A Dog Changed Her Life. Now She Rescues Them By The Dozen.
The most striking and ironic thing about Elizabeth (“Elli”) Frank, the founder and executive director of highly regarded animal welfare and dog rescue organization Mr. Bones & Co. (MBC), is that she was, she says, “Petrified!” of dogs for most of her life, up until she adopted her first dog, Charlotte when she was 32. “I was chased by two dogs, one of whom bit me while I was riding my bike in our neighborhood. I was around 8,” Frank explains.
Her fear of dogs, now clearly in the past, is ironic because in the ten years since adopting Charlotte, Frank has metamorphosized from a young Manhattan events and marketing entrepreneur with her own firm into one of the most respected leaders in animal welfare. And she still has her events agency: “I run an experiential event marketing agency. We book models, talent and brand ambassadors nationwide for product launches and campaigns and conferences,” she says.
In 2013, Frank founded Mr. Bones & Co., the 501 c (3) nonprofit animal welfare and rescue organization named for her own dog, Mr. Bones. She adopted Mr. Bones, she says, two years after adopting Charlotte; both pit-bulls. Frank grew up in St. Johns, Florida, about 30 miles south of Jacksonville and moved to New York at 23 with a degree in American politics and international relations from Catawba College in North Carolina.
Today, Frank lives on a 30-acre farm in Germantown, New York (about 115 miles and a world away from her former home in downtown Manhattan) that she calls “the Puppy Farm” with several rescue dogs and fosters. Frank’s dogs each have their own #hashtags and Frank, ever the savvy New York marketing guru, is still putting that talent to use. When Frank is not at ‘the Farm’ captivating the 67,000 followers of Mr. Bones & Co.’s Instagram account with frequent posts and updates — including idyllic portraits of pit-bulls currently available for adoption, like ‘Easter Miracle’ Shabba –-she is usually on the road, shuttling dogs to and from the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, or behaviorist and certified trainer Susan Cullinan in Northern New Jersey. And, the NYC events agency Eye5? She says she still maintains a full-time workload outside of the work with her rescue organization (though the pandemic has taken a toll on the events industry).
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Another beautiful day at the foster Puppy Farm came and went without an application for our #miracledog, sweet SHABBA. Scroll👉 to see this handsome boy’s soulful eyes. If you’re not familiar with SHABBA’s amazing story and how he went from being unable to walk, riddled with anxiety and fear, dog reactive and highly stressed to a gentle, happy, calm dog who can now RUN 🏃, not just walk and who enjoys hanging with the farm’s resident dogs and a young fellow foster puppy, you can read up on him via #AdoptShabbaMBC. There’s a video at the end of this post we managed to capture during a tender moment of affection with the farm’s senior grump shaker, #PoorCharlotteDog that has us all 🤯. They’ve become quite the Odd Couple! We are all in love with this low energy, highly affectionate boy, but it’s time for him to find his way home. . If you’re looking for a low key adult dog who enjoys meandering walks, lounging in the sun, snoozing on the couch, kissing humans (and grumpy female dogs) and just basically being next to you, please apply online via www.mrbonesandco.org/adopt or email email@example.com. SHABBA is fostered in NY’s Hudson Valley region and can be adopted to neighboring states within driving distance. SHABBA, age 3, wants nothing more than to spend the rest of his sunsets in a forever home. What a simple request…💕 . #AdoptShabbaMBC #OneLuckyPup #RescuistheNewBlack
Mr. Bones & Co. (or MBC) is an organization that regularly takes the animal welfare social media realm by storm; in fact, People featured its most recent rescues, Little P and Tonka, two pit-bulls who fell to the bottom of a canyon with their owner while hiking in Colorado. The owner did not survive; his surviving family, including a cousin who had rescued a dog thru MBC, contacted Frank and asked if she would take Tonka and Little P.
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“It’s ok, LITTLE P, I’ll be walking beside you again real soon.” – TONKA The bond between TONKA and LITTLE P was obvious when we met them for intake at @amcny this morning. We are thrilled to share that LITTLE P’s jaw does not need surgery and his wounds are superficial! He will return to our primary care veterinarian on Monday for a neuter surgery, vaccinations and microchip as well as routine blood work and treatment for his allergies. He will then be placed in foster care with one of our dedicated foster homes and their resident dogs so that TONKA can recover without the temptation to play for a few weeks. TONKA is currently in surgery to repair his left ulna (foreleg) break. He also sustained an injury to his right wrist. To avoid a double surgery and bone fusion today, our orthopedic specialists are going to splint the right leg and see if it can heal on its own. We will know within the next few weeks if he will require a second surgery. TONKA will be discharged from the hospital by Saturday and we are currently looking for a medical foster for him so that he can spend a few weeks recovering in a quiet home, if the boys are not adopted prior to returning to foster care together. We are increasing their fundraiser (link in profile👆) to cover the additional costs for LITTLE P’s neuter surgery and vetting, as well as the basic vetting and vaccinations TONKA will have done in two weeks after we give him some time to recover from the surgery and for his unexpected second injured leg to heal. It is an honor to take these boys in and we are grateful that so many of you have become part of their rescue by supporting our efforts for them on behalf of Kris Busching. Special thanks to Dr. Daniel Spector and the incredible team of doctors, nurses and support staff at @amcny for providing essential veterinary care during these uncertain times.❤️ More to come… . #AdoptTonkaandLittleP #oneluckypup #rescueisthenewblack #operateonhope loo
She ‘Had No idea’
Daniel Spector is a board-certified staff surgeon at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan, a leading veterinary specialty hospital and the world’s largest veterinary nonprofit teaching hospital. Dr. Spector, who has been working with Frank and the MBC dogs since the organization’s founding and has even fostered dogs for Frank, says the case of Tonka and Little P particularly stood out to him:
“Elli [Frank] had no idea,” he explains. “The medical issues, surgical issues, or costs associated with treatment for these two dogs when she committed to them in the middle of a global pandemic, when the economy has crashed, and everything has changed. There was no hesitation. That she committed to these dogs because [the owner] was a relative of someone involved in her group. So, without any knowledge or care about that, she committed to those dogs.”
Dr. Spector operated on Tonka to repair his left ulna (foreleg). He says there is also an issue with Tonka’s wrist, but the AMC team is hoping it can heal on its own without more surgery. Tonka is due back at the AMC soon for a recheck, at which point they will decide whether to proceed with the second surgery. Little P required jaw surgery. Both dogs, Dr. Spectors says, are doing great and have an excellent prognosis.
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THEIR BOND IS EPIC. We are searching for a home for two boys who lost their world suddenly when their dad @theworld_is_yours_87 died protecting them on a hiking accident last week. The level of loyalty and love that radiated from these two as big brother TONKA was admitted to our emergency animal hospital @amcny so that his leg could be saved needs no further caption. His bond with LITTLE P is forever. . If you are an active home prepared to give these boys the world their dad intended for them, please complete the application at www.mrbonesandco.org/adopt We will consider all states within driving distance of New York City. . #adopttonkaandlittlep #oneluckypup #rescueisthenewblack #bondedpair
‘My Call to Action’
Frank recalls that it was adopting Mr. Bones in 2012 that was ‘the catalyst’ that led her to dedicate her life to animal welfare work, after reaching a preliminary turning point in her New York life when she adopted Charlotte two years earlier. “I was just out from cocktail party to cocktail party and something had to change because my life was so VAPID,” Frank says of her life in New York at the time she adopted Charlotte. “And I literally woke up one morning and was like, I’m going to adopt a dog! I have no idea where it came from. It just kind of came. And, I went down to Animal Haven and lied to them that I’d had a dog before…I didn’t think they were going to let me have a dog if I said that I had never had one.” After that, Frank says she learned the ropes from Charlotte. “I just kind of cut my dog teeth on her and kind of learned everything you shouldn’t do with her.”
Then, life took another turn. “My fiancé and I had broken up and I had called off the wedding and, um, I was drunk one night and was looking at Facebook and found the ACC [the New York City Animal Care Center] feed and found Mr. Bones.”
I was just gonna foster this dog and then adopt him out. I needed a distraction. I needed a project. I had no idea the issues these dogs faced. I had no idea the issues I would find with him. I got a phone call the next morning. I thought they had the wrong number. They were like you have to pick Danny up by 2 because we start euthanizing. And I realized what I did. So, I picked him up and basically in two days, was like, I’m keeping this dog. He’s so broken. And that was the catalyst. Like, rescuing charlotte was a different experience because she was this little puppy and there was nothing wrong with her and she’s just fine and she never went through heartache… But watching Bones, seeing how sick he was and emaciated he was. That was my call to action. So that’s what triggered it…He was so sick, he almost died the first week.”
The journey Frank took with Mr. Bones ended in a way she never imagined when she rescued him.
“Ultimately,” she said “I would spend six years trying to rehabilitate him and I had to let him go because I couldn’t fix him. It was really fucking hard. It’s also the bravest thing I’ve ever done was to euthanize my own dog for behavior. There’s nothing I didn’t try. If I can’t fix a dog and it’s my job for six years, people shouldn’t be too hard on themselves when they realize that they can’t keep a dog that is too far gone,” she tells me.
“I get emails all of the time from people in great pain,” Frank continues, “and I can tell they’re crying when they write it, about how much they love their dog, but they really need to rehome them, because it’s biting people in the family or it’s attacking other dogs, and they’ve tried everything. And my reply back to them is, ‘Do NOT rehome this dog. Do NOT outsource euthanasia to someone else. It’s your job, as hard as it is, to hold them and give them the peace that they’re looking for.’”
‘We Specialize in Train Wrecks’
Frank is no less poignant when she discusses the organization’s work. “We specialize in train-wrecks,” she tells me, matter-of-factly when asked how she chooses which dogs to rescue. “We take some heat for not rescuing only New York City dogs. I would say approximately half the dogs we rescue are not from New York City. And I made a commitment to animal welfare and it didn’t stop at a state line when I made that commitment. And I pull a lot from the south because they have significantly less resources on the animal welfare side than we do.”
To be sure, there is no sugar-coating the challenges and limits of dog rescue with Frank. “I believe in quality over quantity,” she says when asked how many fosters the ‘One Lucky Pup’ program, which is the organization’s rescue/adoption arm, will take at a time. (15) “It’s rare that we have that many,” she added, “and when we have that many, it’s because there’s a litter of puppies, and it’s because we’re taking the dogs that others can’t take or can’t afford to take. We’re taking the trauma cases, and dogs facing extraordinary challenges. So that’s also why we’re at AMC [the Animal Medical Center] all the time. So that’s important to me, to give the dogs a shot that likely otherwise wouldn’t have a shot. …. So rather than focus on ‘saving them all,’ I focus on saving the ones no one else will.”
Rather than focus on ‘saving them all,’ I focus on saving the ones no one else will.”
If you assume that Frank is another independently wealthy trust fund baby who woke up one morning in her co-op and decided to start rescuing dogs, you would be mistaken. Asked how she finances the tens of thousands of dollars in veterinary bills each dog she rescues typically racks up, Frank says, “In the beginning, I financed it myself because I have an agency that does well,” she explained, referring to her NYC-based events agency.
In fact, Frank’s hugely successful annual fundraiser, Rescue the Runway, is the perfect, symbiotic recipe of NYC event life and the world of dog rescue. According to the most recent IRS filings, she received about $105,000 from fundraising events and other contributions for the year ending in December 2018. “People are very generous and donate. We do fundraisers throughout the year. Rescue the Runway is obviously our big fundraiser.” Frank says like so many organizations, they were forced to cancel their annual spring fundraiser because of the virus. She is hoping to reschedule the event for later this year. Frank’s organization also receives support from AMC to the Rescue, “established specifically to provide subsidized specialty care to animals currently cared for by rescue groups, whose health has become an obstacle to their adoption,” AMC explains on its website.
MBC’s most significant annual expense is veterinary care. According to the organization’s 990 Tax Form filings over a period of three years between 2015 and 2018, the most recent publicly available, Mr. Bones & Co. had about $200,000 in expenses on average per year, and of that amount, the organization spent $66,000 on average each year on veterinary care, or one-third of its total budget. Also notable is that prior to the fiscal year ending in 2017, neither Frank nor a co-executive director, both listed as having contributed forty hours per week, took any compensation. Beginning in 2016-2017, Frank took $12,000 and paid a co-director the same amount. The following year, the amount increased to $22,000 each.
Citing Frank’s own dog, Mr. Bones, certified dog behaviorist Susan Cullinan, who has worked with Frank and her dogs since 2017, says, “She’s been through what the dog experiences as well as what owners experience. And I think her ability to look at that and creatively try to find solutions is why she’s able to take these cases on.
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Yesterday my beautiful Mr. Bones left this Earth from a place of only love. I held him close as his last breathe left his body while he licked my tears away, just as he’s done for almost six years whenever they fell. I imprinted on him early on and he learned to read me, responding how he thought was appropriate to make sure I knew he loved me and cared for my safety. The life he led before I rescued him from our city shelter the day he was to be euthanized is a mystery, but it wasn’t kind. Years of trauma created PTSD I worked hard to manage, manuevering my life to limit his episodes, calm his stress and lighten his anxiety. He worked even harder to overcome his past, clearing so many mountains he inspired me to create @mrbonesandco in his honor. He was the most emotionally aware, sensitive dog I’ve ever worked with. A few weeks ago it became evident his PTSD was not calming as he became a senior, his anxiety and stress were chronic. As an animal welfare professional my duty is to be responsible, to place an animal’s quality of life above all else, even my own selfishness to keep a dog that had woven himself into the very tapestry of my soul. It was no longer fair to Mr. Bones, or myself, to continue to believe I could fix him. From day one I told Mr. Bones I had him, would protect him and keep him safe. I moved three times for this incredible dog, ultimately leaving NYC to give him a quiet life on the farm. I spent thousands on training and behavioural help but sometimes the past is so brutal a tiny remaining splinter does serious damage when it pokes through the surface again. I took these photos during our last day together. He’s doing what he did best – seeking out the light. As his chest fell for the last time I told him where he was going, to follow the light and not stop running until he got there. There will be no Rainbow Bridge for Mr. Bones. I placed his leash directly into God’ hands instead. I love you Buddy, my Peanut Man. You fought hard to exist. Your legacy has and will continue to save countless dogs. We will see you again soon – we are only just behind you. All the love you gave, Mama and Charlotte . #MrBonesMyLove Post via @ellifranknyc
Cullinan, who goes by “Suze,” says she met Frank in 2017 when she was working at Instinct Dog Training’s East Harlem branch. Cullinan now owns Instinct’s New Jersey location, where she still works closely with Frank. Her own dog, Maddie, was a Mr. Bones & Co. rescue that Cullinan fostered and ultimately adopted. “My pit-bull, Maddie, came into Mr. Bones & Co. at about six weeks of age. Long story short, she had been separated too early from her litter, she was already human and dog aggressive. So, Elli placed her with Instinct for puppy camp. I was her puppy raiser, then fostered her, and, finally, adopted her..”
What was especially striking when she looks back on Maddie’s history, Cullinan recalls, is how much was unknown at the time Frank took Maddie in. “It was my belief that we wouldn’t really know if Maddie was adoptable until she was close to a year. What I loved was, Elli didn’t blink once. I eventually adopted Maddie. Elli will keep a dog, medically or behaviorally, in foster care, as long as necessary. Elli was absolutely willing to take that commitment seriously and didn’t even hesitate. It’s just an example that medically or behaviorally, she’ll do whatever it takes for the dog.”
Cullinan says Maddie is now doing “wonderfully” and is even now serving as a “helper dog” in the training program for other dogs who come in to be treated for leash reactivity. “There are a lot of great rescues. I’ve just never seen a rescue able to do what it takes to keep dogs until they’re truly ready for their forever home when it costs a lot of money. And she just has an amazing network. Some of the cases, we can’t help. But she’s willing to try and that counts for a lot.”
“She commits to dogs. Truly commits to them and is an unbelievable advocate for them,” Dr. Spector of the Animal Medical Center says. “She does an incredible job getting them whatever they need medically…She works closely with behaviorists…She’s very, very specific about that, and very responsible.”
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TONKA & LITTLE P are healing beautifully in their separate foster homes. Yesterday we all met up for the first time outside the hospital since both of their surgeries. The Busching family, their late Papa Kris’s beautiful family whom we’ve grown close to during this journey, joined us for the reunion. Near the end of yesterday’s visit, after two very special people drove many miles to meet them for the first time, we were treated to an impromptu concert 🎶 from these silly, lovable Bully boys. TONKA and LITTLE P will continue to recover in our #OneLuckyPup program until early June, when a new chapter will begin. There is so much hope that lies ahead so stay tuned for a very, very happy ending. ❤️ . #AdoptTonkaandLittleP #rescueisthenewblack
Frank: “I tell all of my adopters, when you adopt a dog from us, the relationship just begins. We have a private [email/chat] support group. I regularly get texted photos of poop…We have a really wonderful community network. It’s part of keeping the caseload small and really intimate.”