From coffee to champions, a Portland couple created a unique way to fuel their passion for helping desperate dogs
How It Began
Jaclyn Leedy has always been magnetically connected to animals. As a little girl, familial trauma forged her bond with the neighbor’s 20-pound cat. Looking back, almost all the childhood photos of her depicted an animal in tow. Through those impressionable years, many moves meant relationships with humans and animals were often cut short. Atop that, it was hurtful to her that her family considered animals as property and of no value, so that time period was peppered with painful goodbye after goodbye.
As Jaclyn grew into adulthood, she adopted a dog, Bella, in 2006 with the intention of doing better than her experienced upbringing. In spite of her best efforts, and after years of trying, Jaclyn realized she just wasn't equipped to give Bella her best life and so she made the difficult decision to rehome her, finding the perfect family who could give her the attention she needed.
In 2016 when Jaclyn had almost completed her undergraduate degree in Anthropology, she decided it was high time to try again with a dog and she opted to foster for a local organization. She perused photos on their website, connected strongly with one particular female dog and, without meeting her in person knew Betsy was the dog she was bringing home. Once home, however, it turned out Betsy was pregnant. Jaclyn committed to providing a home for these dogs until they could be adopted. Jaclyn's studies in anthropology required extensive research and field observations, skills which were useful for tuning in with and observing the puppies' development. One of the pups was unique in that she did not like to be touched and was quite a bully, forcing other babes off the teat. Ultimately, due to Jaclyn’s desire to understand the pup's behavior and to ensure she was not bounced around from home to home for not being a “model” dog, she became a foster fail. That puppy, Rigby, with her nonconformist doggy ways, was not going to fit into a home that expected servitude and submissiveness. Jaclyn not only kept Rigby, but also mom, Betsy.
No one paved the way for Jaclyn as far as dog parenting. She took it upon herself to find a positive reinforcement class for Rigby and was hooked; Rigby lit up! Before that class, Rigby did not like people, did not like to be held, and barely liked Jaclyn. Rigby does life on her own terms – she is selective, and Jaclyn gives her consent and agency to make her own decisions and to have her own space. Jaclyn could start to see that each animal is their own independent force - they have sentience and intelligence.
Fresh out of undergraduate school with awards and recommendations for graduate school in anthropology, her soul was leading her in a different direction than her original tract. Dogs were competing with a career in anthropology. Fostering the seven puppies and being so intimate in their lives, Jaclyn ultimately opted to forego the eight years of study in anthropology in order to follow a different more canine-centric path.
Growing A Passion
Jaclyn learned a slogan about giving back that has stuck with her, “If you don’t have the money, you donate your time, and if you don’t have the time, you donate your money.” She discovered a rescue organization in the poorest part of Alabama called Free State Four Paws. Winston County has a large number of cases of animal neglect, hoarding, backyard breeding, strays and animal fighting because there is no government-funded animal shelter. It is a one-stop, one bank kind of place where hundreds of dogs languish and/or are dumped in boxes year-round; their only saving grace is if one of the devoted women from FSFP catches them in time. When Jaclyn found out about this organization, she could not wrap her head around the blatant disregard that was happening right here in America, but she soon realized that this was just a familiar backdrop to that population’s everyday destitute life. These women at FSFP commit all they have to these discarded dogs.
Through her discovery of this dedicated group, Jaclyn began donating her time by remote volunteering. She started their Instagram page, not only asking for donations of food and money, but also utilizing this platform to tell the stories. FSFP is operating on such a small budget that they literally run out of money every single day. Though the resources are growing slowly to get these dogs well enough to be adopted, without a spay/neuter clinic to partner with or a missing/lost pets page, the costs run up quickly. FSFP currently has five heartworm positive dogs whose treatment will wipe out their funds. It is, unfortunately, a situation of case-by-case prioritization.
Most rescues insist on adopting a dog within a certain reachable radius so they can check in, but the mission of Free State Four Paws is unique in that they will not adopt out a dog in Alabama because they believe it is not in the best interest of the dogs in their care. Johnna Franks is the director of FSFP, and Jaclyn holds her in high esteem.
The residents of the county make it so hard for Johnna to do the work she does with little support and offensive emails because of her no-local-adoptions policy. Rescues all over the U.S., like Spots Last Stop in Minnesota, Florida Dog’s Life, A Good Dog Rescue in NY, etc., partner with FSFP to find the dogs good forever homes. Some of these adoptables went to the west coast, but that is a long, hard trip. Jaclyn and Mark trekked to Alabama in September 2020 with a van full of supplies which were traded for 25 dogs to take back to Portland. That was a huge learning curve and yet another tick on the growth pattern in Jaclyn & Mark's goal to eventually have their own fully operational rescue.
Every Bag Tells A Story
The experience with Free State Four Paws was eye-opening, and even though Jaclyn and Mark only had $200 in their bank account, their check engine light was (and still is) on, and they have holes in their shoes, they knew they had to take things a step further to help. Mark has been doing specialty coffee since fresh out of high school, and he is still employed full time with a café. Mark and Jaclyn met when both were regional area managers for a local coffee company. Though she is quite adept in the coffee realm, Jaclyn left in 2019 and dove into classes and books to train herself on being a positive reinforcement dog trainer, naming her company Rigby to the Rescue. Mark and Jaclyn discussed combining their talents for an endeavor that would satisfy both of their passions, and they decided on a coffee roasting business. On car rides they talked about names for the business, when one day one of them said 'Mutt’s' aloud and it felt fun and right in encompassing what they wanted this venture to represent.
The soul of the business started as an avenue to raise money for the Winston County dogs at Free State Four Paws. Luckily, their friend, Kim Dam, who was getting her start around the same time, was able to get them started with a loan of 15 pounds of coffee beans. Green beans are a huge upfront cost so being able to secure that loan, as opposed to buying a 150-pound bag, was a huge advantage for them. ( Kim is now the owner of micro roaster PORTLAND CÀ PHÊ.)
Since the soft opening for friends and family in November 2020 (right in the thick of the pandemic!), Mutt's Coffee has grown faster than they expected. Though Jaclyn’s office is still in their 900-sf home, the real work happens offsite at a “coffee collective” where small coffee roasters pay by-the-hour for equipment usage, storage and prep space. Regardless of circumstances, Mutt's concretely gives a bona fide 25% of the profits from every single bag, which is always more than $1/bag and is above what you'll find with similar philanthropic business missions. Jaclyn does the bookkeeping line by line to ensure as much as possible is going to the recipients. Beyond that, even with a full-time job, Jaclyn sits down every Sunday to do their marketing, which includes a new story for a new dog every single week.
They have already built 20 stories and have five lined up. As a special value-add, customers get to select their own label/story at checkout which includes Jaclyn's beautiful artwork of adoptable dogs. The product is a canvas to inform and educate, and it is true that every bag tells a story!
As their audience has quickly increased, Mutt's has branched out to work with local partners and are giving to more rescues and other helpful organizations across the country. The Unstoppables Project is grateful for our partnership with Mutts as they help us promote differently-abled adoptable dogs. Though their generous giving model does slow their financial growth, investors are taking notice. People come because they like the coffee, and it is an added benefit to learn a story.
Jaclyn and Mark are proud of their spin on the coffee world. They want to shake things up, be unique and special, and pave the way for “coffee for change”, encouraging others to do the same with their business, maybe even for cats, children, seniors, and other vulnerable beings.
For more information and to buy a bag of coffee contributing to mutts in need, check out their website. And as they say in Muttland: Drink Coffee. Help Dogs. ❤️