The following interview is one of Lincoln Pet Culture’s most overlooked posts. Lee Legenhausen had an idea for an Omaha-centered pet website but didn’t know how to make it come alive. He started by contacting a friend who has been in the marketing business for 40 years. They brainstormed and then assembled a team. This team talked about goals, strategies, hopes, and gradually a clear vision began to emerge. Since mid-2013, the team of Lee Legenhausan, long-time friend Steve Lorenz, and copywriter Eric Forrest have worked together to make Pets in Omaha what it is today. Pets in Omaha is an online magazine designed to “aid pet owners in the care of their animals, let people discover the strength of Omaha’s pet community, and show off how much Omaha cherishes its animals”.
ALLISON: What skills—business or otherwise—does the team bring to Pets in Omaha?
ERIC: Lee is very social and is the face of Pets in Omaha. His people skills help him bring pet lovers together through many avenues. Steve brings marketing and advertising expertise from previous work and I have been a content creator and online publisher for over a decade. I also have a small publishing company which helps inform my job as an editor.
ALLISON: Why do you offer Pets in Omaha for free?
ERIC: Pets in Omaha is a free resource to readers, made possible by clients of Pets in Omaha and its advertisers. Readers have access to over 700 articles about pet care, pet events, the pet community and more thanks to the support of the site’s sponsors. The site is free because we aim to educate and help those who help animals promote their missions and celebrate successes.
ALLISON: How does each of you juggle your time with other commitments?
ERIC: Lee works at the Century Link Center in downtown Omaha and is a private investigator when he’s not working on building Pets in Omaha. Steve focuses on the growth objectives continually being set and reached for the site. I find time throughout the week to write for Pets in Omaha in between teaching literature classes, publishing the work of young writers through my publishing company Rusty Scythe and caring for my wife and two young children.
ALLISON: What is one thing the team has learned about blogging from being involved with Pets in Omaha?
ERIC: We’ve realized the power of a website with so much content and connection to local community. Though we host live events only a couple of times per year, we can stay in contact with people daily through our site and large social media presence.
ALLISON: What is one thing the team has learned about animal welfare from being involved with Pets in Omaha?
ERIC: One thing we’ve learned is that there has always been a long period of time between idea and change. It’s one thing to inform people about animal welfare and educate them; it’s another to create change in attitudes about animal and pet issues that we want to effect. It’s also hard to change the minds of people who have well-cemented perceptions and don’t care to be open to other perspectives. On the issue of pet stores selling puppy mill dogs, for example, some don’t want to accept that puppies in stores are likely commercially bred and live in deplorable conditions. Also on the actual work done by shelters, some folks are ignorant to facts and dismiss them as they don’t line up with what they think they know. We aim to teach folks about puppy mills, the importance of supporting local rescues, and the circumstances under which shelters (kill and no-kill) operate and try their best to do the most good they can.
ALLISON: What other activities do each of you enjoy besides Pets in Omaha?
ERIC: Lee is very active in the community and is engaged with many people and things. Steve is always interested in new media and loves music. I enjoy reading literary fiction and watching my children grow. We all enjoy sports and keeping up with political happenings.
ALLISON: What pets does each of you have?
ERIC: Kirby, Lee’s dog, is the inspiration behind much of what he’s helped create at Pets in Omaha. Steve has rescued the three cats he currently cares for. I love all critters and have most recently adopted two cats from the Nebraska Humane Society.
ALLISON: If I could look at the launch of Pets in Omaha and compare it to today, what has changed? How did you manage that growth?
ERIC: We’ve gone from having friends and family looking at the handful of things we’d published in 2013 to having nearly 150,000 readers, 5,000 social media followers, and over 700 articles on the site today. From having an idea of what we were trying to do to, now, seeing thousands of people visiting Pets in Omaha monthly and having tens of thousands of people coming to our live events is an obvious difference. We three have handled the majority of the work and growth ourselves, but we’ve relied on graphic designers, guest writers, and others to help us grow and manage growth.
ALLISON: How did you establish contact with local rescues and shelters? What have been their reactions and/or involvement with Pets in Omaha?
ERIC: Through content creation, our live events, and plain-old hand-shaking, we’ve met hundreds of people involved in rescue and shelter operations here. We have dozens of groups at our annual Pick-a-Pooch Adoption Days. We’ve made friends through the Nebraska Rescue Council. We’ve sponsored events and met others through our community involvement. We think our presence in the community and our content has been beneficial to rescues and shelters, and the response we get from them is always positive. At Pets in Omaha, we’re only concerned with growing the community in a loving way to promote kindness to animals through education, advocacy, and problem-solving efforts.
ALLISON: For those interested in helping animals in the way Pets in Omaha does, what advice would you give?
ERIC: We wanted to be able to help animals in a new way that could be measured and useful to all pet lovers. Sure, there’s the traditional route of donating to the local shelter, volunteering for a favorite rescue, or telling your friends to adopt and not shop, but there are plenty of folks doing that in Omaha and everywhere. By creating Pets in Omaha, the team has become able to communicate with a very large portion of the pet community, doing everything from covering news stories to advocating for puppy mill dogs. We can educate, inform, and gather the community through the strength of our networks and website. And whether it’s a how-to on teeth brushing or a hard-hitting opinion piece about a local pet store that gets its animals from commercial breeders, we’re the best place for pet lovers to find pet news and information.
Now that’s not as easy as it sounds. Over nearly four years, the group has seen nearly 150,000 visitors come to Pets in Omaha and nearly 5,000 people have followed on social media. Gathering thousands of email addresses for newsletters, getting tens of thousands to come to live events, and constantly keeping pet events available for readers is a big job. We work hard to seek community support to continually make the site bigger, better, and more far-reaching.
If one doesn’t have the time or means to start a pet blog, magazine, or website, one could consider contributing in a way of one’s own. Photograph adoptable animals and allow rescues to use the images at no cost. Share stories and spread awareness of animal issues with friends and family on social media. Contact your local government officials and see where they stand (if anywhere) on issues like pet sales in stores and online in Nebraska, humane hunting practices, and breed specific legislation. Become a reporter for a site like Pets in Omaha or Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. Though we have done most of our work with a small number of people, we are always eager to hear about what citizens at large can provide as a resource. Write a blog post and send it to magazines. Hold a sign at a peaceful protest. There are literally hundreds of things one can do if they don’t volunteer directly with rescues and shelters.
ALLISON: What are your future dreams—for Pets in Omaha and personal?
ERIC: Lee dreams of continuing to grow and help the animal community through Pets in Omaha. Steve wants to grow website visitors and clients and provide useful information to pet lovers/owners. I would love to continue educating people through content on the site. We’ve started a non-profit called “Kirby’s Hope” and continue to think about how this organization can help impact the local pet community, people and animals in need, and help humane organizations.