by Kit Bowen 16 October, 2020
The new docu-series To The Rescue features veteran TV producer-personality Tommy Habeeb, best known as the original host of the long-running syndicated series Cheaters, as he shares the astonishing story of dogs and the humans who rescue them.
Each episode follows stories that intertwine the work of animal rescue organizations, municipal animal shelters, transporters, behaviorists and foster families to reveal what it really takes to help the most at-risk dogs find their forever families.
Habeeb, who founded his own dog rescue organization, Forever Family Rescue Foundation, explains “Each of their stories is only a small piece of the puzzle, but together, these amazing tales of hope and redemption show us that there’s no wrong way to come to the rescue.”
ScreenPicks spoke to Habeeb about this inspirational show, how dogs can help mental health in these troubling times and more!
Q: Tell me about the genesis of this and how it got started.
Tom Habeeb: [Dog rescue] has been a passion of mine and the more I work on it, the more committed I get. I guess we learn more and more the deeper we go beyond just the everyday importance. I've been involved with the SPCLA and considered doing telethons, but it wasn’t as deep as I wanted.
About two and a half years ago, I was having dinner with a friend of mine and his wife does dog rescue. She was telling me these stories, and I thought, “I need to do a television show about this.” I have a platform and I need to take advantage of that. So that's really how it started.
You know, it's just been really a life changer working on it for the past couple years and getting in with these rescue organizations around the country and all the amazing people, the unsung heroes out there. I can just give them just a few minutes to say thank you and show the world exactly what they're doing. Truly it's inspiring and it inspires me to be a better person
Q: What stories have you encountered that has touched you the most?
Habeeb: There are just hundreds and hundreds of heartwarming stories -- and as I go across the country and work with these rescues and we pulled dogs out of horrible places, you know, I fall in love with so many of them. I just want to take them all in and I can't.
I do have a puppy right here with me, though, named “Steel.” He was in a bad situation in Arkansas, very sick and with his mom and siblings both dead. I grabbed my phone and said, “Listen, I'm going to take this dog and I'm going to get him better” and we did. I'm on the road a lot, so I was there with Cathy Bissell. I gave her Steel and I said, “You take him up to Michigan. You get him back to health because I'm on the road and then I'm going to come get him.” She took him to the Muskegon Humane Society there in Michigan, nursed him back to health and then I flew up last week and got him.
He is just so sweet and special. I'm going to take him on a media tour with me and they're finally going to get to meet him and then I'm gonna tell everyone if you want to adopt and just submit right here. He will steal the show, for sure.
Q: You spoke about Cathy Bissell (of Bissell Vacuums), tell me about her foundation, the Bissell Pet Foundation.
Habeeb: I'll be honest with you, she doesn’t have to anything, but she has dedicated her life to helping these rescues. This woman doesn't just put her money where her mouth is. She gets in the field. She gets muddy and dirty and gets in there with everything. There's nothing that this woman doesn't do. She is fearless and strong and that one of the most amazing advocates for rescue and foster care that I've ever seen them.
Her foundation supports other rescues and Humane Societies and anybody that's doing the right thing. Because of her work, there are no more kill shelters in Michigan. That's what inspires me and that's my goal. With our foundation, we go across the country to try to wipe out the kill shelters.
Q: I guess there are still a lot of kill shelters.
Habeeb: Oh my gosh. Yes. Yes, there are lots in every state. It’s just because people aren't spaying and neutering and their dogs, and they need to do these preventative things. But people, I gotta tell you, the outreach to shelters today is tremendous and yes, that's wonderful to see.
Q: The pandemic has actually helped increase the number of adoptions, in record numbers, I read.
Habeeb: Very much. This pandemic really puts a magnifying glass on emotional and mental health issues, and the best thing they could do is to get a dog, to not only distract but give unconditional love. When you have a puppy or any dog and you're having a tough time, you come home to one of these little sweet loving dogs. It will change it.
I just had Mariel Hemingway on the show, and she has written five books on mental health. She’s a big dog rescuer and that was a big focus. I have three boys and two are teenagers. It scares me when they go into their rooms, but when our dog is in there with them, I feel better because they have someone to talk to. Maybe social media won’t love them, but a puppy will.
Q: What do hope To The Rescue will show audiences about this important topic?
Habeeb: I’m very proud we got it into some many stations across the country. It’s not just a “dog show,” it's a serious show. We didn't want it to be like a Sarah McLachlan commercial, but we can give you a little taste of it and then you get all the warm and fuzzy stuff that goes with it.
Q: What is the best way to adopt a dog, even a pure bred?
Habeeb: Even if you want a certain breed, I would say to first go online. Look at what's out there in a rescue situation because you can find amazing pure breds. Do not buy a dog in a Walmart parking lot. That's just supporting the puppy mills, which just destroy dogs, They run them through and then throw them away. It's really sad what those are about so just be careful and be smart. Also, don't go on Craigs List, but go to reliable sources and look up some of these rescues because you can find anything. All kinds of beautiful, wonderful, loving dogs.
The half-hour weekly syndicated TV series To The Rescue is set to premiere Saturday, Oct. 17, and will air in over 200 markets nationwide. Look for your local listing!