Why Keith Olbermann Pivoted From Politics to Rescue Pups

Keith Olbermann - Getty - H 2019
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The 'SportsCenter' host uses his popular Twitter feed to encourage his followers to rescue dogs in need of urgent adoption, rather than to attack the president.

In a 2016 video for GQ, Keith Olbermann said he "was born again" when he got a dog a few years earlier. "I realized that dogs explain enough of the meaning of life that you don't need to know any of the other possible meanings of life," he added. 

About a year later, Olbermann ended the digital video series — after 187 episodes — and decided to formally retire from political analysis and commentary (though he still hosts occasionally on SportsCenter). These days, he is still active on social media — but now he's using his platform to encourage his followers to rescue at-risk dogs in New York's shelters and beyond.

While Olbermann said he's long been passionate about finding homes for dogs in shelters, about six months ago he began to focus on saving dogs who were facing death "for no defensible reason."

Olbermann has also put his money where his mouth is, helping to defray the costs of adoptions and medical assessments or procedures. "I try to keep myself to a budget of no more than $1,000 a week in dog charity," he said in an email. "Happily, I often fail."

Growing up, Olbermann said he was deathly allergic to dogs, only learning at the age of 53 that he could handle hypoallergenic breeds.

"Having dogs for the first time at such an advanced age, I can appreciate them in ways that people who've had them all their lives might not be able to," he said. "Just how much of a positive, clarifying influence they can have on your life. So, every dog I help is really a way to say thank you to my dogs for the improvements they've made to my existence."

Olbermann works with volunteers and rescue organizations like Animal Care Centers of NYC to save as many dogs as possible, particularly in the summer months, when shelters fill up. Recently, the ACC asked to use his name as the "secret password" to wave fees on adoptions of dogs and cats. "Within a day they'd had about half a dozen dogs and just as many cats adopted with my name used," which he said was "very gratifying."

"We don't have a humongous advertising budget, so he helps tremendously," said Katy Hansen, the ACC's director of marketing and communications. "We are so grateful." (When thanked for the interview, she said, "anything for Keith.")

The former MSNBC host personally adopted a puppy with a terminal heart condition that ended up being treatable with an operation. "The pup is now sitting next to me on the couch, so robustly healthy that his biggest medical issue is a little waxy build-up in one ear," he said.

"Dog advocacy" is the primary reason why Olbermann is still on Twitter, he said: "In the last year, I've deleted my very limited presences on Facebook and Instagram. If you see 'me' on there, it's a fake account that the Zuckerberg people refuse to delete unless I give them all my personal information."

But his 1 million-plus followers on Twitter can make a big difference for organizations like the ACC. "For this municipal city shelter to have someone with that kind of awareness and following is pretty incredible," Hansen said.