, so clearly people have for a long time tried to get donations for shelters and have people give money and throw money at problems. Tell us a little bit about what you saw happening and why you thought perhaps you needed to take a different angle.

Steven: So about, you know, 10 years ago, you know, when I was really diving into this subject, I already had a number of projects under my belt and I was kind of doing research of what I wanted to do next. And there's a lot of work that goes into just deciding like this is this is the project that I want to do. And I, I everybody is familiar with that Sarah McLaughlin commercial that comes out to me that that's for a major national animal welfare group. And you're kind of, it's like a commercial that'll ruin your day.

Tina: And we get up and go to the bathroom or something.

Steven: So you change the channels to all of a sudden you're like, you're at the end of the day, you know, you're kind of like all tired and lazy and all of a sudden you can be like the fastest 40 yard sprinter for the remote control. And so, but it was, I really thought about that commercial because I, you know, I would, I watched it and I would say, I just don't see how this is helping the animals. You know, it would tell, it would show you the worst case scenarios of the animals. And, you know, just because there are exceptions doesn't mean that's the rule. And, you know, so they wouldn't necessarily show these like everything about, oh my god, look at the terrible situation. And you would just literally feel terrible, but the, but the call to action on those commercials was to write a check. You don't know where it's going to go, but here write a check and then that'll make you feel good. So now you can move on to the rest of your life.

So it didn't sit well with me. I was like, there's, that's not my experience with shelter animals, you know, my experiences, you know, you walk into a shelter and you just can't stop smiling. There's just, you know, you just have, you have so much love to give them and they have so much love to give you. And, and I didn't think of the places as sadness. I thought, I thought I always thought of shelters as places of joy. And so I, I said, I got to do something, you know, I got to do something about this because part of my projects, I always like to have ways for people to get involved and to give them reasons to get involved. You know, again, not shaming them into it, not shaming people to give money, but to, to have people be inspired to be like, yeah, let me, I'm jumping on the train. Let's do this. And so part of the storytelling is to, again, not preach, but to tell these really great stories to let people know, wow, this shelter animal can help veterans. This animal, such an animal is doing search and rescue. This animal is, you know, is really providing companionship to somebody who's elderly.

So all these stories that I do kind of have this amazing sort of canvas of inviting people in so they can, you know, realize, wow, that's, that's my experience too. And then all of a sudden people started sharing their own stories and they would be like the best pet I ever got came from the shelter. And then, you know, you walking down the street, I meet people and everyone's like, what kind of dog is that? And I'd be like, it's a shelter dog. And it was just, you know, it all of a sudden, you know, things started just, you know, being very magical about people like, again, celebrating these animals a completely different way of messaging of, of getting sort of, you know, beaten down of like everything is terrible. This guy is falling right as a check. And my message was always, always about if you're going to get involved, do it locally, whether even donating, you know, keep the money in your community.

My project Shelter Me, you know, we never asked people for money. We only asked people for their time. We just like, you know, and then we give them other things they can do because, you know, you always hear, you know, there's always resistance, right, for people to, to, of their time. But so, you know, they're, they'll say, I don't have time to adopt. I already have animals. And, and then I was realizing that nobody was giving people reasons to get involved, like low friction reasons, like, did you know you could just bring newspapers to a shelter because the bottom of, like, you know, of a cat cage, or you could make food donations or toys or, you know, you can go to a shelter as an activity with your kids and make toys for cats. And there's so many things you can do to have this joy in a shelter instead of like, well, I've only adopted and then I'll have my pet for 12 years or so. And then I'll go back again and 12 years.

And so this was what I wanted to do. And it's certainly working, but it's never ending because there's, there's lots of lots of issues surrounding animal shelters. But, but I, but I wanted to be a change maker in changing the conversation about the way that we looked at animal. I mean, look, to be honest with you, it has a lot to do with conversations about mental health, right? It's storytelling, it's ways to take, how do you, yeah, this is how it's perceived. How do you shift the conversation and normalize it and having, you know, adult conversations around it and not having any shame about it, but empowering people. So that there's very similar, there's a lot of similarities. And quite honestly, I think that model can be used for a number of social issues. And I'm, and I'm trying to address that through my storytelling.

Tina: Well, you are certainly a gifted storyteller and we appreciate that. If you could see this smile on my face, hearing you, the only danger we have in going to shelters is we want to take them all.

Steven: I will, I will, I will add to that real quick. So, you know, one of the things, you know, because that is a lot of people feel that way and I do that way. But so I always try to tell people, well, here's a great way to channel that. So you can go to the shelter, even just for an hour, a half hour, and happy animals come into like the meet and greet area and take photos of them and it's post them on social media. So other animals. So that's the kind of thing where everyone's, and I can't tell you how many people I've said this to and they do that now. They're like, yeah, so now our family goes in once a week, once a month and we just take photos and we share them and we help animals get adopted and the shelters need that help. So there are ways to channel that like the things like, oh, it's, you know, it's maybe too much for me. I think it's going to be too sad. But if you go in and take photos and take good photos and show the joy, you can be part of the solution. Anybody can.

Tina: Yeah, I love that idea and you do that all the time on your social media and I love that. So all right, so let's talk about Shelter Me. The series, very awesome. Serena and I have, we really especially loved the Shelter Me, Soul Awakened. It is very inspiring. It's about a prison in California that gives dogs and humans a second chance at making meaning out of life. In this film, you capture a quote from one inmate who works as a leader in the program, Paws for Life is what it's called. He committed his crime as a teen, which we know that happens a lot, right? And state so beautifully, I am not bad, but I'm a person who had made some bad choices. And these are life, these are people who are in prison for life, right? We talked about that. What we know to be true is in its backed by studies, including one in the international Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the paper states, ?rates of childhood and adult trauma are high among incarcerated persons. In addition to criminality, childhood trauma is associated with the risk for emotional disorders, depression, anxiety, and comorbid conditions such as alcohol and drug abuse and antisocial behaviors in adulthood.? Then it goes on to say, ?rates of childhood and adult trauma are notably elevated among incarcerated men.? So we understand the process of the criminal justice system, whether we like it or not, we know that there is some room for improvement for sure. As the system stands, many prisons do not do much to rehabilitate inmates, especially those lifers. So the article goes on to say, ?given the sheer number of incarcerated men in the strength of these associations targeted interventions are crucial.? So you've shared with us that you believe that trauma and mental health issues are a large part of why people go to prison. Give me some thoughts on all that.

Steven: Yeah, look, it's a big question. It's kind of what we wanted to do with doing this story where Shelter Me, one of our goals is to tackle these really large social issues and combine them with companion animals. So we can get people to actually watch it. Some people can really enjoy it because I think it's a really interesting combination because instead of trying to just be really earnest and tackling a subject matter that, you know, whether it be we've done stories and Alzheimer's or even if you were just to do criminal justice reform, pick a program like this dog program that's incredibly successful. And then now we can have a larger conversation. I think elevate the conversation.

So, you know, I've filmed in prisons for many, many years. I've filmed, I have filmed in women's prisons, which is a whole other issue of most women are in there because of what they did to their abusers. And there's, again, you know, lots of opinions, but, you know, too, it's a lot different being up close and personal. And a quick aside just about being up close and personal, I'm a big believer that you have to bear witness. You have to get out there and talk to people and see people and meet people and you can't just opine and pontificate and be a bar room philosopher, right? Because I last week I was scouting a story in Los Angeles about the unhoused. And I spent the day on Skid Row in downtown LA. It's a whole other world. But the story that I'm looking at is about a veterinarian that checks on homeless people to have pets. And again, people have all kinds of opinions and stuff. But again, it's reality. They have pets and it's a lifeline for them. And so you kind of have to see it and not just give your opinions about it.

So with criminal justice reform and the studies that you cite, what I have experienced in the maximum security prison with the men that I did the story on and the women's prison and even in juvie hall, they all relate back to trauma in their life, neglects what was in the household, what they were exposed to, the influences that they had, the alcohol and drugs. And a number of things that interventions would have changed their path 100%. And there are a lot of wonderful programs out there after school programs, but not nearly enough. But again, focusing on the good, there are some things that are out there that are working. But the people that we had featured in this episode Shelter Me, Soul Awakened, a lot of them did commit their crimes in their teens and really terrible things. And the thing that I wanted to show was again, without making judgment of just saying, oh my God, look, let them be released. There are different people now. We filmed this over a year so we can really see the work that they were putting in. And what was fascinating to me, because I always go into a story with the jaundiced eye. I'm always trying to find the holes and I don't just go in there and say, I'm going to promote this program. I want to kind of see these guys working me. Are they working the camera? What is their angle? And I got to spend a lot of time with them and film over a year with my team. And there's no question that the people that they are now after years and years and years in prison are completely different from who they were when they committed the crime. Now, again, there's a whole conversation about, should jails be strictly punitive or should they be rehabilitative? And there's, again, in different states, there's a lot of different opinions on that alone. But California has made a commitment in a number of the prisons in the state to make sure that it's about rehabilitation. And you provide counseling and education and people can get their degrees. Even if they're never going to get out, you know, you can take a person who did a really bad thing, who was on a bad path, and you can continually to treat them terribly in prison. And prisons are not good places. I mean, there's a lot of racism. There's gangs, there's all kinds of stuff. But if you, there are programs that are succeeding. But if you don't give people hope when things are really hopeless, they're going to get meaner, they get nastier. And it, you know, and there's a case to be made, is it, you know, what is cruel and unusual punishment?

But the other thing I've always said, regardless of your position is that a lot of people do get out, even if they don't have life sentences, even if they're 20, 30 years. And do you want someone getting out of prison who hasn't been rehabilitated, who has been that, you know, we just got hardened in prison and then you're going to put them back out into society. I don't think anybody wants that. And again, so you can't just, you know, wave your fist at people. You got to say, are there programs that can improve people's outcome? And this program, when it started in prison, the Paws for Life program at this maximum security prison, the inmates had multiple life sentences. It was unheard of that they were going to get out. So this program was started, was to give them something to do constructive in prison that could take overlooked shelter dogs that had been, you know, literally whose time was up at the shelter because the shelters are so full in Los Angeles. And they had been at shelters for many, many, many months and at risk of euthanasia. So they would they take these dogs and then they bring them to prison. So these are dogs that have experienced a lot of trauma, and they need patience and empathy and love. I mean, they're, you know, they're homeless dogs without, you know, any direction. So there's a connection right away with the inmates, they just, they feel connections to these animals. So again, just these guys who are in this program, they're in this program, not thinking they're going to get out of prison. They're just like, okay, this is something constructive to do. And then they start learning these skills to be professional trainers. And there's a constant flow of professionals coming into prison to teach these guys. And then there's a mentor program where the guys really experienced guys are teaching the guys below them. So now you can combine all these skills and the guys are learning love and compassion and empathy and leadership and confidence and all of a sudden people believe in them. And so they start getting involved in other programs in the prison. And we have people in the film that with this program when they got in, they hadn't even seen a dog in 30 years. I mean, it's a really hard to even think about that. They hadn't seen a dog in 30 years. So now they get this privilege, they know that, okay, I got to be on the straight and narrow to stay in this program because it's a privilege to be in this program. And then they start going and getting their advanced degrees in college programs in prison. They're doing counseling, they're doing all these things. So lo and behold, the governor of the state and it was Jerry Brown, it's currently Gavin Newsom, saw this program. And then the board started recommending these people with multiple life sentences that this person, you know, really getting letters signed on behalf of them from from guards in the prison who said this guy used to be unmanageable. He's a completely different person now. And then all of a sudden, Governor Jerry Brown is signing commutations of these people. And they're literally being released. But because of this program, they have learned these skills and they started getting jobs as dog trainers on the outside. And so this started happening more and more. And wonderfully, the program has a zero recidivism rate. So there's no, that's a big problem with the penal system is that it's a just a revolving door where people get out, then they commit crimes. They come back in. This program is not having any of those issues. So, you know, it indisputably, it's working. And the inmates are thriving. I mean, absolutely thriving. Dogs are being saved.

Dogs are also being trained to become service animals for veterans. So veterans come into the prison and get to meet the inmates that train the dogs. And these dogs become a lifeline for veterans with PTSD. So, you know, there's a lot of touch points to kind of show that if you put a program in with really strong guardrails, so it's a really successful program, it works. And that's what that's the story of this. You know, we were very fortunate to have John Legend post it and having Patty Skielfa Springsteen as our executive producer. And there's a lot of people that believe in this project. And it's made a difference. And the programs also being copied in other parts of the country because of the film, there's other rescue organizations and other jails that are saying, we'd like to use this as our template because it's sort of best practices. And that's sort of, for me, a big joy because that's kind of why I do the stories. I don't want them to be insulated. I try to find the stories out of the best stories. And I want other organizations and other places in the country to say, let's save shelter animals and let's save people that society has discarded.

Serena: Yeah, it's, I can't say enough about it. It's such a moving piece. And the sort of parallel process between the dogs and the prisoners is amazing to watch this, you know, the dogs who have been essentially forgotten. And then the people who are feeling the same way and coming together. And it's very humanizing. And I love the, also the focus on the story, the story behind the story, right? You know, you see these, these prisoners. And we have thoughts and ideas about them. And then as we learn their stories, it all makes sense, right? I mean, I think that that's what I'm trying to say and the same thing for the dogs.

Steven: You know Serena, it's a great point. And you know, the thing about it is like these types of stories, it's so easy for segments of our population to be out of sight and out of mind. It's so easy to look the other way of animal shelters and not even think about it. And that's kind of what I want to do was say, no, I'm going to put them on the front burner. I'm going to let people really kind of see, I'm going to make sure these animals are seen. And then with prisons, I mean, you're behind these wired gates. I mean, again, I would come home from a 14 hour shoot and I would be relaxing at the end of the day, just thinking, there's guys that have been there for over 30 years in these small, tiny cells. And it's such a hard thing to even process. And, you know, again, their actions put them there. If there's no, I'm not, you know, letting that slide, I'm very, you know, I've got, I have conflicting thoughts about inmates and prisons. But, you know, it's very easy to not even think about it. They're behind walls and wires and the same thing with the unhoused and, you know, the way that they're living on the streets and in our, you know, in a, you know, a modern society. So I'm trying to, and when you talk about, you know, want mental health issues, I mean, and people living on the streets, I mean, again, that's a crisis and you'll have me back for another podcast for that one. But yeah, so it's, you part of a, my role as a storyteller is to make the invisible visible. And that's, that's kind of what I want to do. And then making sure that we're having, that, you know, they're entertaining to watch it, but we're having responsible conversations around these issues, which we're doing right now.

Serena: Yeah, absolutely. You know, so I'm going to shift your, just a little bit, I just want to get a little bit more of your, of your personal experience. Clearly, there's this connection, right, with the animals and their unique ability to help folks with their mental illness. And what Tina and I say all the time is that we all have mental health, you know, are we well? Do we need more support? And we know the statistics. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about your personal understanding and appreciation for mental health.

Steven: Yeah. So, you know, I think it's, um, I think personally of, you know, mental health as, um, as physical health. Um, you know, I'm, uh, I consider myself a pretty healthy person, you know, in terms of exercise and eating and trying to be, you know, somewhat balanced about things. Um, but I, but I do think, you know, I've always, um, appreciated the mind, body connection. So I feel like most people kind of treat it as sort of disembodied. You have your physical health and like, I have a cut in my finger. But like, if you are like, well, I'm having a really bad day or, you know, I'm feeling, I don't know why I'm feeling, you know, kind of little weight on my shoulders or, you know, we'll, we'll tougher to get out of bed the last couple of weeks. They don't necessarily connect people. A lot of people don't necessarily connect that. So I feel, um, which is why I think what you guys are doing is incredible is to have conversations because I think there's still, um, I think in recent years, it's been, there's been high profile people talking about it, you know, whether it's Simone Biles or Michael Phelps. And I think that has been incredible. I mean, I think it's been, um, you know, I think it's okay to say it's brave for them to talk about it because I think we're trying to make sure there is no stigma about it that we are. And I know you guys talk about it all the time that, you know, there's, there's no need to explain, you know, we, you know, they, we just, you know, you, what you're going through, you don't have to be going through alone and there's no shame in it. And, um, that message is so powerful and, uh, and just needs to be repeated over and over again. And we need to be having these conversations because, um, we're all in this together.

Tina: We are totally in this together for sure. Yeah. So we, you mentioned a few, but what are your go-to's for your own wellness?

Steven: So I, um,

Tina: because I'm sure you have like a super busy life and you're always trying to think in new things. Yeah. What are your, what are your go-to's?

Steven: So, you know, and there's times that I, um, you know, get, you know, can get a little overwhelmed. And, um, and certainly in my 20s, you know, I, I tasted, um, you know, anxiety and depression and, and the early in the 90s, uh, at least in my circle, nobody was talking about it. So I'm like, uh, I don't know what's going on. And so, but there's a lot of lessons, um, that I took from it as, you know, to sort of come out of the darkness is of things that I apply today. You know, and so my sort of go-to's as, um, um, is a diet, and for me, by the way, is probably number one, just me personally. Um, just because, you know, again, I, I always felt like, feel like with diet, um, you're sort of making deposits in the bank. So when you get older, you can, you know, then start making withdrawals.

But I think, um, I think yoga has always been great for me. I mean, I, you know, I used to do, you know, intake to do a lot of the classes and stuff. So I sort of learned, you know, a lot of the proper techniques and, uh, I, I wasn't doing any sort of a hot yoga. I was doing kind of like, you know, hatha yoga, like really strict, um, but it was, um, it was, for me, it was wonderful. And it's sort of the thing that I would say that I always come back to, even if I miss a few weeks and stuff, it's just something, whether even if it's whether it's to be stretching or focusing on breathing. And I don't, I don't think any, you know, we're taught, you know, history and math and everything. I don't think anyone talks about breathing. Breathing and understanding your breath and being, you know, being able to go internally, um, even breathing is a meditation. I don't think a lot of people realize when you hear meditate, you think you like, oh, I got to sit there with my legs crossed. But you could spend five minutes of just focusing on your breath and that's your meditation done in your, and you have literally, um, calmed your central nervous system down, you have been reflective on the inside. And, um, and that simple thing is, I mean, I always, even if I'm walking the dog, I focus my breathing, I try to be present and I'm not always trying to be what's next, what's next. Um, and the one thing and I know Tina's going to like this one, the, um, I have come to appreciate the value of sleep.

Tina: Ah, yes.

Steven: And it's something that I did, you know, I, in the past, you know, I'd be burning in a both ends and going to bed late and waking up early and, you know, having TVs on having lights on and just, uh, and just not appreciating it. And, um, and sleep is, sleep is restorative. And, uh, and I think if people focus on sleep and they just had little things of, um, you know, again, diet yoga, breathing and sleep, you've got right there, you got a toolkit.

Tina: That's right. You need to have a conversation with your other friend from high school who I live with.

Serena: Yeah, thanks for, thanks for showing that I love the idea of just, you know, breathing meditation. It's so easy and accessible for, for all of us. But I do want to mention some newer work you have about, um, also about animals. Um, and I, so I want to ask you about kittens and wild mustangs, although they're not the same thing.

Steven: So yeah, so, um, so I'm always, you know, working on different parts of stories. So, you know, um, one of the things with, uh, with kittens, there's, there's a couple of stories with cats that, that we've been working on. One with, um, kittens is the situation of, um, feral cats, which are an issue in a lot of, um, a lot of areas, which are essentially, you know, cats living on the street. And I mean, LA alone, there's, there's estimates of over three million cats living on the streets. Um, so there's a lot of, you know, implications to that from, um, from spay neuter to lose feeding them to the impact that they're having to, you know, do, is it being miscommunicated where some people think of them as new senses? I mean, so it's an issue that, you know, I've been really diving into, um, that issue alone. It does have some parallels, believe it or not, with, um, the story that I, I finished recently on wild horses in America, which is, um, again, a story about, um, these icons that are remnants of our collective past. I mean, they represent these, these values of freedom and independence, and, uh, definitely, you know, they, they're, they're, you can make the case that the, the Mustang should be our national animals that have been, uh, bald eagle. Um, they are majestic and wonderful, but they're, they're in crisis right now themselves, where they're being rounded up, um, uh, in the 10 western states by the Bureau of Land Management. It's, again, very complex issue, and we kind of go in and address all of that. But we have a segment in there that's really, really powerful about once a wild horse has been rounded up. There's a group in Illinois that, um, called Operation Wild Horse that adopts wild horses, and their, their center. Um, they pair up the wild horses with veterans with PTSD, and it's this marriage made in heaven, where there is this, you know, both horse and veteran have experienced trauma, you know, the horse being rounded up and taking off the only land they knew and, and putting in trucks and corrals, I mean, it's very stressful for a horse. Um, and horses, in particular, wild horses have a really, I mean, there's a lot of, a equine therapy, I'm sure people have heard of, but the, the, the match between a veteran and a wild horse, when you, if you have an opportunity to see this film, um, is, it'll take your breath away, and it'll make you, um, it'll make you cry, you know, tears of joy.

But we also did a story recently about a program. Again, I'm always looking for partnerships that kind of show these innovative programs. It's an Alzheimer's facility that partnered with a local animal shelter, because a big issue with, um, um, um, in a lot of warmer climates is that you have a lot of neonatal cats coming into the shelter, little baby kittens that, for one reason or the other, they need help to survive. They need to be literally manually fed. The mother might have left. Uh, the mother, there's somebody might have picked up the, the little kittens thinking the mother left when actually mother was just looking for food. There's lots of, again, all part of educating people on these issues. But the beauty of this program is at this Alzheimer's facility, which deals with dementia and Lewy bodies and aphasia and, and all these different issues of, of the brain, um, is the, the, they live in these 24 hour care centers. So the nursing staff will help the people that, the residents there, literally bottle feed, the kittens. So they get to see the cats grow and it's not just having companion animals around, it's the idea of actually nurturing these animals and taking care of them. And the cats themselves, the benefit is that they become incredibly socialized and they get adopted really quickly. But what we saw, which was sort of a revelation was that the families, when they were visiting, they weren't talking about how the same questions. How was your day? What do you have for breakfast? You know, how are you feeling? They started talking when they were while they're holding the cat about that cat. And then all the sudden, the one of the residents who was afflicted with Alzheimer's dementia would have start having these moments of lucidity where they would be, well, you remember our dog, you know, back, you know, back to home and, you know, 20 years ago, and it was just them, and even if it was just fleeting, it gave the family members these moments of joy and these gifts. Um, but it also allowed, you know, other conversations that happened. So there's a whole bunch of joy in this story. But the other thing, again, as I was saying about with criminal justice reform is that I don't know if anybody wants to sit down and just watch a show about Alzheimer's, but you combine it with cute cats and you definitely find the story. And then we're able to talk about this issue that again is a crisis in America and around the world, which is Alzheimer's and different diseases of the mind. And the other cool thing about it is that when we were doing screenings, people would come up to me and say, there wouldn't say anything about the film. They would say, let me tell you about my mother. Let me tell you. And it just took them in such a deep personal level. But then we started hearing people say, well, we've, we've never had the conversation, you know, dad's sort of in a decline and we don't know what the hell to do. And so now people started saying, well, we watched that and we started, we got to have a plan. No one has a plan, by the way, everyone's plan is wait for the crisis to happen. Then go out and try to buy the fire truck, right? There's no, there's no planning at all. And right. So, so that was a really nice and unexpected thing on these films of the way they were touching people and ways that, you know, these groups that are, you know, doing these innovative programs with animals. And again, tackling a large social issue that needs to be talked about. I mean, again, just like what we're doing here, we need to be talking about these things and we need to be bringing solutions to them. And we need to make, you know, make sure that people feel connected and that we aren't all in silos that we know we got to be sharing things and talking about it. And, and I am convinced that not only is sort of kindness free, but kindness is contagious. And I just think that by getting involved and doing kind things, it, you know, it definitely helps other people, but I'll speaking for myself, it does a lot for me. When I do things, when I help things with animals, when I help other people, and I, you know, it certainly makes me feel good.

Tina: So, another mental health strategy.

Steven: Yeah.

Tina: Because kind comes back, right?

Steven: I definitely would have should have added that before, because that's 100% true.

Tina: Yeah, yeah. Well, your work is amazing. I can't say enough about that. I was actually getting goosebumps listening to tell those stories. I mean, really, it's amazing. And I've enjoyed watching the films. And I'm sure that our listeners will want to know more as well. So, where can they find out more about these impactful projects?

Steven: Yeah. So, thanks for asking. So, we post things about not only about shelter me, but some of our other projects at And, but we do a lot of postings and a lot of sharing and a lot of, like, stories that are, we love to show the great work other people are doing. So, our Facebook page, all of our social media handles are just So, slash And, yeah, drop us a like. And, you know, we, we, we do silly things and we do serious things. And we have fun. And, you know, this, the animals that we're trying to help and these programs, you know, we, there's a lot of joy in these stories. And that's what we're all about. You know, it's easy to find, you know, the bad stories. And we, we're on a mission to find the good stories.

Serena: That is great. So, so before we bring the episode to a close today, just want to ask if there is anything that we haven't asked you that you want to make sure gets out there to the world.

Steven: So, you know, my, my big thing that I learned with, with working with veterans, because I feel like our, you know, I'm a big, big supporter of our veterans. I, you know, the, what they do for this country, there's such a small percentage population that is in our armed forces to protect us.

Tina: And your dad is a veteran.

Steven: Yeah, my dad, my dad is a Navy veteran, exactly, but such a small percentage. And so little is asked of us this country. But when it comes to veterans, I would love number one for more people to that, and it doesn't get old. So, I was just even saying thank you for your service. I mean, if you see somebody in an airport or that doesn't get old, the veterans really, really appreciate that. Even buy them lunch, buy them, a cup of coffee. But what I learned is a couple of things, it's not enough just to put a bumper sticker on your car and say, we support our troops. You know, that, that's again, I'm saying, well, look, I look what I did today, I put a bumper oh my god. But one of the lessons that I've learned from the veterans is that, you know, they are very stoic and they also are really resistant to share their stories because they don't want to look vulnerable. And, and I have filmed, I've done programs with dogs, not only with, you know, the service animals in the prison story, but I've done work with veterans years and years ago with, with amazing dog programs and I did it with the Mustangs. And so one thing I learned is, is that when I spoke to them and they were like, I don't want to go on camera, I don't want to show I?m weak or that I've had these problems. Because, you know, we, we folks have featured veterans that have really self isolated and self medicated and were suicidal and a lot of these issues that not just for veterans, but other people. And that's, that's more my point of the story is, is for other people to relate to what I'm going to about to say is that when I told the veterans and they trusted us as storytellers, because we don't exploit stories where very, we're not reality TV, you know, we're very honest storytellers. As I said, you know, think about how you're feeling or how you were feeling two years ago, your story can reach somebody who is in crisis. And when I would have those conversations, you know, you could see the light bulb going off, going, Oh, so it's not about me. I don't have to talk about me. I, if I, if you're telling me, I could help somebody else, get turn the camera on. Let's go. And that has happened time and time and time again, where people are like, there's no way you're filming me. I'm not doing it. And then once you realize, you tell them, like, you know, this is, this is going to help other people. And it's the same way I feel about, you know, if you're, if somebody is dealing with, again, addiction, depression, anxiety, anything, even if you're like, I don't know what's going on. And I know, oh, I'm going to, I'm embarrassed. I don't want to share it. If you, you're going to, the first thing you're going to find out is that even if you've been holding on to something, like, I'm not going to share this, I'm not telling you. If you tell someone, the first thing they're going to do is be a kind ear. They're not going to be judgmental. They're not going to mean to you. They're not going to criticize you. They're going to be like, you should have told me this earlier. Let's, I'm with you. I got you. I got your back. You know, here's my phone number. Call me anytime. And that connection is so critical. And I think it's probably, I would imagine for you two this resonates with both of you because if people just knew that there is no shame that you don't need to explain, but you can't suffer alone. You can't suffer in silence. You got to talk about this stuff. There's no embarrassment. There's nothing. And if you, you reach out, you're going to, you're going to say to yourself a million times. I should have done this earlier. So don't wait. Just, just go reach out right now. Go, go talk to somebody.

Tina: Absolutely. And I think, you know, you highlight the fact that everyone has a story. And everyone has a story that you don't know until it's told. And we've found that being that listening ear helps make that connection and that connection to everything.

Steven: It is everything.

Tina: That's the way that Serena and I met. It is everything. So I am so grateful that you came today and took the time to be with us and really awesome to reconnect around this incredible passion you have for changing the world in such positive ways.

Steven: Well, thank you. I really enjoyed this conversation. I, again, I do think this is critical. And my last thought would be a friend of mine connected with me. And he was embarrassed because he was having anxiety and panic attacks. And I really helped him through and til this day. He's now helping other people. But he was just again, mortified because he's like, I don't know what's going on to me. I feel strange what's happening. And then he reached out. And I just, he said it like just took all this weight off his shoulder and he was able to exhale going, okay, I'm not dying. Now I can talk about it. And those types of things can go a long way. And you know, and, and they're so easy. It takes so little effort to, to help someone. So I would just say, you know, you guys keep up the good work, you know, keep sharing these stories. This is, this is really important work. So thank you guys.

Serena: Thank you. Thanks for coming on. And so podcast friends, we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple Podcasts. Leave us a review, subscribe, and please share with others. You will find more content on our website. No need to explain and connect with us on the socials Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. And one more thing you can call us and leave us a voice message. You'll find that number in our notes. Share a bit of your story. Tell us what you think of the podcast or just call to say hi.

Tina: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people and your animals.

Serena: Thanks for listening.

Tina: Bye.