When “Nice,” the dog belonging to Erik Bendl – known as “World Guy” for his treks around the country to promote diabetes awareness – received successful knee surgery at UF’s Small Animal Hospital, the public heard about the happy outcome in the news. What most people never knew was what brought Erik to UF in the first place and how the story came full circle to help other animals.
It began with an AP reporter’s visit to UF’s Small Animal Hospital. The reporter spent several hours interviewing faculty and clients about the new hyperbaric chamber and its use in veterinary medicine. The same reporter had written about “World Guy” in 2011. So when he happened to be in Florida, he told her about Nice’s health problems. She suggested Erik take his four-legged companion to UF. She called the hospital and arranged an appointment. But soon it was clear that the cost of the surgery would be more than Erik could afford. Despite assistance from UF’s Pet Samaritan Fund, Erik was still $3,400 short.
At this point, Sarah Carey, Director of Public Relations at UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine became involved. She got on the phone, went online, and contacted reporters she knew personally and some she had never met. Her pitch was simply, “Look what this person has done with his life to help others. Now we need to help him and his dog.”
A few stories came out, which resulted in significant donations. Additional funds came through social media pitches from Erik himself, from UF and through viral sharing by others. In just over a week, enough money been raised to schedule surgery. The remainder came in soon after.
Surgery was successful and by then the story had reached the UF Diabetes Center for Excellence, which shared it via their website and newsletter.
Finally, the donor who established the Pet Samaritan Program was on the fence about renewing his funding for the coming year. Once our development associate told him the story of Erik and Nice, he was so moved that he continued his funding of this program for another year at the same level, meaning that other animals will continue to benefit.
Dr. Dana Zimmel, Chief of Staff, UF Veterinary Hospitals
Sarah Carey, Director of Communications, College of Veterinary Medicine
Patricia Wlasuk, Assistant director of development, College of Veterinary Medicine
Rossanna Passaniti, Media Relations Coordinator, UF&Shands
Maria Farias, photographer, UF&Shands
Chris Bilowich, videographer, UF&Shands
Proactive, pre-news public relations; writing the story before it happened
Utilizing and strengthening existing relationships with reporters
Using social media to increase awareness of the need for surgery funding
Sharing powerful visuals created by UF&Shands for both internal UF and external use
Spreading the positive story to the college Development Officer; speaking with a consistent and singular voice