In true New York style, it was a friendship forged from a neighbor’s stoop that would start a ripple effect of change. A senior dog named Susie came into Erin’s life, and inspired her to help older, overlooked dogs find homes. With a background in marketing and a passion for animals, Erin Stanton has created an online community that helps share the stories of dogs in need.
Did you always want to live in New York?
I grew up in Connecticut and went to school in Boston. Because of that proximity, I always knew that I would come to New York when I graduated in 2007. I studied international business and marketing, and I was so keen to move and work here. I did three interviews straight away, and took one of those jobs. My mom suggested I look around a bit more, but I was so eager! The job was doing marketing at a luxury golf company. [Laughs] I was a little naive, and it was definitely one of those things where it’s not exactly what you thought it was going to be. I was there for a year, but I was desperate for another job. I kind of fell into working with this Turkish jewelry designer who had just started to sell their line in the US. They were very established in Turkey, and they brought me onboard to help with their PR and marketing.
I ended up working there for six years! What I loved about it, versus the golf company, was that it was new. There was no template for how I should be doing things, since they had no presence in the USA. While it was exciting, it was also hard. I was still only out of school for a couple of years, so my list of contacts was very limited.
Did you notice the difference once you left that first job?
In many ways I did. It’s definitely hard to separate work from your personal life and your mood. New York can be a very lonely place, and that first year was a little hard. If you’re in a toxic work environment, it affects your entire life. Especially for someone like myself—I have no compartments!
You must have liked working for the jewelry company, if you were there for six years.
I did like the job. The designer that I worked for was amazing. We had a great dynamic, in that he really let me create my own role, follow my own leads and do what needed to be done. I had come from a job that had zero flexibility, and it was very controlling. This was the opposite. Even though it was technically a “nine to five” job, I could make my own projects and fill my time as I wanted.
I also met my husband Brandon, who created Humans of New York, through that job. I was always looking at different ways to get the jewelry out there. Things, people and sites that were off the beaten path. I would scour the Internet daily to see what was around and I came across Brandon’s site. This was back when it was really small; I think he had about 200 Facebook followers, but I loved what he was creating. At the time he had a map of New York on the site, with the locations of where he’d met everyone. I really love geography and maps, so I think that also appealed to me. I reached out to him, and invited him to come down to the store and meet the designer.
It worked out for both of us. Brandon took some photos of the designer, and we displayed his work on the walls of the store. The store was on Spring Street in Soho, so it was prime real estate for a photographer.
We started dating, and Brandon had this dog called Susie.
Can you talk about how Brandon came to get Susie?
Susie was a block dog in Brooklyn. Her owner would sit on the stoop every day, or walk the neighborhood, and Susie was always by his side. Brandon lived nearby and would walk past their stoop often so they got to know each other.
She was a very eye-catching dog, with her little mohawk!
I’m pretty sure she made it onto Humans of New York before he got her. One day her owner came up to Brandon and said, “I have to get rid of my dog, will you take her?” He thought about it, and asked all his friends for advice. At the time he had no money, and was sleeping on a friend’s couch. Of course, everybody told him it wasn’t a good time for him to get a dog.
It’s hard to suddenly bring a dog home to your friend’s apartment!
Exactly. It was understandable that everybody advised him against it. It’s a huge responsibility. But despite that, he took her in. At first, she was obviously a little unsure. She had lived with this man her entire life, and now someone else was taking her.
How old was she?
We think maybe 11 or 12, but we can’t be sure. He said that for first couple of weeks, she was really depressed. But over time, they formed this amazing bond.
Naturally, I formed a bond with her, as well, and as Brandon and I became more serious I took on more caring for Susie—you know, taking her out for walks and things like that. Whenever we would go out, so many people would come up and ask about her, or speak with me. It’s amazing the amount of interactions you have with other people when you have a dog with you.
As I would speak with people, and tell them about Susie, everybody would comment on how strange it was that we had only had Susie for a little while. I started to realize that people found it very unusual that someone would adopt an older dog. I don’t think it ever really dawned on us before people started mentioning it.
For some reason, it sparked an interest in me. I started to wonder if there were many other old dogs around that needed homes. I wondered what would have happened to Susie if Brandon hadn’t taken her.
I started to look into local shelters, and became a bit obsessed with finding out about the old dogs that needed homes in New York. In my research, I came across this beautiful old dog called Ashi who was having a hard time finding a home. She was a little chihuahua and she did not like new people! I managed to convince Brandon’s roommate to adopt him!
How did you manage that?
Well, Dave had seen the amazing bond that Brandon had with Susie, so I think that helped. When he adopted her, they had a rough start. He even admitted to me recently that he considered returning her to the shelter! But he didn’t want to be the person that would bring a dog back, so he kept her and they formed this incredible bond.
Once I saw that, I thought I could help other dogs with this problem. I started a Facebook page called Susie’s Senior Dogs. I just wanted to create a space where people could see these older dogs that were up for adoption.
How did you find the dogs that you posted?
I reached out to local shelters. Animal Haven here in New York was one of the first ones that I connected with. They were really responsive to what I was trying to do. Even now, it’s so much easier working with people and shelters who want to be involved.
At what point did you realize you could make this a full-time job?
There was at least a two-year overlap, when I was working for the jewelry company and doing Susie’s Senior Dogs at nights and on the weekends. It got to a point, though, where my energy and my drive was more consumed with SSD that with my day job. Emotionally, it was becoming very difficult for me, and it was also physically exhausting. I would come home from work, make a quick dinner, and then sit and write for four or five hours so I could schedule the posts that would go up the next day. On the weekends I was visiting shelters.
In passing I had said to Brandon, “Wouldn’t it be great if i could do this full time?” I was not even thinking it was a possibility. At this point, Brandon was making a living doing Humans of New York, so he said to me, “Why don’t I help you out for three months, so you can quit your job?” Of course, that was terrifying! I had so many fears and questions. How could I make SSD a job? What would happen after three months? Could I make this work?
It was scary to think about leaving a stable paycheck. Brandon put the ball in my court and basically asked if I would rather stay in something that was stable, or take a risk on something I loved. I’m not even sure what happened, but one day I just knew I had to quit. I think that was about two years ago now.
What was that transition like?
It was actually easier than I expected. The flexibility I had in my jewelry job really prepared me for working for myself. It taught me how to manage my time, and how to motivate myself. I’m also someone that always needs to be busy. I need to have projects in my day and tasks to do.
I fell into a routine with SSD really quickly. Brandon gave us a shout out, which really helped bump the numbers early on. But also having the ability to do it full time allowed me to create more content and to post regularly, which also builds a following and network. I think also what keeps people coming back is that I regularly post updates on dogs that have been adopted. It can be emotionally tiring to constantly see posts of dogs that need homes. It’s great to show people a positive outcome.
I was able to quickly turn it into a 501c3 nonprofit, because so many people started to ask how they could donate.
I also think the writing I do makes a huge difference in building awareness, donations and a community. I really consider each post, and try to bring something different to each post when I’m talking about a dog that needs a home. Even if I never get to meet the dog because they are in another state, I speak in depth with the shelters to get an idea of what kind of dog it is.
That really comes across in your writing. It makes you feel so much more invested in the dogs.
It can be hard sometimes, because I want to be truthful about a dog if they have some issues or special needs. People often have a misconception about older dogs at shelters. They think there must be something wrong with them. Sometimes that is the case, but more often than not, their owners have fallen on hard times, or they had to move, or they died. These dogs end up homeless for all sorts of reasons.
Where do you want to take Susie’s Senior Dogs?
At this stage, I I really just want to keep growing. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting my own shelter, but I really feel the best way I can continue to make a positive change is to grow this community, and continue to feature dogs across the country. To have my own shelter at this stage would probably take my focus away, as I’d have to be dealing with more of the paperwork and the day-to-day running of things.
Right now, I want to do more events. I’ve found that getting the dogs out to meet people during an event or adoption drive is a great way to build awareness and to educate people on senior dogs. I want to continue to shine a big spotlight on this problem. It’s where my love of marketing comes in. These dogs benefit hugely from marketing, to put it really simply. I’m essentially doing the same thing I’ve always done, but now with something I’m truly passionate about.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I think the best piece of advice I could give to someone wanting to start their own business or community, would be to be consistent in what you post online. It’s so important. It helps to be truly passionate about what you are selling or sharing. Be consistent and focused on your message.
What does New York mean to you?
A lot of my loves have come from New York. I met Brandon here, and Susie, and founded SSD. I suppose I could run SSD from anywhere now, but New York still allows me so much opportunity. I can visit and meet so many people every day. Even just walking outside with our dogs Sarah and Simon, we meet so many people and have so many conversations.
Follow Susie's Senior Dogs here.