My Story of Faith and Gratitude
My Story of Faith and Gratitude by Maria Licata
I first met Pawtastic Friends founders Michael and Melissa Novelli in the Spring of 2017 through volunteering at a local shelter. I had moved to Las Vegas 2 years prior from California and was having a very difficult time adjusting. I had a very rough couple of years with losing my cat and dog 8 months apart and I was on a rollercoaster job search. Not to mention, I didn't have any real friends yet. Needless to say, I felt lost. My one sure thing was my love for animals. I thought if I volunteered at an animal shelter it would help fill the void and ease the pain of losing my animals. Plus, I would also be giving back and helping animals. I had no idea how my life was about to change. For the first time in a long time, the light at the end of the tunnel was about to get much brighter. I had never heard of Pawtastic Friends as they were pretty new to the nonprofit world. One day when I was volunteering at the shelter. I had mentioned to my mentor that I would like to get more involved with fundraising and she said "Oh you have to meet Michael and Melissa Novelli. They come here to take videos of the dogs every week". They would take videos and post them to social media to get more exposure for the dogs in the hope they would get adopted. It just happened that day Michael was there at the shelter and after meeting him I told him that I was a jewelry designer and wanted to donate a portion of my sales to help rescue animals. That began my relationship with The Novellis and Pawtastic Friends. Michael and Melissa wanted to do more than just take videos of the dogs so they founded Pawtastic Friends in October 2016. They began working with local rescues to raise money to help rescue dogs get the training they needed to become more adoptable. They started The Enrichment Training Scholarship Program which pays for leash training, water therapy, social skills, commands and much more. The volunteers transport the dogs each week from boarding to the training facility and then back to boarding. Michael and Melissa have dedicated their lives to make sure these dogs, who otherwise would stayed In shelters and fosters, get this much-needed training. They recently saved 20 dogs from being euthanized and placed them in the training program. Some of these dogs have already found their forever homes. As of this writing over 250 dogs have been placed in their forever homes because of the wonderful work they and their team have done and continue to do. Over 80 dogs are in the program and they work with over 20 rescues. Michael and Melissa and most of the Pawtastic Friends team work full or part-time jobs and still put in many, many hours of work to grow Pawtastic Friends. No one on our team takes a salary. Every dollar goes to the dogs whether it's through donations, sponsorship or merchandise. Some volunteers hand craft items and donate 100% of sales to Pawtastic Friends. Our dream is to have our own training facility and to look for sponsorships that can help make that dream come true. We can look back at the last couple of years and be proud of what we've accomplished but we still have a lot of work to do. The amazing part of all of this besides these dogs finally getting the love, attention and help they need, is the hope they have given to me and others who have been volunteering with them. I'm so grateful to Michael and Melissa for believing in me and having me on their team. Being a volunteer and now a board member for Pawtastic Friends has changed my life, has given me hope and has helped me find my purpose. I am excited to be on this journey with them and the entire Pawtastic Friends team because they are not only an amazing, hard-working and dedicated group of people, they have become a part of my family. I'm excited to see where our journey will take us and I look forward to the many more dogs who will have their happily-ever-after, just like me.