There’s a new project underway that will benefit shelter animals across the United States. Former MMA fighter and founder of the Anti-DogFighting Campaign, Gordon Shell, was inspired to start the shelter rehabilitation project in an effort to help even more animals find a safe place and be adopted into loving homes.

Gordon Shell stop dog fighting campaign

Gordon Shell in a Show Your Soft Side campaign. Image: Leo Howard Lubow via Gordon Shell

The first rehabilitation has already taken place at the River Rouge Animal Shelter in River Rouge, MI. Shell, along with fellow advocate and dog trainer Steffen Baldwin and his son Evan, spent nearly two weeks working to improve the shelter in both appearance and function.

Gordon Shell

(Left to Right) Steffen Baldwin, Gordon Shell, Gina Angellotti, Patricia Trevino, Walbert Beltran. Source: Gordon Shell

Shell has a background in construction, having once owned G.A. Shell and Associates construction company.

Related: This Shelter Gives Its Pit Bulls Cottages, Not Cages

He has done both commercial and residential construction, including everything from drywall to plumbing, and is more than prepared for all kinds of work needed by these shelters.

gordon shell shelter construction

Shell knows his way around a construction site. Source: Gordon Shell

At the River Rouge Animal Shelter, the jobs were as simple as painting the kennel walls and as complicated as re-routing the dryer ventilation system properly so that it was no longer a health and fire hazard. For the duct work, Shell hired an HVAC professional.

dog in shelter cage

Source: Gordon Shell

Previously, the room where the cats lived doubled as storage and was a bit chaotic. The sounds of barking dogs were stressful, which unfortunately can weaken animals’ immune systems and increase infection rates.

shelter reconstruction

The cat cages to the right behind the piles of supplies. Source: Gordon Shell

Friends of River Rouge Animal Shelter president Patricia Trevino was working at a desk within that chaos.

Related: How Shelters Label Their Dogs Can Make All The Difference In The World

Anytime she needed to field a phone call, she would have to step outside in order to be away from the sounds of barking dogs so that she could hear the person on the other line, despite any harsh Michigan weather.

disorganized shelter environment

Friends of River Rouge Animal Shelter president Patricia Trevino walking to her desk at the front of the chaotic room. Source: Gordon Shell

Shell solved both problems by building a separate room that Trevino could use as a quieter office space, with the cats housed behind it — away from the dogs.

Gordon Shell

The new office and cat room at River Rouge Animal Shelter. Source: Gordon Shell

He built two large closets to store all of the food and supplies that had been cluttering the main room. He even designated space for a waiting area where prospective adopters can be more comfortable when they come to the shelter looking for a pet.

Gordon Shell

One of the new closets with organized supplies inside (and part of a camera crew filming the project). Source: Gordon Shell

Shell told PupJournal,

“People are more likely to adopt from a shelter that looks nice where they feel comfortable. If they see pictures of dogs where the paint on the walls behind them is chipping off or the facility is lacking in some way, people focus on that instead of the animals. Dogs shouldn’t be faulted for shelters that don’t have the money to make expensive repairs.”

But appearances aren’t everything. In addition to making shelters look more presentable, he also wants to bring them up to building codes and create safer spaces for both the animals and the people working in them. Ideally, he wants to be able to build room for shelters to take in as many animals as possible.

The inspiration behind the rehab project stemmed from Shell’s work finding and rescuing dogs. “We were pulling dogs from the streets and needed places to put them,” he told PupJournal.

Shell and Baldwin were in talks with television networks about having camera crews follow them and document their investigations for the Anti-DogFighting Campaign, but it became too gritty.

Related: Pit Bull Shot By Cop Now Teaches Police Officers How To Safely Interact With Dogs

They were going into dangerous situations where they were even being shot at occasionally, so the network decided they needed a different angle. They are now in the process of pitching this idea of filming shelter rehabilitation instead — similar to an “extreme makeover.”

Gordon Shell

Steffen Baldwin, Gordon’s dog Nyla, and Shell in their swat gear before going out to investigate. Source: Gordon Shell / Facebook

Some may remember Gordon Shell as the man who challenged convicted dog fighter and NFL player Michael Vick to a pay-per-view fight where proceeds would benefit animal rescue — all despite health issues that forced him to retire from mixed-martial art fighting. More recently, he spent some time in jail after rescuing a dog from freezing temperatures.

Apart from Shell and Baldwin, other well-known animal advocates such as veterinarian Katy J. NelsonStand Up For Pits Foundation’s founder Rebecca Corry, K-9 Ninja Warrior Roo Yori, and activist Luke Westerman, will all have a hand in making these projects happen — whether it becomes a show or not.

Shell’s goal is far from notoriety. He has turned down offers to do scripted shows, because it’s the work that drives him.

Rebecca Corry

(Left to Right): Rebecca Corry, Gordon Shell, and Sean Stinchcomb at Stand Up For Pits 2013. Image: Jeanne Taylor Photography via Rebecca Corry

Shell dreams of doing the rehabilitation project full time, rehabbing at least a couple of shelters each month. In order to do this, they need funding — one advantage of having this picked up as a television show would be the corporate sponsorship that would likely provide.

Otherwise, funding is coming from t-shirt sales, donations, and Shell’s own pocket. He estimated that the River Rouge project took about $5,000 — only $300 of which was donated. Shell generously paid for the rest.

Gordon Shell

One of the awesome t-shirts for sale that will support the shelter rehabilitation work. Image: Virgil Ocampo

Aside from donations, the project also needs volunteers at each shelter. As the project grows, Shell told PupJournal that he would like to be able to hire contractors and oversee building while planning future rehabs instead of spending the majority of his time wearing the tool belt. His main goal is to help as many shelters and animals as possible.

Gordon Shell

Shell with Evan Baldwin (Steffen’s son and young activist) at an ACT OH benefit. Source: Jennifer Tackett / Facebook

As soon as Shell posted on his Facebook page about the shelter project, nearly 30 submissions poured in.

All shelters wishing to apply are being asked to make a short video and email it to to be considered. Videos should include the following:

In one sentence, starting with “Hey Gordon” or “Hey Guys” — introduce yourselves, your shelter, and where you are located.
Why do you need Gordon’s help/what does your shelter need? Start this sentence with “We need your help…”  (please avoid answers centered around financial aid).
Finish one of these three sentences (based on the area that needs the most help): 
  1. We are finding it very hard to adopt dogs out because…
  2. Do any animals at your shelter have any behavioral issues that is preventing them from finding a forever home? (please provide short examples)
  3. In regards to the actual construction of our facility we need help with…
  4. Bringing in a veterinarian to support our medical needs would help us with…

Closing: In one sentence, explain why having your shelter helped is crucial to the community.

If you wish to support the rehabilitation project, donations are being accepted on Gordon Shell’s website under “Rescue Rehab Project.”

There is also an assortment of goodies on the website, like t-shirts, hoodies, DVDs, hats, and posters that all aid in financing the mission. You can not only announce your support of ending dog fighting and rescuing animals with some really rad gear, but you’ll also be saving animals’ lives.

Header image via Gordon Shell