Volunteer Spotlight: Michelle Farnum

“Winter, spring summer or fall, all you have to do is call, and I’ll be there …You’ve got a friend”.

Everyone knows these words from James Taylor’s song You’ve Got a Friend. And everyone at Cavalier Rescue USA knows that he must have been singing about one of our most dedicated volunteers, Michelle Farnum. Michelle has been with Cavalier Rescue USA for about 15 years and has served in many roles, including Coordinator for Connecticut and New York, Board Director, foster mom, and now Secretary of the organization. Here is her story.

Michelle has been a dog lover her whole life. One of her happiest memories was waking up one Christmas morning around the age of 10 to find a cardboard carton under the tree that was making a strange scuffling noise. Inside was a 10-week-old puppy, an English Springer Spaniel, who she named named Beebe. The best surprise ever!

Michelle and her husband Jay live in Duchess County, New York with their three rescue dogs, two Cavaliers, Archie and Junior, and a small mix, Max. They also have a 3-year-old cat, Arthur. Over the years Michelle and Jay have had many dogs, at one point up to 6 Cavaliers, all rescues, which was a real handful, especially when they had fosters at the same time!


In the late 90s, Michelle, a former creative director for Clairol, Chanel and American Airlines International and Jay, a former creative director for Amtrak, American Airlines and GTE made the big change from Madison Avenue executives to opening their own advertising firm in Pawling NY. There they embraced the new technologies becoming available in web design, and social media marketing as their new business. Not only has this change of owning and running a business given them the opportunity to grow and diversify, it has kept them closer to home and the dogs. Michelle has met some interesting people through her work too.


Michelle got into rescue work when her first three Cavaliers died in rapid succession at around 8 years old of MVD. She and Jay were devastated. Michelle said that they wanted a new dog but after reading about the prevalence of mitral valve disease in the breed, they didn’t know where to go. So they decided to rescue instead.

Michelle spends about 15 hours a week volunteering. Her typical activities involve talking with people wanting to adopt or discussing turning in their dog. Of course some of these calls are very emotional and can be difficult. Often she has calls with foster parents who keep her up to date on their foster dogs, and she is a help and advisor to them. She is also a key advisor to the organization’s President.

Other parts of her work might include fostering, vet visits, transportation to NYC or central Connecticut and of course email. As a state Coordinator, Michelle reviews applications for adoptions, and interviews people interested in specific dogs. The the hardest part is disappointing people if they are not the choice for a dog. The workload is constant and sometimes challenging. Interestingly a new pattern she seeing is more activity in upstate New York.

When people have to give up their dogs, it’s like giving up a part of their life that has brought them so much love and comfort. Michelle must be patient and caring dealing with individuals who are going through hardships, life changes, and having to make these painful decisions. She says that these folks need assurances that Cavalier Rescue will be kind and responsible and find a loving new home for their dog.

While there are challenges as a Coordinator, Michelle says that the best part is seeing the joy that these newly placed rescue pups bring a new family. She loves hearing from them and also being able to tell any former owners that their dog is doing well. She hears the relief in their voices when she can tell them that their pup is thriving and happy in his new home.

Michelle says that her rescue work relates well to other parts of her life. Her own dogs are such a central part of her life and caring for the dogs in rescue is just an extension of that. Michelle also uses her professional skills as a graphic designer and communications professional to help Cavalier Rescue USA in many other ways. One example is that Michelle was the creative director on the Cavalier Rescue USA web site, donating her time to work with the developers.

Ten years ago Jay and Michelle, art collectors themselves, opened an art gallery featuring contemporary artists in the NY region. Artists ranged from renowned abstract expressionists, to photographers, to ceramic artists. One of the more popular shows was oil paintings by Kathryn Freeman, a magical realist who often features dogs in her work. Michelle was very touched to find Kathryn that had included an image of her beloved Bugsy, a ruby Michelle had recently lost. 

I asked Michelle to share a favorite rescue story and she said that there were many to choose from but one of her very favorites is about Artie, a 7 year old, who came directly from a puppy mill. He was part of a group of 6 or 7 dogs that were rescued and had only lived in cages. They were experiencing freedom for the very first time. Michelle said that Artie started off looking like a very clumsy beagle and blossomed into the most beautiful Cavalier. Watching him go from barely being able to climb a step, seeking out the hardest most uncomfortable surface to sleep on and even eating pebbles to learning how to get comfortable in a lap and jump up on a couch was amazing! Artie lived a long life and thoroughly enjoyed it. He was always grateful.

And Cavalier Rescue USA is grateful too for you Michelle; we’ve got a friend!!

By Shelley Greggs


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