A peaceful pet sanctuary in Miami-Dade County

It’s a typical, sunny Saturday morning when I arrive at Pet Partners Rescue Home in southwest Miami Dade County. As I walk up to the entrance, cats of all shapes and sizes greet me running about the front yard. I ring the doorbell and after a few minutes, Bernie Alfonso, a tall, gray-haired gentleman in his mid-fifties greets me.

As founder of Pet Partners Rescue Home, Alfonso has made it his duty to take care of cats that have been abandoned. Alfonso takes us on a tour of the grounds. As we walk around the side yard, he opens up a tall, wooden door and we enter the pet sanctuary.

In one corner of the yard, he has a wooden hut and about 13 dog houses that serve as a place for the cats to romp, rest, or just hang out. Across from the hut and cat houses, he has two chain-link kennels that serve as a place to quarantine animals until they have been socialized to the rest of the community of free-roaming cats in the sanctuary. At last count, Alfonso had 84 cats, four dogs, one rabbit, and a goat. Sensing my surprise at seeing a goat in the sanctuary he says,

“Yes, there is no animal that I would not take in. I even take in birds,” he says, “If it’s a living creature, it’s welcome.”

Alfonso started Pet Partners Rescue Home in Feb. 2010 because he saw a necessity. He adds,

“Knowing that these animals face death by shelter, I had to do something. Euthanasia is the main cause of death of healthy and treatable animals in the U.S.”

Over-population is a growing problem in local shelters and many resort to euthanasia. Alfonso’s tone becomes stern when he speaks of this practice,

“Many animal shelters claim that they are no-kill shelters; however, many of the animals they euthanize are healthy, treatable animals,” he said. “It’s criminal what is being done to these animals. If you inject an animal with a drug, you are killing the animal. One cannot simply euthanize treatable, healthy animals.”

Pet Partners Rescue Home is determined to make a difference in the lives of healthy, treatable animals but the organization faces some obstacles. Fundraising and a lack of foster homes makes matters difficult. Alfonso cannot take in all the animals brought to his shelter and a network of foster parents would help further Pet Partners Rescue Home’s mission to save homeless pets from destruction by providing them with a home until they can be adopted.

“In these economic times, donations from local residents are few and far between; however, pet food companies have donated food, litter, and basic medications,” he says. “This is a labor of love. Taking care of the pets in the sanctuary is a lot of work. They must be fed, vaccinated, and the facilities need cleaning and maintenance. A dedicated network of foster parents would help immensely.”

Pet Partners Rescue Home has plans to expand its network of foster parents so they can help more cats find forever homes and initiate a fundraising campaign later this year to increase donations. To adopt a cat or dog one must fill out an application and meet the terms of Pet Partners Rescue Home contract. Additionally, only cats and dogs that are spayed and neutered are released for adoption. There is no adoption fee.

“We refuse to charge to help an animal. However, donations are graciously appreciated,” Alfonso says.

Pet Partners Rescue Home is located at 9555 SW 42nd St. Miami, FL 33165. For adoptions or to surrender a homeless animal please call 305-772-1295 or the Pet Partners Rescue Home Hotline at 305-772-1295. For additional information, visit www.petpartnersrescuehome.com



Caregivers: A Beacon of Hope amid the Fog

Fernández-Santos, pictured with three of her birds, from left-right, Sunny, Kiwi and her macaw, Laila.

When Alzheimer’s disease strikes, it can be a confusing and difficult time for a family. Lili Fernández-Santos, 56, learned to cope with the stress of her caregiver role when her mother, Lilia, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 12 years ago.

Born in Havana, Fernández-Santos came to the United States with her mother when she was 8 years old. With help from the Catholic Church, her mother found work in Los Angeles, registered Lili in elementary school, and they started their new life.

Fearful of earthquakes, her mother decided to move to Miami when Lili was 13. Eventually, Fernández-Santos married and had two kids of her own. After an unsuccessful and rocky relationship, she divorced. Throughout the ordeal, Lilia stayed by her daughter’s side, providing emotional support and helping Fernández-Santos rear her children.

“Life was pretty uneventful,” she says. “I guess it was just the calm before the storm.”

Twelve years ago, her mother found her way to her daughter’s house. Upon arriving, she told Fernández-Santos that someone had stolen her car. Fernández-Santos immediately called the Miami-Dade Police Department to file a report; however, she and a friend drove around and found her mother’s car a few blocks from Fernández-Santos’s home. She later learned that no one had stolen it. Her mother had abandoned the car and forgotten where she left it.

“At first, I didn’t know what was happening to her,” Fernández-Santos says.

Not knowing what to make of this incident, she took her mother to a doctor who referred her to a psychiatrist. Following an evaluation, Fernández-Santos learned that her mother was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I was devastated,” says Fernández-Santos. “Prior to this incident, my mother was a very independent woman who worked on the assembly line of a shoe factory in Hialeah, had an active social life, and lived by herself.”

Unbeknownst to Fernández-Santos, Alzheimer’s disease had been robbing her of the mother-daughter bond that sustained her emotionally. As a single mother with two boys, Fernández-Santos who was already juggling work and maintaining a home, now had to contend with being a caregiver to her mother whose behavior was increasingly erratic.

According to the National Institute on Aging, as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people experience greater memory loss and other cognitive difficulties. Problems can include wandering and getting lost, trouble handling money and paying bills, repeating questions, taking longer to complete normal daily tasks, as well as personality and behavior changes.


Fernández-Santos’ mother plays with her floppy doll, Lilita, at the nursing home where she lives.

The car incident marked the beginning of what would be her mother’s long decline and a period of intense anxiety for Fernández-Santos. Lilia had become prone to bouts of crying over her forgetfulness and experienced fits of anger which she directed at those closest to her. She was descending into the mental fog that characterizes this illness.

“Eventually, it got to the point where I had to put her into a home. I had to go to work, take care of my kids, and I had no one that could take care of her during the day. My mother needed professional help,” said Fernández-Santos. “It was dangerous to keep her home by herself during the day.”

Once her mother was in the nursing home, Fernández-Santos could begin to reassemble her life with the help of friends and the nurses at the nursing home. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that it has not been easy as caregiving is physically and mentally demanding.

“It’s exhausting, challenging, and requires a lot of patience but I feel I have made her quality of life better by taking care of her. As a child, she instilled in me the importance of family being first in life,” Fernández-Santos says.

Fernández-Santos’ son, Mario, feels that his grandmother left too soon.

“There have been holidays, birthdays or family gatherings in which I cry because I miss her and she cannot be with us on those special occasions,” he says.

However, Fernández-Santos finds solace in her birds. She has four birds: Kiwi, a green and gray Florida Quaker parrot; Sunny, an orange, yellow and green Sun Conure parrot; Tweety, a yellow, Indian Ringneck parrot and Laila, a green, red and blue Chestnut-fronted mini-macaw. When speaking of her birds, Lili’s face lights up.

“My husband, René, recently made a cage for my birds that is attached to the house, so I can open the sliding-glass doors in my dining room and the birds can enjoy the fresh air,” she says as she points to the dining area.

“Lili enjoys her birds and I enjoy seeing her happy,” René says.


Fernández-Santos and her husband, René, having lunch at Florida’s Hollywood Beach boardwalk.

Fernández-Santos also finds relief from the stress of caregiving by going to the beach and practicing yoga.

“You must find hobbies to take your mind off of your loved one so you do not break down mentally,” says Fernández-Santos.

She advises those who are new to the caregiver role to educate themselves about their loved one’s illness, have lots of patience and most importantly, to get involved in their family member’s care.

Staring into the distance, Fernández-Santos adds,“Although I become extremely sad, Mom feels happy when I visit her. She lost her home, her family, her friends. Nobody goes to see you when you are sick. It’s as if she died, but she is still here. I lost my mother.”








In Search of Visual Content for Social Media


Social media is nothing without graphics. Visual appeal is very important for a blog, social media post, or meme. Wading through the Internet in search of royalty-free images just got a bit easier. I found a few graphics sites with the help of Jeff Haden’s Where to Find Free Stock Photos Online.    

In his article he shares a list of 29 sites compiled by Chelsea Blacker, head of client delivery at digital marketing agency BlueGlass UK. Among the sites listed, I was surprised to learn of Microsoft’s Bing image search. I was unaware that in the image search there was an option to search for images that are “Free to modify, share, and use commercially.” This has proved invaluable for me as coming up with images for this blog has been a challenge for me.

Another site that has been helpful is Death to the Stock Photo. You can subscribe to their service (it’s free) and they deliver stock photos for you to use commercially and royalty-free on a monthly basis or you can join their premium service which delivers much more for a fee.

Are you still not convinced that visual appeal is important to social media? Below is a video from Katie McKee of Elizabeth Christian Public Relations who speaks of the Importance of Visual Content in Social Media.


Digital Media and the Practice of Public Relations

The practice of public relations in the Information Age has changed irrevocably. Digital media has altered the way we distribute press releases, respond to crises and promote organizations.

In the past, creating and distributing a press release involved wire transfer services such as PR Newswire, AP newswire, etc. We now send press releases via email as well as wire services, and social media releases are becoming more common as they permit the public relations person to embed media into the press release. Knowing how to use search engine optimization, hashtags and keywords that increase the visibility of the press release, is now a valuable skill.

Crises erupt and the news can go viral via YouTube videos, tweets, and Facebook posts. Consumers have become empowered by access to digital media and social media channels that permit them to share their good and bad experiences. Companies often need to respond via social media to quell bad situations before they become full-blown crises and public relations professionals have to monitor social media channels around the clock. Crisis management via social media presents many challenges to the public relations professional. For example, a tweet by Kenneth Cole during the 2011 protests in Cairo created a public relations nightmare for the Kenneth Cole brand.

Kenneth Cole Tweet

The public relations department later issued the following tweet in the aftermath of the ’twitter storm’:

Kenneth Cole Tweet 2

To promote an organization, companies now require a website so the organization can tell its story to its shareholders, consumers, businesses and other publics via videos, pictures, press releases and testimonials. Digital media, and specifically the internet, has created the opportunity for organizations to express themselves to a larger audience via informational websites that are easy for people to visit and are available to a national as well as international audience.

Social Customer Service: The Time is Now

Customer Service is the latest to be revolutionized by social media.

“Your call will be answered in the order it was received”

Sound familiar?

Soon those recordings may be coming to an end as companies are starting to heed the call to serve customers on the same channels they use to engage them. In today’s day and age, a quick post on social media via Twitter or Facebook is bound to get someone’s attention. Social listening tools such as Hootsuite, Simply Measured, Salesforce’s Radian6 and countless others have made ‘social listening’ an easier task for social media customer service representatives and social media marketing departments. No longer is social media a place where marketing teams ‘push’ sales pitches and marketing campaigns to the masses. Social media has leveled the playing field, so to speak, and naturally consumers have started to reach out to companies for their customer service concerns via social media.

Capitalizing on this trend, many social networking sites have recently begun to market their sites as platforms for customer service or what many have begun to call, social customer care. Recently, Twitter published a 122 page Customer Service on Twitter playbook containing guidelines and best practices for brands looking to enhance their customer service via the social media networking site. In a move that should help brands achieve this goal, they recently abolished the 144 character limitation for direct mail on the network which should make taking a conversation off the public channel and customer care a bit easier for brands.

Facebook is undoubtedly, the winner in social customer care although there is much room for improvement. According to Social Bakers, brands on Facebook, are answering 76 percent of the 1.5 million questions posted on their Facebook Pages in Q2 of 2015. In a move designed to strengthen their position in social customer care, Facebook recently introduced Pages, an app that helps brand managers manage up to 50 brand pages via their smartphone or tablet, as well as, many other enhancements that will make Facebook an ideal place to engage in social customer care.

In the infographic below I have included some tips on how to effectively handle customer complaints via social media, the return on investment (ROI) of companies who invest in social customer care, and Pew Research Center’s latest findings on social media usage from 2005-2015:

Social Customer Care

Social Customer Service’s time has come and those companies that deal with customer service issues effectively on social media stand to reap the rewards. To learn more about social customer care, I recommend the following articles:

4 Social Customer Care Rules You Can’t Ignore

How is Social Media Use Affecting Customer Service?

Providing Great Customer Service through Social Media



Are Performance Reviews on the way out?


As the end of the year draws near, once again, it is time for the annual performance review. Although it has been found that performance reviews are universally despised and do much damage to the boss-subordinate relationship, companies continue to perform them. In 10 Reasons to Get Rid of Performance Reviews, Samuel Culbert, lists some pretty good reasons to scrap the performance review. Among them, performance reviews prevent employee improvement, destroy teamwork, and keep employees from offering smart ideas.

So why do companies conduct performance reviews? Traditionally, it has been a way to know who the top performers are in an organization, determines raises, who to promote, and who to let go. Fortunately, some companies have learned of a better way.

For example, in 3 Ways Companies Are Changing The Dreaded Performance Review, we learned how some companies have ended performance reviews in favor of giving more consistent feedback. In the article, they cite how The Gap has instituted monthly ‘coaching sessions’ that increase communication between manager and employees in an internal program The Gap calls “GPS” (Grow, Perform, Succeed).

If you need more reasons to get rid of the performance review, take a few minutes to learn how they affect employees in How Your Brain Responds to Performance Rankings, a video from the Strategy+Business website.


Social Customer Care is not your ordinary Customer Service

Most recently, I have been assigned the task of responding to customer service complaints via social media. Now, in all honesty, I have been doing this for 5 years via phone, letters and email but there is a learning curve when it comes to providing customer service via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

For one, the customer that reaches out to a company via social media is not as willing to wait a week or so for a response. Given the immediacy of the internet, most customers expect a response within 24 hours if not sooner.

Secondly, there is no time for elaborate, formal responses when responding via social media channels; the tone is, typically, less formal and authenticity is especially valued by the social media savvy consumer.

Last, but certainly not least, you must take action to solve the customer’s issue and do so quickly. This is not the medium to make promises you do not intend to keep as the very nature of the internet makes it easy for any mishandled issues to go ‘viral’ taking your company’s hard-won reputation down with it.

If you would like to learn more about providing customer service via social media channels, I suggest the following post from the Social Media Examiner that has some tips for providing great customer service via social media.