The Pet Education Project, or PEP!, is a 501(c)3 volunteer-run organization and outreach program educating and teaching the core responsibilities of pet ownership. PEP! strives to foster humane habits in children and local communities in order to reduce pet overpopulation, abuse, neglect and euthanasia. PEP! also promotes local animal adoptions. Check out the latest from PEP! at ilovepep.org.
Erica Falbaum founded PEP! in 2009 and wears many hats at the organization. From designing and editing Happy Tails Magazine to recruiting schools for outreach, Falbaum also performs PEP! Talks, produces videos and most recently wrote the children’s book Pep! Squad: The 5 Steps to a Happy and Healthy Pet.
The Daily Biscuit got to chat with PEP! founder, Erica Falbaum.
The Daily Biscuit: We love PEP!’s mission statement to instruct citizens about proper pet care. Tell us more about PEP! and how you educate the community.
The Pet Education Project: We love finding fun and entertaining ways to educate kids on responsible pet ownership. It’s important for kids to understand that pets are not toys and they take a lot of time, money, and energy! Many kids come from homes where their pets are not spayed or neutered or not properly cared for and their dogs are chained up. It’s crucial that we educate those kids so they won’t grow up repeating those same behaviors.
We have created interactive programs that capture the attention of kids all around the globe! Our main program is called PEP! Talk. It’s a free classroom presentation that teaches kids the five steps to a happy and healthy pet. We bring therapy animals, games, visuals, and prizes for all the kids.
We also have a free magazine called Happy Tails that we mail to kids all around the world. It’s important that we continue delivering this message on how kids can properly care for their pets at home. Happy Tails also covers topics like adopting senior pets, feral cats, animal safety, and much more! Any kid can sign up at www.ilovepep.org to receive their free copy. It mails quarterly right to your door.
On each cover we feature one of our PEP! Stars, which is another one of our programs. We award our PEP! Star award to kids all around the country who go above and beyond to help animals or their own pets live happy lives.
And lastly, we just released our first children’s book! “PEP! Squad, The 5 Steps to a Happy and Healthy Pet.” This book stars our very own PEP! Squad, Pinky the Cat, Rufus the Dog, and Mr. Poisson the Fish! It’s for sale now on Amazon.
DB: As the PEP! founder, what inspired you to create the organization?
PEP!: I volunteered at a local shelter and I was amazed at the number of animals being surrendered each day. It was a constant struggle to keep up with the demand and try to find every pet a home. Every single day brought a new influx of animals. There was never enough space, time, or money to care for them all. The statistics of millions of animals euthanized each year in the United States has been caused by generations of neglecting pet overpopulation. It will take a new generation to conquer and reverse these statistics. It’s hard to change an adult’s mind but a child is impressionable. It’s also important for us to educate kids while young so they have a firm foundation and understanding of what it takes to be a responsible pet owner when they grow up.
Also, a child that is growing up in a home where the pet may be considered disposable, abused, or neglected will grow up thinking that it’s okay to treat their own pets that same way. We want to end the cycle before it even begins and we will do that through the children!
DB: How has PEP! changed or evolved since it began seven years ago?
PEP!: Oh, my! PEP! has grown leaps and bounds. It’s amazing to look back at my very first PEP! Talk. I went to a friend’s kindergarten classroom with a vague outline of the five steps and some coloring sheets. The kids were really receptive to it and I was hooked from there.
We had no funding in the beginning. So we didn’t have all the fancy materials and visuals as we do now. All we had was a vision and a goal to speak to as many kids as possible! We used shoe boxes for our PEP! Talk kits; we would put anything we could justify as a prize in there along with black and white printouts for the kids. I always had a vision of what I wanted PEP! to be and we grow closer and closer to that each day!
DB: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while running the organization?
PEP!: Volunteers and funding have been our biggest struggles. Most of our programming happens during the day while people are at work. So it’s hard to find volunteers to come with us during school hours. And funding has been hard for us. With no employees, and I work a full time job, my time goes to outreach rather than fundraising. We have done so much on so little. We have operated on about $10,000 per year, imagine what we can do with more money and an employee! I hope people will see how much we can accomplish and support our mission by opening their wallets. We are working hard so I can finally quit my job to work full time for PEP! That is another reason why I made the book, to help raise enough funds so I can focus all my time and energy on PEP!
DB: Do you have an anecdote about a PEP! experience that has really moved you? Please share!
PEP!: This one always sticks with me. It’s the reality of why we do what we do. A young boy told me that his dad hits his dog with a metal pipe. As horrible as it sounds, you have to remember these are kids and you can’t tell them their parents are terrible for doing these things! Instead I asked him, “Why does your dad hit your dog with a pipe?” And he responded, “‘Cause he jumps too much.” So I asked him if he thinks his dog liked being hit like that and he said, “No.” I asked him, “When you grow up, what will you do to make sure your dog doesn’t jump on people?” And he said, “Train him.” I still get teary eyed thinking of it!
DB: On ilovepep.org it mentions PEP! promotes local animal adoptions. Have there been animal adoption success stories as a result of PEP!’s involvement? How is the group involved with local animal adoptions?
PEP!: Yes! We partner with our local rescues through our magazine and at their local adoption events. Rescues and shelters are so busy that they don’t have the time to educate people. So we are filling in that gap for them! We also feature local adoptable pets in our Happy Tails Magazine.
DB: What do you hope PEP! will achieve in the near future? In the long term?
PEP!: We have recently opened our first two national chapters in Los Olivos, California, in partnership with Old Yeller Ranch Rescue, and Dickinson, North Dakota, with Second Chances Rescue. We hope to have a chapter in every city one day! We want to reach every kid.
DB: How do children respond to PEP! Talks and the group’s other efforts? Do you believe they appreciate the cause and the information the organization provides?
PEP!: We start every PEP! Talk by asking kids if they want to be an animal hero, and by the end of the PEP! Talk they are supercharged and ready to do just that!
The kids have a blast. They really become energized for helping animals by the end of our presentation. They love our PEPpets and will run up to us at the end and want to hug us, tell us stories about their own pets, and ask questions. I have lots of kids who say they want to be like me when they grow up. They write us letters and engage with us through our magazine. I pride myself on creating a program that is making a lasting impression on kids!
DB: Where is PEP! it located? What would you tell someone who is thinking about donating to or volunteering with the group?
PEP!: We are based in Shreveport, Louisiana. We are going on our first tour this Summer! We will be visiting our new chapters and doing outreach events in California, North Dakota, Detroit, Louisiana, and Texas. A lot of our work is done on the computer, so we are very much in need of people who can help us with our magazine, sponsorships, donations, and helping us to get our book and magazine out to more kids.
When people donate to our organization, they are donating to the idea that we can end the cycle of pet overpopulation, the idea of disposable pets, neglect, abuse, and euthanasia. This is a long-term project. It’s hard to compete for donor dollars against rescues who are pulling animals that are in urgent need or on the kill line. Those dollars are very much needed to help with those pets! But unfortunately the need never ends. There are so many animals that will not get the chance to leave the shelter alive. We are working for those animals!
DB: What do you wish other people knew about PEP!? Is there something that surprises most when they first learn about the organization?
PEP!: That for the past seven years we have spoken to over 70,000 kids through our PEP! Talks, created a free magazine, opened two new chapters, wrote a children’s book, created a children’s TV pilot, donated over $50,000 of pet food and supplies to families affected by the BP oil spill, and awarded our PEP! Star award to kids all across the country, all on less than $10,000 a year and with no employees. I think our track record speaks for itself that we use every single dollar to the fullest. I work a full-time job and spend every night and weekend working free of charge, full time for PEP! We have gotten to the point where we can’t keep up with the demand. We get new requests each week from around the globe to start PEP! and that is why we are fundraising to help me become officially employed with PEP! so I can focus just on that.
DB: What else would you like to share about PEP!?
PEP!: We love what we do! We have created this program from the ground up to enlighten kids and give them the power to make a change. They are the future and they will be the ones responsible for finally putting a dent in the statistics of millions of animals being euthanized each year. We encourage everyone to take a look at our YouTube and Instagram to see the amazing work we have done!
Also, we have a GoFundMe campaign happening. Please consider donating!
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