Story by Bella Wexler Photos by Natalie Mast
Just recently, the Tucson community gained two new resident dog lovers, Matt Messner and Neil Sechan. The couple may be new homeowners to Tucson, but they certainly are not new philanthropists of animal welfare. For starters, as former Oregonians, they’ve been involved with the Southern Oregon Humane Society for twenty years. Matt even served on the board for six years. This privately funded organization relies heavily on volunteers like Neil and Matt in order to keep their programs in operation. The Saving Train is one such program which is dedicated to bringing abandoned pets from California to Oregon for adoption.
Friends of the Animal Shelter (FOTAS) is another organization which requires committed support from the community. At FOTAS, virtually all adoptable dogs find a forever home. Matt and Neil have donated extensively to Friends of the Animal Shelter over the years; but they haven’t stopped there. They have also founded a program of their own within FOTAS which provides medical care to senior dogs. In fact, it was through this program that they fell in love with their first two rescued corgis, Daisy and Summer.
At age ten when they adopted her, Daisy wasn’t expected to live more than one additional year. However, she rallied in her newfound home and thrived for another five and a half years. Summer had a similarly low life expectancy upon her rescue. She had faced significant prior maltreatment having been bred, kept in a cage, and abandoned on the street while deaf and ill. After her adoption by Matt and Neil, Summer was made comfortable and happy for the next eighteen months of her life before she passed.
As of now, Matt and Neil’s family is home to two rescue pups from Puerto Vallarta. “It’s the first time in a while that we’ve had younger dogs,” Matt notes, and they certainly keep the pair on their toes. Estrella is a fairly timid border collie mix found asleep on Matt and Neil’s doorstep in their Puerto Vallarta home whereas Freckles is a cocker spaniel mix found on an adoptable dog and prospective owner match website from the same location. As the couple tries to unpack boxes and prepare for landscaping in their new house in Tucson, the two dogs have been known to chase each other playfully through the backyard. Estrella is often better behaved than Freckles. Besides spending her time “bossing Freckles around”, she also knows several basic commands in both English and Spanish, says Neil.
Both Matt and Neil actually speak Spanish fluently as they typically spend every winter in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. This is the location of Peace Animals, the Mexican nonprofit in which the couple is heavily involved. Peace Animals is committed to incentivizing the spaying and neutering of pets in Mexico as well as educational outreach with the hopes of diminishing the pet overpopulation problem. Since its inception in 2013, over 5,500 procedures have been performed by Peace Animals at no cost to the pets’ owners. Every week, a team of paid vets, contractors, and facilitators travel to one of various locations where they hold the free clinics. Grants and fundraising are what make this possible. Having spent so much time in Puerto Vallarta, Matt and Neil are sensitive to the cultural reasoning behind certain pet owners’ decisions, even when they are misguided. For instance, they often run into owners who believe that male dogs shouldn’t be prevented from reproducing. This is a reminder of the importance of youth education to the success of the Peace Animals mission. The organization’s volunteer coordinator regularly visits schools to teach kids about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets as well as how to treat animals with respect. “Sometimes it’s the younger generations that can teach the older generations”, Matt says, which is why investing in this animal welfare education is so productive in the long term. Following the remarkable success of Peace Animals thus far, several other organizations across Mexico have initiated their own travelling spay and neuter clinics. Thanks to the president of the board and founder, Gretchen DeWitt, various staff members, donors, volunteers, and members of the board of directors like Matt and Neil, Peace Animals has become a leader in promoting animal welfare.
Without a doubt, Matt Messner and Neil Sechan are incredible role models in the worldwide community of animal advocates. While they have proven that they never restrict their range of philanthropic work merely to the city they call home, Tucsonians are still lucky to welcome these two new residents to our city with open arms and paws alike.