Erica Callais Falbaum is the founder and president of PEP! The Pet Education Project, based in Shreveport, Louisiana. From their mission statement, PEP! is an education and outreach program that teaches the core responsibilities of pet ownership. A volunteer-run 501(c)3, they strive to foster humane habits in children and citizens of their community in order to reduce pet overpopulation, abuse, neglect and euthanasia.
A conversation with Erica
What is PEP! all about?
We are working to educate kids so they understand the core principles of being a responsible pet owner. We teach each student about topics that will make an impact on lowering pet overpopulation and to help them understand that pets are a lifetime commitment that requires a lot of time, money and energy. Some of our topics include: spaying and neutering, adopting from shelters, and heartworm prevention.
Another goal of ours is to set a positive example for kids. Many kids come from homes where their pets are considered disposable, neglected or abused. If we don’t intervene, then they will grow up thinking that it’s OK to treat their pets the same way.
What specifically inspired you to start PEP! The Pet Education Project?
Here in the South, the euthanasia rate is through the roof. On average 353 cats and dogs
are euthanized each day. The mindset of some in this region regarding pets is pretty dated. The intake and euthanasia rate speaks for the lack of accountability that citizens have toward their pets. The thing is, most people aren’t bad, but rather just uneducated regarding pets.
My “ah-ha moment” happened when I was volunteering at a local no-kill shelter. Every rescue and shelter here is always at capacity. From my very first day volunteering, I was blown away at the number of animals being surrendered – you hear the same stories day after day on why people had to get rid of their pets. It was pretty repetitive!
It wasn’t until one day that a family with several kids came in with a box of kittens. Our shelter was full and we couldn’t take the kittens who needed to be bottle fed. Their next option was to take them to the municipal shelter where they would have almost had an immediate death sentence.
As they were walking out the door, I asked them if they were willing to bottle feed if I taught them how. They agreed. I taught each of them individually how to care for the new kittens and told them to each take turns every two hours feeding. I realized at that moment, that by educating this family, I was able to save five animals that day! The idea spawned from there, that by making an impression on kids, we can save more animals in the long run!
I see you have different locations. Are you expanding?
YES! We are so thrilled to reach kids all across the country! I created PEP! with the idea to make it easy for anyone, anywhere to start a chapter! In addition to Shreveport, Louisiana, we are now located in Los Olivos, California and Dickinson, North Dakota. We have interest from all around the world! Anyone can start a chapter. Visit our website and click the locations link.
What is PEP! Talk?
PEP! Talk is a fun, free classroom presentation to educate kids on the 5 steps to a happy and healthy pet. We include fun, interactive games and visuals to really captivate the kids!
What is PEP! Squad?
Anyone can join the PEP! Squad. Our PEP! Squad is led by our PEPpets! Pinky the Cat, Rufus the Dog, and Mr. Poisson the Fish! Kids can join our PEP! Squad by subscribing to our free Happy Tails Magazine!
Do you have a favorite PEP! story to share?
Oh, there are so many! I love what I do! It’s truly the most fun seeing the kids fall in love with our PEPpets! Or shouting the words “Spay and Neuter” for the first time. I love how kids become such dedicated volunteers once we show them that they have the power to make a difference. They really do become little animal heroes!
Besides running PEP!, do you have a day job?
I have a full-time job! I am a personal assistant for a local philanthropist. She is very supportive and allows me to be flexible with my hours to accommodate our PEP! Talks. I am working very hard to raise enough funds to finally start working full time for PEP!
Do you have any pets at home?
Yes! I have 2 pups, Joey a pit bull mix, who was abused and had a chain embedded in his neck. And Kingsley, a chocolate lab we found as little puppy sleeping in the middle of the road. And 3 cats! Delilah is my oldest. She is 13! Cousteau is a diabetic kitty, and Pris is my newest. All of my pets remind me how much work and how much it costs to take care of a pet, but also the amount of joy and love they give me is priceless! They inspire me to share that with so many others!
What’s a fun fact about yourself?
I am the voice of Ricky Raccoon (Ranger Rick) for their Bears iPad app! I am also a movie producer. My husband has an independent film production company called Moviesauce. We are shooting our next feature this Summer.
Anything else we should know about PEP! The Pet Education Project?
We just released our first children’s book! It’s called “PEP! Squad, The 5 Steps to a Happy and Healthy Pet” and it’s for sale on Amazon! We also just started production on our new YouTube show, PEP! Talk. And we are going on tour this Summer. We have plans to stop in California, North Dakota, Michigan, Colorado, and Texas.
A big thank you to Erica for sharing PEP! The Pet Education Project with us and for teaching children the importance of responsible pet ownership! If you’d like to connect with PEP! and Erica, you can do so via their website, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and SnapChat (ilovepep). If you’re interested in donating, you can do so via their website or also through GoFundMe.
What do you think about PEP! The Pet Education Project? Were you taught about responsible pet ownership as a child?
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