Cathy Bissell has always believed in the adage: Lead by example. As founder of BISSELL Pet Foundation—which she created in 2011—the Detroit-born businesswoman and philanthropist has taken the campaign for animal welfare to new frontiers with her drive and conviction. Aside from raising three children with her husband (and BISSELL CEO) Mark, Cathy Bissell is an integral part of the family business. As Director of Corporate Affairs for BISSELL Homecare, she has spent years strategizing new ways to appeal to pet-owning customers. Her career highs are just as impressive as her commitment to animal welfare—which has led her to impact the lives of nearly 500,000 pets through her foundation.
To date, BISSELL Pet Foundation has granted more than $20 million USD to related causes, including creating Empty the Shelters, the largest funded adoption event in the US. Her love of animals began at an early age in Michigan, where she was surrounded by ducks, rabbits, ponies and dogs in her youth. It was then that she was first drawn to what she now refers to as her “life’s calling.”
In conversation, Bissell’s passion for giving back is obvious as she regularly cites the sources and forces who have helped her cause. According to Bissell, the Challenger 350 aircraft has been paramount in helping her achieve many of the ambitious goals she has set for the charitable foundation.
“I fly teams of people to so many areas in the country—typically the South: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, to help aid with animals,” she says via phone from her office in Michigan. “An aircraft can help you get to a place quickly and get business done as soon as possible so you can get home to your family.” It’s not only her staff who benefit from the efficiency and peace of mind the Challenger 350 can provide: “Our business sometimes can mean getting dogs on a plane who are in need of immediate help.”
On the aircraft, “we make sure they are secure but comfortable. We give them a little bit of water so they are relaxed, most of the time everybody’s calm from the smooth ride, so they go right to sleep. It’s awesome. ”Having a front row seat to Bissell’s animal saving activities has proven to be “beyond inspiring and gratifying,” says Pilot Patty McAlindon, who flies the Challenger 350 during crucial rescue missions. “Cathy and her team have a lot of energy and they are just so much fun to be around, ”McAlindon says. “Everybody’s working really hard and taking such care when loading these beautiful creatures on the airplane—it’s very rewarding to see.”
When Bissell does have a bit of downtime, she likes to travel with her own pets (Roxy, Taz, Mo, Zoey, Hank and Lexi) on annual trips to Aspen. Her favorite trips without pets include less-frequented spots in places like Italy and Israel.
Because the demand for pets has soared since the pandemic began, Bissell has become a pro at giving tips to new owners who are bringing their animal companions on a flight for the first time. Like some humans, she says, “animals can have anxiety flying,” so the aircraft should be peaceful. She recommends a few inflight strategies: “Don’t overfeed them, find a comfy bed for them and make the cabin a little warmer in temperature. Also: My husband plays music to calm down our dogs.”
Bissell also has advice for those who are thinking about getting a new pet: Know where to look. “My mission in life is trying to get people to understand that adoption is really important and it saves lives,” she says, passionately. “There are really wonderful pets of all breeds and sizes to be found in shelters—and that should be your first option.” Bissell’s mission to rescue homeless animals unfolded in her forties, fueled by the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Her greatest regret is that she didn’t help shelter pets sooner. She hopes her example might inspire other women who are embarking on new ventures—regardless of where they are in their career.
“I always say it’s never too late,” she notes. “Do what you can while you can, and don’t give up. Keep going until you make that difference.”
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