These days the former DJ known on local airwaves as Party Marti is busy, always busy, not with radio pitches, but with cats.
Well, dogs, too, but an awful lot of cats, thousands of them pouring yearly through the doors of Hillsborough County Animal Services where she works as spokeswoman/pitchman. Cats that don't get adopted as easily as lucky dogs. Cats that have to be euthanized. What to do about all these cats that need homes?
Last week it was a Friday night adoption event called Cats After Dark, with a live band and face painting for the kids. "Have a Kit-Kat bar on us and a PURRRR-fect weekend," Marti Ryan writes in a press release, unrepentant about puns or kitsch. Whatever gets 'em in the door.
Party Marti — a name foisted on her by her first radio bosses — will do TV or radio anytime, bringing along what she refers to in biz-speak as "live fur." And should a precocious kitten attach itself to a host's button-down collar, well, all the better. Super Bowl? Kitty Bowl! Dozens of dogs rescued from a dirty puppy mill? Yorkiepalooza, with hundreds clamoring to adopt. Veterans' Day — hmm, free pets for vets? It's a thought. She is all high-energy and smooth tones, making that Party Marti pitch.
Not that it's all big-pawed puppies and scampering kittens. It's also traipsing through a garbage-piled hoarder's home and counting the poor dead cats. It's a dog named "Mr. Snuggles" locked in a hot car while its owner goes shopping, and, by the way, how do you name your dog "Mr. Snuggles" and treat him like that? It's abuse and neglect and animal court and adoption expos. It's taking it on the road to teach kids to avoid dog bites. It's co-workers she cannot say enough about — like those at the grim business of the side gate.
Every shelter has one, she says, a place people drop off unwanted animals because they got old or didn't match the new furniture, because people genuinely could not care for them anymore, because someone saw a stray in traffic. Imagine day after day working the side gate.
They are not "dog catchers," Ryan says, cruising your neighborhood with nets. "And if you call it the pound, they'll eat me alive," she tells me. "That's like a racial slur to them."
Amid all the dog-and-cat news of late loom painful budget cuts and the possibility of dozens of jobs lost at the shelter, a prospect hard to imagine given the work they do. "They're overworked and underpaid," she says, the DJ vibe gone from her voice for a moment. "They're doing things you couldn't bear to do."
Her advantage: She understands the news tribe, knows how to do broadcast with finesse, how to make a pitch that could crack the stoniest editor's heart. In this she is relentless.
So why do we care about these animal stories, the neglect and abuse and sometimes the hope? A longtime prosecutor once told me that for all the child abuse, death and sex offense cases she handled, she never got as much mail as in one involving an agricultural teacher who killed two ailing bunnies with a shovel.
Maybe we're tired of the terrible things people do to each other. Maybe we still have it in us to get mad for animals. "Used to be if it bleeds it leads. Now if it wags it leads," says Ryan, and given the bad news that comes daily, that's not the worst headline ever.