Ann and Amy Sacks share a love for animals, a passion for tikkun olam and strong leadership skills.
The mother-daughter duo puts those qualities into action at the Pixie Project, which has found homes for more than 2,000 animals and has provided low-cost veterinary care to the pets of more than 400 low-income or homeless Portlanders.
In 2007 the Sacks family launched the nonprofit Pixie Project, with Amy as executive director. Her parents and brother all serve on the 10-member Pixie Project board, with father Robert the board president. In addition to serving on the Pixie Project board, Ann is the founder and president of Fetch Eyewear, which donates 100% of its profits to the Pixie Project.
Located across from the Oregon Convention Center on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the Pixie Project offers personalized pet adoption and low-cost veterinary assistance.
The animal rescue organization is named after Ann’s late dog, Pixie. Amy found Pixie when she volunteered at a pet rescue in Iowa City while she was a student at the University of Iowa. “She (Pixie) had been rescued from a hoarder and was not in great condition, having been underfed and untended,” says Ann. “So Amy brought her to us over Thanksgiving vacation. Pixie was soft and gentle and appreciative.”
Now 30, Amy says she learned at a very young age that the place to get pets is from an animal shelter. The Sacks family has a long history of turning to shelters for their pets. “I remember my dad coming home from the humane society with Bobbie, a brown terrier mutt,” says Amy of the pet she most remembers from her childhood. “Bobbie had an amazing friendship with our cat, Ray. As a family we enjoyed watching them wrestle together. I knew from a young age that a shelter is where you are supposed to get your pets.”
While the Sacks family is well aware of the rewards of adopting pets through a shelter, Amy recognizes that a shelter can be a stressful environment for some families.
“The Pixie Project is a family friendly ‘shelter light’ experience,” says Amy. The Pixie Project helps rural shelters that have adoptable pets, but which are too far from the metro area to attract potential adoptive families. Pixie has 20 kennels and a couple of cat rooms onsite, as well as numerous foster families who take in animals until they find a permanent home. Amy says some people surrender pets directly to Pixie, but most are adoptable animals from rural shelters who just need to be in the right place to find the right family.
Amy and her staff carefully match each family with an appropriate pet. Rather than walking into a shelter and picking out a pet from hundreds of animals at one shelter, Pixie visitors fill out an application form before their first visit. With information about the family’s lifestyle and type of pet desired, Pixie’s staffers search for a perfect match that will last the pet’s lifetime.
“It may take time to find the animal you want,” says Amy. “We want this to be a successful adoption experience.”
Stories of “Pixie Parents” on the website reflect the organization’s success. For example:
• After spending a year in a rural shelter with limited exposure, the 2-year-old Ms. Millie, who has a chocolate Lab look about her, came to the Pixie Project and in less than two weeks found her forever home on June 15, 2010. She now lives with her loving dad and is his best running partner ever!
• Cindy, age 9, was adopted by her wonderful first-time doggie parents on Nov. 6, 2010. Cindy, the sweetest girl in the world, became an instant family member from the moment she went home.
• Mr. Mugsy (age 11), a “puggish” sort of guy, was adopted by his new dad on Feb. 11, 2011. Mugsy is enjoying his golden years as a loyal and loving canine companion to his best friend in the world!
Amy says her decisions about animal rescue focus on the needs and comfort of the animals, as well as the need to save as many animals as possible by finding homes that work for the animal and the family. “I don’t believe in putting out animals with aggression or major health issues,” she says.
Amy says that people who criticize shelters for euthanizing animals need to look at all the factors. Many shelters accept all animals that are surrendered or found wandering the streets. But with limited space and resources, that forces some tough decisions.
“How much time and resources can you devote to one super challenging animal?” she asks. “No shelter wants to euthanize an animal. But it’s silly to chastise a shelter for euthanizing animals when you have an intact animal that roams the neighborhood (contributing to the birth of future unwanted animals). Peoples’ own choices contribute to euthanasia.”
Last year the Pixie Project added the Scott Wainner Pixie Care Clinic to provide low-cost veterinary care for Portland’s low-income and homeless pet owners.
“About 15% of our clinic clients are homeless, the rest are working poor or elderly,” says Amy. “My favorite example of our clients is the sweet, little old lady who, after her medicine and groceries, has $60 at the end of the month. She goes to a vet with her 12-year-old cat and gets a $1,200 quote to treat it. We charge a small co-pay and are able to keep the pet in the home, which is a happy ending for the woman and the cat.” The Pixie clinic has a part-time veterinarian on staff, but primarily relies on volunteer vets and vet techs.
Amy says the clinic’s safety net services are aimed at providing the maximum relief for the animal for the least amount of money. For instance, donated flea medicine and a steroid shot may take an animal with a skin condition from misery to comfort.
Ann created Fetch Eyewear (originally known as Amy Sacks Eyewear) in 2004 when she couldn’t find a middle ground between expensive designer frames and disposable drugstore readers. When the family founded the Pixie Project, Ann decided to earmark the eyewear company’s profits for the new nonprofit.
On the Fetch website, Ann notes: “We believe buying things you need should support the things you love. Modern philanthropy is no longer just a check in the mail followed by a tote bag that you never use. Today altruists can effect change by thoughtfully considering the items they bring into their lives and choosing those that give back.
“Fetch Eyewear has pledged to donate all profits to the Pixie Project to improve animal welfare through rescue, veterinary care and education.”
Originally the stylish collection of reasonably priced reading glasses was sold through department stores and boutiques. Now sold online and at retail locations, the collection includes prescription eyewear and sunglasses. Ann has recruited designers, suppliers and manufacturers to create her affordable line of glasses.
“I love my current Fetch staff very much,” says Ann.
The collection can be seen at the Pixie Project on Martin Luther King Boulevard and at retailers in 16 states (see fetcheyewear.com/about/retailers).
The Fetch website offers tips for choosing frames based on your face shape, skin tone, hair and eye color, and sizing. Online shoppers can pick their six favorite frames and try them for free for seven days before ordering the final glasses.
“Fetch has been less successful than I had hoped in covering Pixie expenses, but it is a long-term vision, intended to provide after we are gone, and I believe that it will do that as planned based upon the growth,” says Ann.
The Sacks Family
The Sacks family has long been active in the Jewish community as philanthropists and volunteers. Ann and Robert Sacks received the Oregon Area Jewish Committee’s 2010 Maurice D. Sussman Award. The award recognizes those whose personal lives and community contributions exemplify the high standards set by the OAJC and Sussman. Both have served the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland as board members, as members of the allocations committee and as co-chairs of the federation’s annual gala. Ann was on the board of Oregon Jewish Museum and participated on an advisory committee for Jewish Family & Child Service.
Robert Sacks is a lawyer and real estate developer whose projects include The ACE Hotel, The Lumberyard Mountain Biking Park and Coopers Hall winery. David Sacks, 36, has adopted his parents’ values. In addition to serving on the Pixie Project board, he helped his father organize a men’s event. He is a Portland lawyer specializing in juvenile law and works with abused and neglected children and their parents and grandparents. His daughter, now 5, attended preschool at Portland Jewish Academy.
Of the family’s decision to found the Pixie Project, Ann says: “If we were ever going to dedicate our resources to something important, it is fantastic that it is our own daughter who will be responsible for the best use of those funds. Amy is responsible, intelligent, committed and appreciates the work that we still do to support her work.
“Amy and I are deeply committed to improving the welfare of animals, and any disagreements we may have at times regarding a particular action pales beside the unusual bond created by this common passion,” says Ann.
“Often when I see Amy at the Pixie Project, I feel like I am watching my life in rerun; her energy, enthusiasm and most importantly her effectiveness at Pixie remind me so much of the way her mother worked at building her businesses and at philanthropy,” says Robert. “As Pixie’s board president, I have had a chance to see the growth of the organization close up and am incredibly proud of how tirelessly Amy has worked with the Pixie staff on behalf of animal welfare. Ann has been there every step of the way with support, strategic advice and encouragement. It has been very much a family effort.” While Amy says she has always been very close to her mother, the two agree their relationship has deepened since launching the Pixie Project.
“Because I have spent my career being in charge of things and therefore as a problem solver, sometimes I want to push the solution of a problem in Amy’s world,” says Ann. “As she becomes more confident of her own professionalism, she is actually more receptive to that, but I am also more receptive to her telling me that my ideas, while lovingly intended, simply will not fly. … For the most part, I have to rely on her judgment, because it is her organization and she is far more aware of our ‘place’ in the world of rescue than I am.”
“Amy’s father and I are unbelievably proud of what she is doing,” says Ann. “Amy took the helm when she was not even 25 years old. She has earned the respect of the rescue community, her peers and everyone who sees how selflessly she gives to these beautiful and loving beings. As parents we can hardly believe that our own daughter is making such a difference.”
Making a difference is just one Jewish value Amy says she learned early on from her parents. “I grew up with a comfortable lifestyle, and with that came as sense of social responsibility,” says Amy. “My parents made me aware of the need to make an impact … and the things you could do to make things better.”
Now with Pixie Project, Amy says, “There’s a lot of love in what we do. It’s a family organization and people feel that. … Mom is very creative. We have very open, honest communication with emotional support and guidance.”
That guidance includes the wisdom and experience Ann has gained through her varied professional career. She grew up in Detroit and graduated from the University of Michigan. She worked as a middle school teacher and social worker before starting the tile and stone business that still bears her name. She retired from Ann Sacks Tile in 2003 and later launched Design and Direct Source, which supplies tile and stone for commercial projects around the world.
Amy became a bat mitzvah at Congregation Neveh Shalom, but in recent years has not been involved in the organized Jewish community.
Ironically, Amy says it is her non-Jewish boyfriend, Casey Barkmeier, who has gotten her more involved. When Casey became facilities manager at Congregation Beth Israel, she says she started to become more involved. Coincidentally, her parents are also now members of Beth Israel.
Amy has clearly taken her parents Jewish values to heart.
“Tzedakah is what I do,” she says. “My life is about charity, kindness, generosity and social responsibility.”
Those values and the spirit of Pixie, a loving dog who stole the hearts of the Sacks family, live on through the Pixie Project.
THE PIXIE PROJECT:
510 NE Martin Luther King Blvd., Portland 503-542-3432 pixieproject.org
877-274-0410 email@example.com fetcheyewear.com
WHAT: Fundraiser for the Pixie Project featuring food, wine and a special performance by the von Trapps (siblings Sofia, Melanie, Amanda and August von Trapp are the great grandchildren of the Captain and Maria von Trapp of “Sound of Music” fame).
WHEN: 6-9 pm, Sunday, Oct. 19
WHERE: Coopers Hall Winery and Taproom, 404 SE 6th Ave., Portland