Every Dog Has Its Day
Jen Deane ditched dog-eat-dog corporate life to fight like a dog for a breed she loves
Jen Deane was living the life many women crave — important corporate job as a director at Merrill Lynch, a six-figure salary, and all the perks you can imagine. Her bosses, customers, and colleagues all loved the work she did.
The only one who didn’t reap joy from her work was Jen.
“I was certainly earning a lot of money and living what most people call the good life,” said Jen, 49, during a recent telephone conversation from her home base in Jacksonville, Florida. “I was recruited and planned to go the whole financial route in my career. I thought I’d keep advancing to a major executive leadership position, own a big house on the beach, have all the trappings. I’m a driven person and I did very well, but I realized my passion for that work was gone.”
That wasn’t easy to admit. After all, Jen had worked her way up from an entry level job at Merrill Lynch to a position created specifically for her, overseeing customer service for every client with a Bank of America account. A few times a month you could find her on a jet traveling between Florida and New York as she worked to resolve issues, fix dysfunctional systems, and create new ways to power her areas to success.
The Tail of Reinvention
One day, Jen was more than a bit taken aback when a family member suggested she adopt a pit bull.
“I said, ‘Absolutely not. They’re very dangerous,’” she recalled.
It was a common reaction to pit bulls. Some groups claim that pit bulls are overwhelmingly responsible for vicious behavior, and some communities have banned these dogs. Yet The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior notes that identifying a dog’s breed accurately is difficult, even for professionals. In fact, mistaken breed identification is so common that the Centers for Disease Control stopped collecting breed data in dog attack fatalities all the way back in 1998.
The ASPCA weighed in on the debate with a position paper that noted all dog breeds were developed for specific jobs, such as hunting. Although pit bulls are ancestors of the English bull-baiting dog — that bit and held bulls and other large animals — today’s pit bulls are mainly mixes.
The report goes on to note that pit bulls, like all other dogs, are individuals and should be evaluated as such.
“Judging them by their actions and not by their DNA or their physical appearance is the best way to ensure that dogs and people can continue to share safe and happy lives together,” concluded the ASPCA.
Deane came to the same conclusion after researching pit bulls.
“They are very misunderstood,” she said. “They are great dogs.”
So she adopted a pit bull.
“I loved that dog to death. I even adopted a second,” she said. “One day my sister and I went to a city shelter and as we walked up and down the dog runs, all we saw were dogs labelled as pit bulls. It was terrible. I remember saying ‘this is so wrong. We have to do something.’”
Jen was already volunteering for an array of animal rescues and programs. But she knew she needed to do more.
So how to start? Choose a logo, select a name, secure licenses, find facilities — Jen rattles off all of the mundane tasks involved in the 2011 founding of the Pit Sisters rescue. She did all of it while regularly logging 16-hour days for Merrill Lynch.
The juggling act brought with it the realization that she was more drawn to the rescue than she was to the finance career she had built.
“One day, I just realized all I wanted to do [was] the rescue. I was in finance and had a great job, but my passion was just not there,” she said. “I tell people it took me 40 years to figure out what it is I was put on earth to do.”
Jen caught hints that the after-effects of the financial crash would force Merrill into a round of layoffs. She called an HR director and asked if the rumors were true. They were. She took a breath and asked if she could be included in the layoffs.
“There was just silence on her end of line,” said Jen. “I repeated to her that it was time for me to say goodbye. It was scary. I won’t kid you. People tried to talk me out of it. But I knew it was the right move.”
Discrimination against pit bulls didn’t stop just because Jen realized it was unfair. She remembers going to a Florida animal shelter to rescue a pit bull. The supervisor on duty refused to allow her access to the dog.
“I will never forget him telling me no pit bull would be surrendered to any rescue,” said Jen. “His words were, ‘Ma’am, that ain’t never gonna change.’”
Little did the man know that Jen, a dog trainer, regional director for the Miami Coalition Against Breed Specific Legislation, and a nationally known canine expert, was fueled by his words.
Today the 100-percent nonprofit Pit Sisters oversees a much-lauded prison canine program that rescues and rehabilitates pit bulls bred for fighting into K-9 members of police force, therapy dogs, and loving pets. Dogs from Jen’s program are prized for their ability to sniff out drugs, rescue missing people, and otherwise support police and those in need of medical aid. Police are often quoted talking about the number of human lives Jen’s dogs save.
Such kudos are gratifying, but Jen would do this work even if no one else was watching.
“The dogs keep me going. This sounds very corny, but this work just speaks to me,” she said. “It makes me feel I have a purpose. In the corporate world I made my clients happy and my bosses happy. Now I’m helping save the lives of dogs and the people they serve.”
She thinks back to her corporate job, the expense accounts, the high salary, the travel. It was a nice life, but it wasn’t her life’s work. What does she advise those who have passion but are afraid to pursue it?
“I always say ‘Just jump and the net will appear.’ I’m proof of that.”