Coffee & Canines: Q&A with Aaron Fisher of Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe
Ne[x]t Magazine spent a few minutes getting to know one of Georgia’s Own, Aaron Fisher. Aaron is not only a pet-lover and educator; he’s also the Founder and CEO of the Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe, an animal welfare organization with a unique mission. Keep reading to learn more about Aaron’s work in the community and how you can get involved.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m originally from New Jersey, but I’ve lived in Atlanta three separate times over 24 years. I first came here to attend Emory University, and something just kept calling me back. The changes I’ve seen over that time have been incredible.
What’s your favorite thing about the Atlanta area?
The food, art, and music scenes. The creativity of the residents. The individual character and charm of the neighborhoods. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing.
Could you tell us about the Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe?
The idea behind Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe (ARDC) has been in the works for the past 12 years, but it wasn’t officially brought to fruition until last November. I taught elementary school for seven years and spent more than 12 years volunteering and working in animal welfare. ARDC was born from these experiences. My students were often too young to volunteer with animals (but really wanted to learn more about pets), yet no single organization was dedicated to educating the community about animal welfare. Our programs reach nearly 500 Atlanta students per month.
Despite so much good being accomplished for Atlanta’s pets, the number of animals entering area shelters continues to increase, as does the incidence of animal cruelty. Few local rescue groups have the personnel to offer the educational resources to prevent animals from entering shelters in the first place. Simply put, we’re not going to spay/neuter, shelter, or adopt our way out of the pet overpopulation problem. ARDC addresses the cause of these issues by offering programs that emphasize empathy, responsibility, education, and prevention.
Is the Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe an actual dog cafe?
The word “cafe” is in the name for two reasons: 1) A cafe is where conversation happens, and we’re trying to generate conversation on what we, as a community, can do to promote positive human-pet relationships and prevent animals from entering shelters. 2) Our three-year goal is to have a non-profit coffee shop with a dedicated educational space for programs on animal welfare issues, and a senior dog sanctuary co-located on the premises.
What makes the ARDC different than other animal welfare organizations in the area?
We focus on the front-end (prevention side) of rescue so that we can—through education and outreach—help prevent pets from ever entering shelters. Imagine how great it would be if someone opened an animal shelter and there were no homeless pets to be turned in. That’s our goal.
What are some of the ways individuals can get involved with the ARDC?
We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for the amazing support we receive from the community. There are so many ways for people to get involved with us: Teachers, scout leaders, librarians, youth group leaders, etc., can invite us to lead programs with their schools and organizations. Local businesses and companies can host us for team-building exercises, presentations, etc. Individuals and families can volunteer with us when we do outreach events. Invite us to lead a leash-making activity (our ‘One Leash Project’) with your group. The leashes get donated to police officers, rescue organizations, and are available for donations. Help us with fundraising campaigns and donation drives. The more money we raise, the more programs we can offer to more Atlantans.
What are some of the challenges you face running a non-profit? What keeps you motivated and makes it all worth it in the end?
There are many challenges, but that’s what also makes it fun. I’m learning something new every day. One day the focus could be on developing more programs, the next day I might have to concentrate on marketing and social media, and another day the focus might be on legal or financial issues. You have to become a mini-expert on multiple topics.
The important thing is to recognize that you don’t have to know everything. Seek out people who know more than you do. Reach out to them and ask for their advice and ideas. I’ve been lucky to have amazing support from family, friends, local businesses, and the community.
What is the biggest takeaway you hope people get from working with the Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe?
That participants in our programs feel more comfortable, confident, and safer around animals; that they know how to avoid getting bitten, and understand what they can do with their pets, such as microchipping, spaying/neutering, vaccinating, and making sure their pets always have collars with proper identification—all of which help prevent animals from winding up in shelters.
What advice do you have for readers who have similar dreams of establishing and running their own organizations?
Spend time volunteering or working in the field you want to go into. Learn as much as you can and ask lots of questions. Ask yourself, “Is there already an organization doing what I want to do?” If so, why are you looking to start a new one? Make sure that what you’re doing has something unique to offer. And don’t ever think that just because something doesn’t exist that there isn’t a need for it or that it’s already been tried. Finally, no one does anything alone. You’ll need the experience, expertise, and support of others.
Georgia’s Own and Ne[x]t Magazine are all about helping our members make smart financial decisions. With running a non-profit, you have to be disciplined about managing money. Any advice you’d like to share with our readers?
You have to be organized and stay on top of your finances. I quantify everything, not just our income and expenditures, but how many students our programs have reached, the number of volunteers we have, hours they’ve donated, the amount of climbing rope we’ve received for our ‘One Leash Project,’ etc. Finally, even though we’re a non-profit, we manage our finances wisely, as any good business should.
If we’re not taking in enough to cover our expenses, we can’t have the maximum impact, and our shelf life will be pretty short. We run it like a business, but as a non-profit, our mission drives what we do.
Learn how you can help at AtlantaRescueDogCafe.org
Your donation goes directly toward educational programs to help improve human-animal interactions, reduce the incidence of animal cruelty, and relieve the strain on overrun animal shelters.