CK Insights

March 23, 2018

Women Who Inspire Us: Betsy Banks Saul

Katy Hendricks

My very first client was, one of the largest and most well-known networks for adoptable pets. It was there that I met Betsy Bank Saul, co-founder and animal-welfare visionary. I can safely say I know few people as effervescent, passionate and pioneering as Betsy.


She invented the idea of being able to search for a pet online with Petfinder and is transforming pet veterinary care and fostering with her newest ventures, Heal House Call Veterinarian and 911FosterPets. As such, she is among Dog Fancy’s “45 People Who Changed the Dog World” and Woman’s Day’s “(50) Women Who Are Changing the World.”


Betsy is changing the world for pets every day. For me personally, she helped shape my career.


CooperKatz (CK): Where do you find your inspiration?


Betsy Banks Saul (BBS): Where do I find inspiration? In every complaint. I have a co-dependent need to be a problem solver. And I certainly don’t think I look for inspiration. I think I trip over it, rather haphazardly.


I get frustrated with something or some system. It bugs me for a while as I bump into it like the silver ball in an old pin ball machine. Then, when things start to form in my mind about why I’m frustrated, I find myself in the midst of an indignant rant with someone who rants back at me or who at least feigns interest. About the time I see their eyes glaze over, I’ll have a “HOLD THE PHONE” kind of moment.


Internally it feels very exciting, like there is a lot of gesturing and pacing and exclamations of “Why can’t we?” but in fact, I think it presents more like a still, bug-eyed freeze. So that seems like a weird answer – I’m inspired by frustration and when you see crazy eyes, you’ll know it happened? Heal House Call Veterinarian was born out of frustration with my dog Jim’s experience at the animal hospital. Petfinder was born, originally, out of a frustration with silly websites (to be fair there were only a few of them at the time).


Maybe not all good ideas follow some frustration.


Sometimes it doesn’t have to be our own issue, like when we conceived what would become Pethealth’s ShelterCare (pet health insurance for shelter dogs and cats). A group of us were “meeting” after a meeting and the shelter folks were complaining about a problem they had at the shelters with illness, pet returns, and veterinary support. I’d had just enough beer(s) that evening to confuse their rant for my own. After roping in some folks who knew a lot more than I did about pets and insurance, we ultimately changed the way we think of pet insurance in the U.S.


That being said, being inspired is hardly enough to make anyone stand out, right? The fact is, I’m easily impressed and not terribly complex. I think that incidentally helps turn inspiration into action – because simplicity allows space for creativity.


Simple things just knock my socks off, like that listening to people giggle can make you giggle, or how a dog walk in the woods can cure (even if only temporarily) a nasty case of the blues, or how feeling small and unimportant when you watch clouds or stars can somehow make you feel grateful (What are the chances that there would be just the right amount of gravity to gently stick us to the surface of the earth and that we don’t go flying off into space?) What are the chances of all those things?


Feeling lucky provides the strength and will (and creativity) to makes things better for people.


(CK): What have been some of the most important factors in advancing your career and life journey?


(BBS): My parents instilled in me, by their example and how they treated me (and each other), a powerful trifecta of self-worth (I’m completely unconcerned about humiliating myself), self-determination/reliance (I thought they were being literal when they told me I could do anything), and a tireless will to serve (my mom was recently the volunteer of the year at her nature center).  Mix those up and add just a drop of co-dependency (I really, really care if you like me) and you have a recipe for success.


(CK): Who are the women that you admire – and why?


(BBS): Good moms and smart women who could have any career but who are willing to teach. I think these two things continue to challenge us. I didn’t feel like I had permission to be a great mom who was singly focused on raising children or to become a teacher. Men have had this limitation for eons. So now, ironically, we all do.


(CK): What inspires you to come to work each day?  


(BBS): Futility. I have learned that when I scale back, work less, and try to “live the dream” the universe drops into my lap a cool idea for a social profit business that has the potential to make the world (or my tiny part of it) a little better. And a new adventure begins. My only defense is to keep working so that I don’t have to work so hard. I don’t think that makes me a workaholic. Rather, I just find good ideas irresistible… and I have fairly poor self-control.


(CK): Do you have a compelling quote or piece of advice that keeps you motivated?


(BBS): Recently a “day-a-year” calendar presented that tired old truism that nothing valuable come easy. My family has been through a lot these last few years and that was comforting to be reminded. But my all-time favorite quote (and this is old news for my friends) is what E.E. Cummings wrote:


I arise in the morning torn 
between a desire to improve the world 
and a desire to enjoy the world. 
This makes it hard to plan the day.


(CK): What is your favorite thing about the work that you do?


(BBS): In general, I love helping people have a higher quality of life and I love my role in helping increase the perceived value of living things. I think those two things unlock some very basic secrets to a happier, safer world.


Personally, since my businesses are animal-centric, I have amazing animal-loving colleagues. I like that no one gives me any grief if I need to stop doing what I’m doing to go take care of an animal or walk the dogs. What a luxury!


(CK): What are you most proud of in your career?


(BBS): The Petfinder pet adoptions. The first ones, the ones still happening years after Petfinder was adopted, and all the ones in the middle.


I love imagining all those people (millions and millions of them) being greeted at the door with unconditional love when they come home each day.


The explosion of a robust foster and volunteer network – legitimizing forever the role of the volunteer in sheltering. And, finally, being part of a historical nationwide movement to make life a little easier for shelter workers and foster parents.


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