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Mutual Rescue Film Festival Awards
Mutual Rescue Film Festival Awards
Mutual Rescue Film Festival Awards
Mutual Rescue Film Festival Awards

Judges • Call for Mutual Rescue Stories 2017


Dr. Marty Becker

“America’s Veterinarian” has spent his life working toward better health for pets and the people who love them. In recent years, his realization that it’s impossible to provide for pets’ physical well-being without equal focus on their emotional well-being led him to found the Fear FreeTM initiative. He brought together veterinary behaviorists and dozens of other experts and leaders in the field to develop an educational program to train veterinarians, trainers, animal shelters, and more in easing the fear and anxiety of their patients and clients. Dr. Becker was also the resident veterinary contributor on “Good Morning America” for 17 years and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the American Humane Association. He lives in Northern Idaho with his wife and their many rescued dogs, barn cats, and horses.


Bolt and Keel, brothers and adventure cats – with human assistants Kayleen VanderRee and Danielle Gumbley

Their Mutual Rescue story: We found Bolt and Keel as one-month-old kittens in a bush behind a trash can at a local park. As we both lead busy lives, we planned on bringing them to a shelter on our way home, but it was closed by the time we got there. So with two kittens in tow, we had no choice but to bring them along on our already planned multi-day backpacking and canoeing trip.

A week after finding Bolt and Keel, Danielle tore two ligaments in her ankle leaving her debilitated. Unable to work, her summer plans of rock climbing and hiking turned into recovery on the couch. Patiently waiting for their next adventure, Bolt and Keel snuggled up to Danielle as she turned to the Ellen Show for much-needed inspiration as she rested her ankle. The kittens continually comforted her and kept her company, as she felt lost without being able to do what she loved. At the beginning of the summer, two homeless kittens were the last things we thought we needed, but by the end of the summer, we knew that we weren’t just the ones who were rescued. Bolt and Keel now regularly join us on our hiking, camping, and canoeing.

Bolt and Keel | Instagram | Facebook

Jennifer Erwitt

Jennifer Erwitt

Jennifer Erwitt, Director of Against All Odds Productions, was the co-director of such critically acclaimed projects as “The Human Face of Big Data,” “Blue Planet Run,” “America at Home,” “U.K. at Home,” “Passage to Vietnam,” “24 Hours in Cyberspace,” and “One Digital Day.” Over the past two decades, she has worked closely with the editors of Time, Fortune, Newsweek, National Geographic, The New York Times and numerous other publications during the production of Against All Odds’ projects. Before founding Against All Odds Productions, Erwitt played a wide variety of roles in creating the award-winning “Day in the Life” book series, including project director, production director, and general manager. She contributed to ten titles in that series and also oversaw the production of numerous other photographic projects, including “The Power to Heal,” “Baseball in America,” “Christmas in America,” “The Jews in America,” and “One Earth.”

Mutual Rescue Judges Ingrid King with Ruby

Ingrid King

Ingrid King is the award-winning author of five cat books, including Buckly’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher, Purrs of Wisdom: Enlightenment, Feline Style, Tortitude: The BIG Book of Cats with a BIG attitude, and Adventures in Veterinary Medicine: What Working in Veterinary Hospitals Taught Me About Life, Love and Myself. She is a former veterinary hospital manager, whose popular blog, The Conscious Cat, is a comprehensive resource for conscious living, health, and happiness for cats and their humans. The Conscious Cat has won multiple awards, including DogTime Media’s Pettie for Best Pet Blog in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014, and’s 2012 Reader’s Choice Award for Best Website About Cats. She lives in North Virginia with her tortoiseshell cats Allegra and Ruby.

The Conscious Cat

Knox and Bear - Harper - Jenna Donleavy

Knox & Bear + Harper, with human assistant Jenna Donleavy

Their Mutual Rescue story: “Bear essentially helped me find myself. I had just graduated college, my family was going through some significant unfortunate changes, my support system happened to be in NYC, and I was trying to figure out what my next move was. I took him to the dog park every day and met some amazing friends who helped me find my first job and offered advice for making it in the city. It was not an easy road for Bear, after adopting him from Lost But Now Loved Animal Rescue in Pine Bluff, AR, he developed Parvovirus. I stayed by his side day after day, as he fought his way through the terrible virus. Bear has brought some amazing people into my life, but most importantly he brought so much joy to my life, which resulted in the decision to adopt two more.

The three rescued labrador mixes are living the good life in Boston. Bear the Labrador/Border Collie mix was the OG and planted the rescue bug on his owner Jenna Donleavy. Nine months later an atrocious breeding situation in Western Massachusetts was brought to Jenna’s attention. Knox, a Labrador/Golden Retriever came home shortly after. Just three short months after Knox came home, Jenna and Rich Joyal laid eyes on Hunny, now named Harper. The rest is history.”

Jenna, the Pack Leader and a Founding Member of Slobbr, an app that helps you find dog-friendly locations and other information, is a lifelong dog-lover. She has been able to marry her passion for rescue dogs, education, work experience, including social media prowess and is Slobbring all over the internet. She is a Lafayette College graduate with a Bachelors of Arts in Economics, who started her career in both the Marketing and Public Relations fields for large global entities.

Website | Instagram | Facebook

Bonnie-Jill Laflin

Bonnie-Jill Laflin and pets

Bonnie-Jill Laflin is a model, actress, television personality, and sports reporter. She worked as a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers, making her the league’s first female scout. In 2010, Laflin founded Hounds and Heroes, a national nonprofit dedicated to lifting the spirits and morale of U.S. troops and veterans worldwide, while increasing awareness of animal abuse and the demand for foster and adoption programs.

Jo Montana: adopted from the shelter that took part in the Puppy Bowl that Laflin co-hosted. Jubilee: adopted from a shelter. Jaclyn Chan: rescued from the dog-meat trade in China when Laflin was there for a sports show. Corporal Asur: Laflin adopted him from the U.S. Marine Corps the week after he was blinded by an IED in Afghanistan.

Johnny Cash: Laflin rescued him from a dumpster when he was just a kitten. Patsy Cline: rescued when no one else wanted a blind, black cat. Miss Lady: no one wanted her due to her feline herpes that requires daily medication, so Laflin gave her a home.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram: @BonnieJill |Instagram: @AsurBlindHero | Instagram: @RealHousePetsOfCalifornia


Karen Mullarkey

Called a “national treasure” by many of the most celebrated photographers of our time, Karen Mullarkey is an internationally known and highly respected photography editor based in New York City. In a career now spanning four decades, she has worked with emerging and legendary photojournalists around the world while smashing glass ceilings as a female photography editor for major media organizations. Mullarkey was Director of Photography at Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. She has been a picture editor of more than 70 books – including “Dogs 24/7” and – no surprise, given her affinity for rescue cats in her life – “Cats 24/7.”

As the photography director for Silicon Valley’s Tech Awards, Mullarkey created six annual multimedia shows on a monumental scale, involving hundreds of international photojournalists and photo agencies. She has produced and directed numerous documentary films and has been a member of the management teams at several Internet start-ups. She has curated permanent exhibitions at The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth and The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. A popular lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the United States, she continues her long-standing commitment to mentor photographers. This is her second year as a Mutual Rescue judge.


Nala Cat – With human assistant Varisiri Methachittiphan

The story of one kitten, Nala, starts off at a home where the owners could no longer take care of the cats and kittens because there were too many. Nala was then taken away to the shelter where she was separated from her original family. Sadly, we don’t know what happened to the rest of the cats or kittens, but when adopted, Nala was the only one left.

Of course Nala wasn’t Nala then, but an unknown kitten in the shelter, at only five to six months old. On a random day, my friend and I were planning on adopting a cat, but weren’t going to right away because we weren’t prepared. After looking around for awhile, my friend found another cat that she wanted to adopt, and I had just picked Nala up for the first time. She licked my face and knew she was the one that we were going to take home.

Because of Nala I have a job to support my family and I am able to help animal shelters to save more lives and spread the words about adoption. Because of Nala I got to meet a lot of awesome people and some of them became my good friends. Nala is everything to me. She thought me how to love unconditionally. I have learned many new things because of her.

Nala Cat | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube


Rescue Pets of Instagram – Pandy the cat with human assistant Tisha Haney

Their Mutual Rescue story: My husband and I woke up on my 31st birthday, and I said “Let’s go look at the adoptable cats this morning. I’m not saying we have to adopt one because it’s my birthday… I just want to look!!” We got to the adoption event and there were several rows of cages stacked on each other. One cage at the end of the table had a litter of tiny kittens. A woman from the rescue group stepped forward and asked if we were interested in adopting a kitten. We both said “No, we’re just looking!” I then asked if I could just hold one of the kittens, and was given permission from the volunteer. I opened the cage and grabbed an adorable kitten who was sitting at the front. She was precious. Right then a young couple approached and said “I’m sorry, we’ve just adopted that kitten.” I handed her over, and sighed. When I turned back to the cage of kittens, to shut the door, I noticed the most gorgeous, fluffy kitten curled in a ball in the very back corner. I hadn’t seen her at first glance. She literally took my breath away. I reached in and grabbed the tiny ball of floof and held her to my chest. My heart was beating so fast. It was love at first cuddle. I looked at my husband with wide eyes, and he said “Let me hold her…” It took only a minute (both of us quietly staring at this ball of love), and he said “You’d better start filling out the paperwork!!!” I’m so glad that other couple stepped forward and adopted that first girl, because I never would’ve seen our perfect tiny girl at the back of the cage. I’ve said it more times than I can count, but Pandy’s $95 adoption fee is the best money we’ve ever spent.

In the 5+ years that we’ve had Pandy, she has brightened every single day. Not one day has gone by that she hasn’t made us laugh. She knows exactly what we need when we’re sad, stressed, anxious, worried, etc. She will jump on our laps and purr away our negative emotions. She exudes love and gratitude from every bit of her tiny, less-than-8-pound body! We’re still stumped at how much love can fit in such a tiny package. Before we adopted her, Pandy’s littermates were all found abandoned and taken to a local kill shelter. They were all put on the kill list. Thankfully a local cat rescue organization pulled the entire litter off the kill list, and helped them find homes. When I heard her backstory, I was shocked to find out that even healthy, young, highly adoptable kittens are euthanized daily in some shelters across the U.S. I vowed to always choose adoption, and to help as many shelter animals as I could during my lifetime. Pandy inspired me to start @RescuePetsOfInstagram, an Instagram account where I share successful adoption stories, and encourage everybody to adopt! The account grows each day, and more and more people are exposed to pet adoption. It thrills me to show the world the type of amazing animals that are at shelters, just waiting for a second chance. Pandy has rescued me, many times over. And thanks to her, shelter cats and pound puppies across the world are getting exposure on social media, and proving to us all that adoption is always the best option!

Rescue Pets of Instagram

Phoebe Smolan

Phoebe Smolan

We are honored that our youngest judge of Mutual Rescue stories, 17-year-old Phoebe Smolan, is returning this year to help select stories for film and print in 2018. Smolan is a resident of Manhattan who has been working with rescue animals there for the past five years and has guest starred twice on the Martha Stewart Show to discuss her charitable work. The youngest photographer ever to shoot with the international press corps, she was introduced to the field by her father, Rick Smolan, a former National Geographic photographer, and her grandfather, Elliott Erwitt, a world-renowned and highly influential photographer and filmmaker.

After school, she works with children who have suffered traumatic brain injury and she often brings along her therapy dog, Mia. Smolan is an avid reader and writer and was honored to win a Gold Key in the 2017 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. In addition to having conducted a “Time For Kids” video interview, she has worked as an official TEDx on-stage interviewer and presenter for three years.

Rick Smolan

Rick Smolan

Rick Smolan is the CEO of Against All Odds Productions, cited by Fortune magazine as “one of the 25 coolest companies in America.” He is a New York Times best-selling author with more than 5 million copies of his books in print, including “Dogs 24/7” and “Cats 24/7.” A former Time, Life, and National Geographic photographer, Smolan is best known as the co-creator of the “Day in the Life” book series. His global photography projects, which feature the work of hundreds of the world’s leading photographers and combine creative storytelling with state-of-the-art technology, are regularly featured on the covers of prestigious publications around the globe, including Fortune, Time, and GEO.

His recent project, “The Human Face of Big Data,” captures how our planet is developing a nervous system. The “Human Face” iPad app won the 2013 Webby Award for best educational app and the companion TV documentary was broadcast nationwide on PBS and won the award for best cinematography at the Boston Film Festival. In 2014, the Oscar-winning producers of “The King’s Speech” released “Tracks,” a feature film based on Smolan’s National Geographic story about Robyn Davidson’s 1700-mile, 9-month camel trek across the Australian outback with her rescue dog, Diggity. Smolan’s new book “Inside Tracks: Alone Across the Outback” is a smart-phone enabled coffee-table book weaving together Davidson’s original journey, her story’s road to the silver screen, and a delightful interactive component that enables readers to point their smart devices at Smolan’s original photographs and see that scene as it was brought to life in the film. His upcoming project is “The Good Fight: America’s Ongoing Struggle for Justice.”

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