A Conversation with Cindy Lee

Story in: Among Peers

A Conversation with Cindy Lee

The photos on the Facebook page of Cindy Lee’s foundation, Wags and Menace Make a Difference, tell a powerful story. In image after image, you see the many recipients of her foundation’s generosity. Some seem to smile for the camera; others are too exhausted or traumatized by their ordeals to register more than a plaintive expression. And Cindy is gratified by these testimonials, even if none of the recipients of her philanthropy will ever thank her in words.

Cindy has dedicated her foundation—and her life’s work—to saving animals and ending animal cruelty. Although she’s a resident of Colorado, her foundation is active across the country. Whether she’s saving wild mustangs in Nevada or shelter dogs in Connecticut, she tackles ambitious goals with unflagging generosity and energy. Here’s what she had to say about her hands-on approach, her challenges, and her “spiritual obligation” to be the voice of animals everywhere:

1. WHAT CAUSE OR ISSUE IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHY?

I’ve been through some difficult times and animals have always been there for me. I am therefore dedicated to ending animal cruelty in all its forms, whether that’s providing medical treatment for sick animals, rescuing wild mustangs, or educating the next generation on kindness, compassion, respect, and responsibility for animals. The Wags and Menace Make a Difference Foundation provides medical treatment for sick animals in Colorado and the United States, funds organizations and activities that benefit animals, and inspires, teaches, and motivates other individuals and organizations to achieve similar objectives.

2. WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LAUNCH A PRIVATE FOUNDATION?

I lost my father when I was very young and it was devastating. I still deal with it every day. I was the youngest of three, and animals were there for me. They were my teachers. I feel that I have a spiritual obligation to be their voice.

3. WHAT DO YOU KNOW NOW ABOUT BEING A GRANTMAKER THAT YOU WISH YOU KNEW STARTING OUT?

I did not realize how much my volunteering impacted the growth of fundraising for sick and homeless animals. It’s not just about donating the money—it’s about showing up. And I showed up before I had the money. I try to build momentum with people; be infectious; be part of the solution. Volunteering is a spiritual, ethical component to being a human being. That’s why I was pulling horses out of mud last fall during the flood in Northern Colorado. I want to be involved.

4. WHAT IS THE MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE YOU FACE IN RUNNING A PRIVATE FOUNDATION?

There are negatives and positives associated with being a private foundation instead of a public charity. The board of a public charity can be a challenge; but as a private foundation, there are a lot of compliance rules that can make it complicated to collaborate. When tax laws discourage collaboration, people tend to work in silos and that stunts growth for the entire sector.

5. WHAT DO YOU GET FROM GIVING?

I did my 20 years’ corporate penance and now this is my calling and my passion. It’s the path I walk. I hear my father’s voice and feel that his spirit is in me, telling me to “stand your ground!” Working with animals helps me become a better human being. It’s why I’m here.

6. NAME ONE PHILANTHROPIST, PRESENT OR PAST, WHOM YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE COFFEE WITH, AND WHY?

Mother Theresa! I would love to embrace her whole way of life. She spoke for the poor, the sick, and for those who don’t have a voice. I am trying to be the voice for animals. I would ask her, “How do you embrace that spiritual vision?” Eight cups later, I’d still be listening!

7. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INSPIRATIONAL SAYING?

“Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission–to be of service to them whenever they require it… If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

— Saint Francis of Assisi

8. NAME ONE INDIVIDUAL OR ORGANIZATION THAT HAS PARTICULARLY IMPRESSED YOU. WHY?

I work with a tremendous team of nonprofits, each of which has its own strengths and assets that have helped me make a difference in the lives of animals. Instead of organizations, I research worthy projects. I’ll watch over an organization’s social media presence for months to learn more about what they do.

9. IF YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH ONE THING WITH YOUR PHILANTHROPY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

I would love to eliminate animal abuse and embrace and heighten animal education in the world.

10. WHAT QUESTION DO YOU WISH WE HAD ASKED, AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

I think you got the essence of what I do and what I’m about. I was raised as a tough Irish Catholic, and my passion and commitment is what drives me and helps me be the voice of animals.