Story by Jeanne Towar
— Joe Sowerby is a successful business executive, an author, a marathon runner, a former professional boxing referee, a motivational speaker and a community leader, but his first love is making a difference in the lives of thousands of homeless dogs and cats.
Sowerby, president of Anton, Sowerby & Associates, a professional real estate brokerage headquartered in Mt. Clemens, is better known as the founder of the largest adoption events in the United States – Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo and Pet-A-Palooza.
Sowerby has shared his home with pets his whole life. In 1992, he lost a beloved cat in an accident.
“At about the same time, I read an article about new Detroit Zoo CEO Ron Kagan, who hated the idea of killing animals as much as I did,” Sowerby said. “A light came on and I thought, ‘what better place to adopt animals from than the zoo?’ I cold called Director Kagan and we came up with the idea of having an adoption event in the zoo parking lot. “
“I recruited the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) as the adoption partner and, with a lot of my time and spiritual support, the first Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo took place in 1993,” Sowerby continued. “In just one afternoon, we found homes for 113 dogs and cats. MHS had never adopted out 113 animals in a week, much less (in) a day.”
Nobody imagined such a stunning success. Sowerby wanted to build on that success and reached out to other animal welfare organizations. Within five years, Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo grew from one animal rescue organization to 25, and from adopting out 113 animals to 500 to 600. Although Sowerby is no longer directly involved, Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo semiannual events continue to find homes for some 800 companion animals in need of forever homes.
For another 10 years, Sowerby helped homeless dogs and cats get adopted by founding his second pet adoption event, Pet-A-Palooza; first at Freedom Hill in Sterling Heights, also Heritage Park in Taylor, then at the Palace of Auburn Hills. During this time, he and his wife Kata had a second home in Sedona, Arizona, where he brought Pet-A-Palooza to northern Arizona. With the help of local shelters and media, Sowerby found homes for hundreds of homeless pets out west.
He estimates that more than 40,000 pets were saved over those 20 years. He laughingly says he is an anonymous godfather to thousands of four-legged children.
Jeff Payne, local news editor of The Macomb Daily and Royal Oak Tribune newspapers, said: “Having the wary mindset of a journalist, one of the first questions I had for Joe was, ‘what’s in it for you?’
“It became clear after my first conversation with Joe that there was no monetary gain. Instead, what he got out of the event over the years was enrichment of his soul. These animals were his passion, and I suspect, if given the choice of closing a million-dollar deal or saving some homeless animals, Joe would have chosen the latter.”
“Joe Sowerby is a pioneer animal welfare advocate,” said Michigan Pet Alliance (MPA) Chair Deborah Schutt. “He realized that you can’t save them unless you can get them into peoples’ homes. He came along at a very critical time and spent his own time, talents and finances to fill a critical role.
“MPA appreciates him stepping up to enroll Anton, Sowerby & Associates as the first corporate member of the Michigan Pet Alliance.”
“Life’s best deals aren’t always for money,” Sowerby said. “I’ve been paid in a different currency.”
Michigan Pet Alliance membership is open to individuals, animal shelters, rescues, other non-profits, businesses and corporations who share MPA’s vison of working together to achieve the best quality of life for Michigan’s companion animals. Go online to michiganpet.org to join.