News: Guest Posts
My Rescue Trifecta, Plus One
Helping a dog—or three—gets personal. [Web exclusive]

Until recently, my understanding of “rescue” has been too traditional and narrow. I’ve been a breed foster mom. But rescue? Isn’t that something done by selfless, saintly people in nonprofit organizations who give their entire lives to assisting dogs and other animals? Those who drop everything to rescue homeless and lost animals after a natural disaster? I’m no saint.

Yet 2008 was my year of the “rescue trifecta,” when I unexpectedly played a direct role in the rescue of three dogs. I learned anyone can facilitate a rescue when he or she stumbles upon the need. All that’s required is a little creative thinking, lots of compassion and a willingness to see it through. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

Rescue #1: Buddy, Easter Sunday, 2008
How appropriate—even for this ardently unreligious woman—that my rescue trifecta started on Easter Sunday, the Christian holiday of rebirth and resurrection. I was living in the mountains of Idaho, near McCall. Ponderosa State Park sits on the edge of town. The park is groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter.

I knew if I got on the ski trails early Easter morning, I’d have the park to myself. And I did, until, about 10 minutes into my ski, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I stopped and turned to see a large dog of indeterminate lineage. He also stopped. We considered each other, our breath hanging in the frigid air. I called softly, “Hey there…” with my hand extended in greeting, but he stood his ground. Dogs are not allowed on these trails. I assumed he lived nearby and wandered into the park for the same reason I came—peace on a beautiful, sunny morning.

I started skiing again. He followed. He trotted alongside me, then ahead, behind, off into the trees after a chipmunk, back alongside. Yet he wouldn’t come close enough for me to touch. Okay, play it your way, big guy. Let’s ski.

Onward we went, a quiet yet simpatico pair, deeper into the park. The white path, sparkling in the early light, contrasted with the grooved brown bark of tall pines topped with branches of long green needles. Sunshine filtered through the tree tops. The temperature was in the single digits, making everything crisp and vibrant. Views of frozen, snow-covered Payette Lake sneaked through the trees. Somehow, having this dog along made the experience even more perfect.

Soon we came to a fork in the trail. The dog took the right fork. I went left, a little sad he would no longer be my companion, but hoping he was going home. I’d gone only a few yards when he appeared beside me again, before charging off into the trees after another chipmunk.

I started talking to him, as I do my own dogs when I take them on trails with me. “Hey, Buddy. Having fun? Good dog!” I missed my dogs. He assuaged that longing. I laughed and smiled at his antics, launching into the deep untracked snow after critters, clearly having a ball.

After 45 minutes, we reached my turnaround point. I stepped out of my skis, planted my poles, and moved off the trail to pee. Buddy stayed nearby, seeming to guard me. After pulling up my tights, I squatted again, to his level. “Hey, Buddy, come say hi,” I murmured. This time, he did. He not only sniffed my ungloved hand, he melted into my embrace, almost knocking me back into the snow. Oh my. We instantly, incredibly, bonded. He trusted me.

His collar carried no tags. He didn’t feel overly thin. His coat was thick and clean. His eyes were warm and bright.

I spent the return leg wondering, “Is he lost? Abandoned? He can’t have been lost for long.”

I stopped by the ranger’s office and asked if she recognized the dog. “No, but we get strays in the park all the time,” she said. “I usually just call McPaws [the local shelter] and they send someone over to pick them up.”

I wasn’t quite satisfied with that solution. I went outside again. A car with a couple and their two dogs had just arrived. I asked if they recognized Buddy. “No,” the woman said. “But I volunteer at McPaws. I could take him over when we’re done skiing.” This sounded a little better. But I was also thinking I could provide a foster home for him. I knew my two female Malamutes would adore him. “Could I see how he behaves toward your dogs?” I asked the woman. She agreed, saying her female could be a little aggressive. Buddy was off leash; her dog was on leash, and yes, a bit pushy. Buddy simply turned his head away and was completely non-threatening, letting the other dog sniff and posture all she wanted. His was the perfect reaction.

I spent the next ten minutes fighting with myself: “Take him home!” then “No, he’d be 10 miles from his likely home in town.” I finally realized that, if he did have a home, his family would most easily find him at McPaws. With the woman’s assurance she would take him there, and the ranger’s offer to keep him in her office until that time, I left Buddy with the ranger.

My mind churned as I drove home. I wasn’t ready to adopt Buddy myself. I’d been thinking about getting another dog for more than a year, but a much smaller and younger dog. I already have two 80 pound dogs; I didn’t need another large one. But I couldn’t just forget him. In those 90 minutes skiing together, we understood each other, trusted each other. We bonded. He chose me, and now he was mine in the sense that I felt responsible for his wellbeing.

Inspiration struck. Friends in Seattle, who winter in McCall, had lost their 14-year-old Golden a couple of years before. I called them Sunday afternoon, planting the seed. I can be devious, that way. They didn’t reject the idea outright.

Monday dawned. I called the shelter to check on Buddy. Closed! Somehow I waited until they opened Tuesday. Yes, he was there, and doing well. “Very calm, a very sweet dog,” I was told. (This, I already knew.) They found a microchip and would try to reach the person listed. If that failed, he could be adopted as early as Saturday.

I visited Buddy at the shelter. We hugged and I cooed. He was calm and friendly, but subdued. I learned that the phone number on his chip had been disconnected. All other efforts to trace the name failed, but they’d keep trying. I started to wonder if Buddy was a “foreclosure” dog – left behind by a family no longer able to afford to live here.

My Seattle friends called Tuesday evening to ask more questions about Buddy. Good sign. On Wednesday, they drove ten hours to McCall to meet Buddy. Great sign.

We met at the shelter on Thursday. The visit went well. Wife was ready. Husband played it cool. I saw a crack in his armor when he arranged and paid for Buddy to be bathed as we left that day. “Whether we adopt him or not, he should look good.”

The next day, my friends called to say they’d do it and by Saturday “Buddy” was in his new home. But what to name him? They felt he needed a solid, manly name. I jokingly suggested Wally, in my honor, since he found me in the park, I rescued him, and matched him with them. Wally it is.

When I brought the ranger up to speed a few months later, she smiled and said, “Sounds like he found his own Wally’s World.”

Rescue #2: Hope, May 2008
My job was to worry about the man, but I found myself more worried about the puppy.

I sometimes act as a guardian ad litem (temporary, court-appointed guardian) for alleged incapacitated persons. The local prosecutor asked me to represent the best interests of Sam (not his real name), a 77-year-old man who, she feared, was sinking into dementia and unable to care for himself.

I first met Sam in the prosecutor’s office. We quickly discovered common ground: He had graduated from law school and loved dogs. He had a puppy back at his trailer, he said. “The puppy’s blind. Gonna have to put him down,” Sam told me.

I followed Sam to his “home” which was the sort of camper trailer that fits in the bed of a pick-up, set in a gravel parking lot. All his earthly belongings were stuffed inside or underneath it. His landlord disconnected water and electric hook-ups in an attempt to get Sam to leave. His toilet was an old coffee can. It was a warm June day and the puppy was locked inside the trailer. I was saddened by the general clutter and disarray of Sam’s trailer and living circumstances, but happy to see food and water bowls set out for the pup.

Hope, the pup, was an eight-week-old purebred Pointer. Sam picked him up by his scruff, as Hope had no collar. Sam lamented Hope’s blindness and explained that one can’t have that in a hunting line, so Hope would have to be shot. He’d taken Hope to the vet, he said, seeking a cure. The more I heard and observed, the more concerned I became, for both Sam and Hope.

Sam set the pup on the ground. As I watched Hope scamper around the trailer and into the street, it was obvious to me that Hope’s eyes, nose and ears were fully functional. My most immediate fear was that he’d be hit by a car. Apparently, Sam’s previous puppy met just such a fate.

Normally, my job as guardian ad litem would include an investigation of Sam’s current circumstances, his family or community connections, mental and physical health needs, and ultimately, a recommendation to the court regarding his ability to manage his own affairs, whether a guardianship of any level was necessary. This was the first time, in my 25 years of doing this work, that I was so directly confronted with the issue of a pet. Pets are property, and, as such, they would eventually become the responsibility of a guardian, should the court appoint one. In the meantime, Sam was the owner, and made the decisions; he could decide to kill Hope. I simply couldn’t let that happen. This puppy needed immediate care and a safe living situation. Neither I nor anyone else could deprive Sam of his property without a hearing and order from the judge, but that could take days or weeks. My legal duty was to investigate and advocate for Sam’s best interests; my moral duty was to also advocate for this helpless and innocent puppy, to save its life.

McPaws, the local shelter, was bursting at the seams with “foreclosure” pets. Besides, Hope wasn’t a stray or surrendered animal. It would be a clear conflict of interest for me to take Hope. I asked everyone I knew if they’d take the pup. Finally – with the prosecutor working to get Sam on board – a court clerk stepped forward, saying she would take Hope in on a foster basis; if Sam was unable to reclaim him, she would adopt him permanently. Sam, to my relief, was happy with this arrangement; with his mental health issues, I don’t think he was capable of bonding with the puppy.

Another successful rescue! I learned, two months later, that Hope was doing wonderfully in his new home, as was Sam (assisted living, in another community).

Rescue #3: Finn MacCool, July, 2008 
Now it was time to address my own companion animal needs. I wanted to add a young, smaller dog to my pack. My two Malamutes—best trail running companions a woman could ever want—are aging and slowing. Our runs are getting shorter, and less frequent; often we just hike or walk.

Many trail running friends have Aussies. Good trail dogs. I investigated breeders, while regularly surfing Petfinder.com. The idea of rescuing appealed to me; my interest increased after the experiences with Wally and Hope. A friend recommended a specific rescue organization. Within a couple weeks of my contacting the organization and completing their paperwork, I was offered a young male, about six months old, likely a mini-Aussie.

He and his siblings had been dumped at the door of a shelter in eastern Washington by an unscrupulous breeder known to the local breed-rescue community. The first attempt to get all three to the Idaho rescue failed; while his siblings arrived safely, this boy got away and was a stray for a month until he was found tied to the front door of another shelter, miles away. Photos verified it was the same dog.

In for a rescue penny, in for a pound!

I named this rescued redheaded mini-Aussie Finn MacCool, after a minor Celtic god: The heroic Finn-MacCool delights in cross-country running into strange situations with dogged persistence. Finn has some separation anxiety, but gains confidence daily. My Malamutes accept Finn completely. He brings out their inner-puppy, shaving years off their ages. Occasionally all three hike trails with me, Finn leading the charge. His name fits him, and he fits me.

Coda, July 20, 2009
It happened again. Last night, I was riding my bike on Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle. I came down and around a bend to see a wet dog dash up a driveway and into the road in front of me, obviously scared and lost. Left alone, he’d surely be hit by a car. I braked, twisted my bike shoes out of the pedals, and stopped, straddling my bike. “Hey you, come say hello,” I calmly said. To my surprise, he did. His butt wiggled in friendliness, and he sniffed my hand. He was soaking wet, making me guess he’d been swimming in Lake Washington. He shook, soaking me! I noticed a Haltie dangling from his neck. He allowed me to pet him and wrap my fingers around the main band of the Haltie so I could control him, keeping him out of the road. He wore no other collar, no obvious ID. Now what?

He seemed willing to stay with me, so I quickly got off my bike and tossed it into some roadside shrubs. I scanned the area, but no people appeared; I couldn’t hear anyone calling out. With cleats on my bike shoes, walking was difficult. I walked with the dog—either a very tall Wheaten, a cream-colored Standard Poodle, or a mix—across the road to peer down the driveway he’d come from. No one appeared to be home at the house at the top of the driveway, and I wasn’t able to walk down the steep drive to the house down below.

I pulled my cell phone out, but wasn’t yet ready to make the call for animal control. A few cars passed. I hoped one would see the incongruity of a woman wearing a bike helmet and shoes holding a wet dog by the side of the road, but no one stopped or offered to help. Finally, I sat with the dog on someone’s lawn, determined to wait as long as I could before dark fell. The dog stretched out next to me and started rolling in the grass, tossing his legs in the air and pushing them against me; he grunted with joy and pleasure, making me laugh out loud.

Ten minutes later, a car came around the corner and made a beeline for us. A young man, jumped out, smiling broadly with relief and hugged the dog, who was clearly glad to see him. I explained my end of the transaction. The young man said they were at a friend’s house when the dog spooked, ran under a fence, into the lake and just kept going. Boaters saw him swimming. We were a good half-mile away from where the dog started! After introducing himself, the man thanked me profusely for keeping his dog safe. I said no thanks were necessary, I hoped others would do the same if one of my dogs was lost. I did diplomatically suggest he make sure his dog always had ID on him in the future, just in case.

As I rode home I felt such joy at helping reunite dog and guardian. I mentioned the episode on my Facebook page and got lots of atta girls! from my friends.

My rescue trifecta—Wally, Hope and Finn—plus one has taught me that rescues can be accomplished by anyone, with a minimum of effort but an abundance of concern for the animal. Rescues can present themselves in a wide assortment of scenarios.

Imagine if all of us took on the welfare of just one rescue dog or cat a year. Maybe you find a stray and deliver it to the Humane Society or local shelter, following its status until it has been adopted. Maybe through your job as a social worker, home health care worker or hospital employee, you hear about a pet suddenly alone (because it’s human has died or is gravely ill) and arrange for its care. Perhaps you find a dog or cat, injured by the side of the road, or lost after a natural disaster, and take it to a vet for treatment, guaranteeing payment or asking friends to pitch in to cover the cost. You can do something.

Even if we can’t foster or adopt the animal, we can work our contacts, place some calls, write some emails, do our utmost to reunite them with their guardians, or if none can be found, search for a new home, taking that burden away from an already overcrowded and financially strapped shelter system. We can donate the cost of food and vet care while that dog or cat is in shelter or rescue or foster care. We can visit them, soothing, socializing and exercising them, which makes them easier to adopt.

Make that one pet your project in 2009. Make it personal. It’s not that difficult; it doesn’t require a long term commitment. It simply requires a big heart and a can-do attitude. The rewards—for pets, and us—are enormous.

News: Guest Posts
Unfriendly Fire
Must read: Report on police shootings of dogs.

In his recent Daily Beast story, “Dogs in A Deadly Crossfire,” Radley Balko reports on an increase in media accounts “of police shooting the family pet—with a notable lack of remorse or disciplinary consequences.” Balko’s beat is police misconduct, with a special focus on paramilitary tactics. From what he sees, dogs are increasingly innocent victims of a war footing at PD’s around the country.

Obviously, the police need to protect themselves but incident reports suggest something out of control, including raids on the wrong homes where pets of bystanders are shot—even when step are taken to keep them away from the police. How about this example from Balko’s piece?

“Last year … a local news station in Oklahoma aired security-camera footage of a police officer pulling into driveway of dog owner Tammy Christopher—just to ask for directions. In the video, Christopher’s Wheaten terrier runs out from the house, and it’s difficult to tell whether the dog is charging the officer or bounding out to greet him. But the officer was on the dog’s property. And instead of merely getting back into his car, he pulled out his gun and shot the dog dead. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Balko asks the question: If dangerous dogs are so common, why does a spokesman from the United States Postal Service say that serious dog attacks on mail carriers are “vanishingly rare”? Maybe, in part, because postal workers are trained in how “to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace.” Few police departments provide this same training (New York City is a notable exception). It suggests that this is an issue about which police really don’t care.

Also, Balko presents evidence that shooting a dog can create more problems than it solves. Grazed dogs can become angry; misfires can strike a person. And in one case, a police officer mistook shots at a dog for hostile fire and ended up killing an unarmed mother with her baby in her arms.

News: Guest Posts
Dogs Were Burned in A Barrel
Just one of many horrific details after the largest dogfighting seizure ever.

When you heard that federal and local authorities across multiple states seized 450 dogs and arrested 26 people in the country’s largest dogfighting bust to date, what was your reaction? The dogs who were fought, of course, bore the psychological and physical scars to prove it; the dogs who could not fight suffered even worse fates. According to one Missouri prosecutor, those dogs were shot in the head, thrown in the river or burned in a barrel. That’s right. I can’t get that last image out of my head. Who are these people who could even think up such a thing much less follow through on it?

If you’re like me and have a Pit Bull or Pit mix, you’re likely already deeply involved in changing the public perception of bully breeds. But what about those of you who don’t have a Pit or know one personally? I was talking to a friend who wants to get her first dog. We discussed what kind (Boston Terrier) and from where (rescue group). While discussing different breeds, I was surprised at her comment that she will never trust a Pit Bull because they can “turn on you.” She is an intelligent, well-educated person. If she believes this myth, no wonder so many other people do, too. It’s frightening. Are there so-called dog people who think that Pit Bulls are simply doing what comes natural? Or that they don’t feel pain because they’re so "tough"?

In speaking with folks at an Agility show this past weekend, I was surprised at how most people just had passing knowledge of the seizure and just kind of shrugged. They thought it was good news, of course, but it didn’t seem to affect them or their chosen breed(s) of dog, so they didn’t give it much more thought. The people at these shows are insane for their dogs, always giving them the best food, vet care and more. Wouldn’t they want  the same for all dogs?

The longer I live with dogs, the more I (unwittingly) learn about how many dog factions there are. There are people who only love big dogs or only small dogs. Some insist on purebreds  from a breeder while others will always adopt a mix from a shelter, and both parties are emphatic that theirs is the only way to get a dog. I could go on and on. My point is that as dog lovers, couldn’t we accomplish so much more when it comes to humane treatment if we all stood united? What keeps us from coming together and forging a bond between each other that’s as strong as the one between us and our dogs?

News: Guest Posts
More Bad Parenting
A Midwestern family sells hundreds of dogs on the side.

Which is worse, that a mother-daughter breeding operation in Southern Indiana was recently charged with tax evasion or that the pair had 240 dogs on their rural property? This was their idea of quality family time? Unbelievable.

The pair sold hundreds of dogs and puppies since 2004 but never claimed the money as income or pay taxes on it. What I’d like to know is who they sold those dogs and puppies to? Pet shops? Private buyers? Surely, someone knew what was really going on during the past five years and could’ve gone to the authorities much sooner. What would motivate people to tell the truth about puppy mill operations in their own neighborhood? 

News: Guest Posts
Another Stop on the Underdog Railway
Q & A with Dawn Painter, who lets her fingers do the saving.

“The email that started us on this journey arrived in my in-box on December 23, with the subject line: Black Wednesday of Death in Harrodsburg, KY—Please, Help! … How could I ignore that plea?” writes Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska in her story about Kit and Holly—puppies she adopted from a Kentucky rescue last December.

For those of us who volunteer or work for or support shelters and rescues, this sort of e-missive is familiar. When we receive these dog-needs-home notices we become possible links in a chain that may connect a stray in Georgia with a loving home in Maine, or a puppy mill refugee in Kansas with a family in California. The email from “James Painter” that caught Claudia’s eye, actually came from his daughter, Dawn, who uses her parents’ email as part of her effort to help southern shelters and rescues find homes for homeless dogs often in far away locations.

We catch up with the Dawn Painter in the second part of our online series on the people behind animal transport—the grassroots network that moves dogs from shelters in the South or the Midwest to communities where they have a better chance of finding a good adoptive home. (In the first part, we talked to the founders of C.A.R.E., who transport homeless dogs and cats via van convoy from shelters in the Midwest to rescues in Colorado.)

Painter, 38, is a classic animal welfare advocate, making time to help in addition to a full-time job—in her case, in the planning department at UPS. She lives with four rescue cats in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. She has not website, and relies exclusively on email. As you might expect, we communicated with Painter via email and she responded in that efficient, spare text language that allows her to get more from each keystroke. (We have “translated” her answers into pre-texting English.)

TheBark.com: How did you get involved in this work?
Dawn Painter: I began by helping local shelters by going to yard sales and buying pet supplies then donating them. Seeing the shelters made me realize how Kentucky is in dire need of financial support for its homeless animals. I love going to yard sales, thrift stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Craigslist, and even dumpster diving for pet supplies.  Through the years, I have adopted through Animal Protection Association and Shamrock.

Bark: Are you connected to any organization or are you simply a one-woman advocate?
Painter: I just try to take turns with the different shelters and rescue groups. I do not officially work for any of them; I just do what I can.

Bark: As we understand it, you pull together and send out urgent calls for adoption or shelter help from around the country. Can you explain your role: How do you learn about dogs in need, and how you try to connect dogs in need with people who can help?
Painter: The people that head the shelters and rescue groups started adding me to their address books and thus the rescue, support and funding emails started. I forward them along to whomever I think can help. When my parents got a computer, I decided to make a breed-specific address book so that I can send the information directly to those who can help out that cat/dog. I also have a support group, so whenever there is an email regarding that I forward it there.

Any type of abuse cases, I have a contact who is a prosecutor. Of course, I have a cat group so a lot of my emails go to those no-kill sanctuaries. Shelters that are in dire need get forwarded to my animal welfare organizations (Best Friends, IDA, ASPCA, etc.). I also have a rehab and rescue group, and all the dogs that are good therapy dogs I send their information to them.

I love to get news clippings about how dog/cats help inmates or residents at nursing homes. I forward these to shelters in the hopes that they will contact their local facilities. I also have media-type contacts where I forward any emails regarding abuse, special events by animal organizations, puppy mills, etc.

Bark: Do you know what happens after you send out emails?
Painter: I usually find out when dogs have found a forever home and I just praise God and St. Francis.

Bark: Do you worry that there will be too many email alerts going out and that people will start to tune you out?
Painter: I try not to worry about sending out too much. If someone wants me to remove them from the list I always do so.
Bark: Are you ever overwhelmed?
Painter: It is very sad how many dogs/cats are put down each year. Every night, I say a prayer to St. Francis in the hopes that people will bring love, care, funding to all animal-related issues. I pray people become more responsible regarding spay/neutering. I pray that those four-legged babies who were put down are now in pet heaven and are playfully running through the fields and soaking up the sun with not a care in the world.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paula Abdul Helping People and Animals
Auction will benefit Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS) Program

Many women in situations of domestic violence delay leaving because they don’t want to leave their pets behind and they can’t take them with them because so few women’s shelters have the ability to house pets. There is a growing recognition that women stay in violent situations rather than leave their pets with their abusers and that bringing pets with them provides comfort and security. As a result, more women’s shelters are seeking to enable women to bring their pets with them when they flee an abusive situation to start a new life in safety.

Paula Abdul is the spokesperson for American Humane Association’s Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS) Program, which helps shelters fund and set up such programs. Abdul has written a letter encouraging domestic violence shelters to start programs that accommodate pets. She will be auctioning off many items from her own wardrobe with a portion of the proceeds going to PAWS.

Check out the auction on eBay. Fans of American Idol will recognize clothes and accessories that Abdul wore on the show.

News: Guest Posts
Only 72 Hours to Live
Will California reduce shelter stays from 6 days to 3 to save money?

What is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s problem with companion animals? Less than a year after his ill-begotten plan to close the state’s budget gap, in part, with a whopping 10 percent tax on veterinary services, he’s proposed reducing shelters’ minimum holding time for stray animals, from six days to three, before they can be euthanized.

Three days? 72 hours? What sort of chance will these animals have? How long does it take to get the word out—photos and bios on websites—in order to find a good forever home?

Aside from the terrible toll this will take in terms of lives, I wonder how practical it is from a financial perspective. I mean, isn’t that the point? Many predicted the governor’s failed veterinary tax would end up costing the state more as guardians who couldn’t afford treatment abandoned animals or surrendered them to shelters. The shorter shelter stay will most certainly drive up the number of euthanizations, which will probably cost more money or wash away any savings from reduced time limits.

Now’s the time for positive solutions, such as Assembly Bill 233, which allows Californians who adopt pets from government-run and nonprofit shelters to write off up to $100 in adoption fees. It’s a small thing, maybe, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Want to take action? Sign a petition against the shelter proposal and learn how you can support Assembly Bill 233.

News: Guest Posts
Have Van, Will Travel
Q & A with the women behind C.A.R.E.

It’s a simple truth that a homeless dog in the South or the Midwest may have a better chance of finding a good adoptive home in the Northeast or cities in the West. For these dogs in overcrowded, under-funded shelters, transportation can mean the difference between life and death.

When Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska adopted Kit and Holly from a rescue in Kentucky over Christmas, she learned the shelter had a program for sending dogs to new homes in the North but not out West where she lives. A little more digging to find a ride for the puppies revealed a formal and informal network of individuals and organizations with planes, trucks and automobiles working together—supported by countless Internet posters and email blasters—to get dogs to places where their future is brighter.

Inspired and intrigued by this grassroots cooperative effort, TheBark.com will be talking to folks who are part of this underdog railroad. We begin with Linda Fox, transport coordinator, and Lisa Mendelsberg, program administrator, for Colorado Animal Rescue Express (C.A.R.E.), a 501c3 public charity.

At least once a week, C.A.R.E. drivers provide safe transport for homeless dogs and cats in the Midwest to Colorado, where rescue organizations have promised to find them new homes or where adoptive families are already waiting. Through Jake’s Fund, C.A.R.E. also provides help, when possible, with veterinary expenses and spay/neuter procedures. C.A.R.E also collects donations of food and supplies and delivers them to shelters and rescues. In the two years since C.A.R.E. began, Fox, Mendelsberg and an army of dedicated volunteers have logged more than 245,000 miles to bring 3,993 dogs and 345 cats to 96 rescues.

In May, we talked with Linda Fox, while she drove in a three-van convoy through a rainstorm more than 300 miles to Hays, Kansas. She was on the pick-up leg of what would be C.A.R.E.'s biggest transport to date—73 dogs from Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas. In early June, we caught up with Lisa Mendelsberg, who was working on grant requests to cover the costs of the transports. They talked to us about the logistics, challenges and joys of transport.

TheBark.com: How did you get started?
Lisa Mendelsberg: We both volunteered for Golden Retriever Freedom Rescue in Colorado and met at a holiday party in December 2004. At that time, Linda was arranging intake and providing the transport for Golden Retrievers coming in from out of state. I started driving with her and it was evident that we felt our transports could help all breeds of dogs. We formed C.A.R.E. in June 2007 to provide lifesaving transport to all dogs and cats with rescue commitments.  

Bark: How do dogs get onto a transport?
Linda Fox: Most of the dogs come on our transports because rescuers network the dogs on the Internet. For example, pictures and bios of dogs needing homes in Holton, Kansas, would be sent to me and to the other rescuers and we post them on our rescue network. Once rescuers in Colorado say they’ll accept a dog in their program, the shelter or rescue group sends me all the pertinent travel information, assurance that a Health Certificate will be obtained, and then transport is arranged as soon as possible.

Bark: Who pays for transportation?
Fox: C.A.R.E. runs on individual and rescue donations, grants and fundraisers. It costs an average of $26 to transport each dog to safety. We continuously need to fundraise.


The transports are expensive. We pay for rental vans in multiple cities, insurance, gasoline and we cover our drivers’ out-of-pocket expenses. This transport today to move the 73 dogs will be more than $1,300.

Bark: Where do the vans come from?
Fox: We rent cargo vans from Enterprise. We analyzed buying a van, but for safety reasons, it is better to rent with inspections and cleanings before each trip. Also, if we were to break down, Enterprise would respond with delivery of a similar vehicle. If we owned our own van, can you imagine trying to check into a hotel with 30 dogs while it was being repaired?!

Bark: Who are your passengers?
Mendelsberg: Dogs and cats come primarily from high-kill shelters, owner surrenders and from other rescue organizations. We are also fortunate to be able to transport dogs being released from puppy mills. This year because the economy has been so challenging, we’re transporting a lot of dogs that have been abandoned when people move, the ones that are the silent victims of the economy.

Bark: What does it mean for the dogs in Colorado when you bring dogs in from out of state? Or put another way, why shouldn’t regions take care of their own dogs?

Fox: I do think there will always be the need to transport some animals to safety. In the second half of 2009, Lisa and I will be working with our strong Midwest contacts to help them utilize the existing resources in their own communities. We will work with them to educate their local citizens on the benefits of sterilizing their pets, thereby reducing the number of unwanted litters and animals that will be euthanized in shelters.

What does it mean for the dogs in Colorado? The rescues that I talk to say shelters in Colorado are doing a good job of getting the dogs adopted. In the rural and remote areas, options for rescue and adoption are not very easy. If some dogs need transport instate from a rural area to a metro area, C.A.R.E. will help cover the cost of transport. Sadly, there are still dogs being euthanized in Colorado and Midwest shelters.

Mendelsberg: Each dog that we transport has a rescue commitment. Our network has dedicated individuals and organizations in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas that work diligently to save the homeless animals in their area. The purpose of C.A.R.E. is taking a dog from a place where they have virtually no chance of being adopted and moving them to areas where they will go into rescues and have visibility and be placed correctly and hopefully permanently. We are just fortunate to have the resources in Colorado to help our neighboring states with their pet overpopulation.

Bark: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the fact that there is this constant supply of dogs needing new homes?
Fox: I do feel that every day. You try to look at the good side rather than dwell on the bad. You think about the success stories and the wonderful new homes for these dogs that have come to Colorado rescues. Of course, you think about the ones you could not save, and then you start over working on obtaining rescue commitments for more homeless dogs.

Mendelsberg: Absolutely, I feel that we’re making a difference for the dogs we are able to save through our C.A.R.E. transports and Jake’s Fund distributions. However, basically what we are doing is just a Band-Aid for the overpopulation dilemma. We have learned that people must be educated on the necessity for sterilization and we are hoping our new C.A.R.E. brochure on spay/neuter will have some impact. We also are raising the awareness that people should adopt from shelters and rescues instead of buying from the pet stores. 

Bark: What other goals do you have for C.A.R.E.?
Fox & Mendelsberg: Our key focus besides transport and Jake’s Fund is to really work with our excellent rescue contacts in the Midwest and help them help themselves more than just relying on C.A.R.E. to move the homeless animals to Colorado. We will be working on setting up and helping to fund spay/neuter events. We will work with veterinarians in these areas to offer their local population affordable spay and neuter procedures. Last, we’re hoping our new spay/neuter brochure will debunk some of the myths on sterilization and make people realize the best thing they can do for their pets is to get them sterilized.
Bark: Does your work for C.A.R.E. take a lot of time?
Fox & Mendelsberg: C.A.R.E. is a team success. We’re the engines but we rely so much on good assessments of the dogs, our tireless drivers, and all the rescuers who take these dogs into their programs. Everybody is a hard worker and makes such a special effort to assure the safety and comfort of those travelling. It takes a community to save one of these dogs. To make this work, we need an army of people committed. It’s total cooperation among so many people who put the dog’s best interest and well being first.  Surely the Internet, digital cameras and cell phones have contributed to the rescue of countless animals from places where it would be hard for them to find a second chance at a real family life.
Why do we do this? We all love the dogs. It's not the dogs that are lucky; it’s the people who are getting the dogs that are lucky to have their lives so enriched. These animals have been through so much but they are so forgiving and so resilient. There is so much that can be learned from these wonderful rescue animals.  


C.A.R.E. is always looking for volunteers to help with driving, fundraising, and educating the public on the necessity for spay/neuter.


To learn more about C.A.R.E., see photos of dogs saved through transport, and find out how you can support them, visit www.caretransport.org. Donations can be made online at or by mail to C.A.R.E., 5276 South Hanover Way, Englewood, CO 80111.

News: Guest Posts
Are No-Kill Shelters the Solution?
Or are they “animal warehouses” as some critics claim?

A shelter in rural Shelby County, Kentucky, recently celebrated one year as a no-kill facility. This is no easy feat in any state, where thousands of dogs and cats are euthanized weekly for lack of homes. Making Shelby County Humane Society and Animal Shelter completely no kill was ten years in the making, according to Woodstock Animal Foundation founder Denise Jones. It required the support and cooperation of the local community, including farmers willing to serve as foster parents.  

When I was in high school, I volunteered at a no-kill shelter in my community. It seemed like a great way to help animals in need. Unfortunately, I came away from the experience wondering if no kill truly helped homeless dogs and cats or was simply a feel-good Band-Aid for the overwhelming problem of pet overpopulation.

On the one hand, animals were safe until adopted, but if they were not adopted quickly, it was not unusual for dogs and cats to live at the shelter for months, even years. Some no-kill shelters have a wonderful foster home program, so the dogs and cats live in homes until they are adopted. That’s fine. But what about the no-kill shelters whose animals are confined to kennels with concrete floors for months or even years at a time? What kind of quality of life is that? Some animals cannot handle the lack of mental and physical exercise and go kennel crazy, which ultimately makes them unadoptable, making the point of a no-kill shelter moot.

To help prevent animals from living out the rest of their lives in kennels, some no-kill shelters only accept those pets they believe to be adoptable. But what happens to the animals who are turned away? They are taken to kill shelters, which can’t cherry-pick which animals they accept, or the owner finds another way to “get rid of them.” (Interpret that as you will.) As a volunteer with several breed rescue groups over the years, we occasionally get desperate calls from owners who hope we’ll see some glimpse of our breed in their dog so they will be accepted into our rescue program, assuming we have room, which we rarely do. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

I like no-kill shelters in theory, but not always in practice. Frankly, the no-kill shelter concept oversimplifies the pet overpopulation problem. Solving this requires a multi-tiered approach, which some no-kill shelters embrace. How do we encourage pet owners to spay/neuter their animals and take responsibility for them for a lifetime? How do we inspire people to actively help the homeless pets in their own community? How do we educate the next generation so that we can put all shelters out of business?   

News: Guest Posts
What Constitutes Cruelty?
Drawing the line between cruelty, neglect and ignorance...not so easy.

In April, I posted a blog about a new device designed to keep K9 cops from leaving their precious live cargo in hot cars. At the time, I was thinking this extra protection made sense since a police officer could easily be distracted on the job by life-and-death matters. But what's the excuse for an officer who leaves a dog in an SUV for more than 3 hours to attend a training session? The dog died. Didn't someone tell the officer about the dangers of leaving dogs in cars during his training?


The story isn't clear about the details and the officer is still subject to an internal investigation, but the incident raises interesting questions about what constitutes cruelty. Leaving a dog in a car on a warm day--cruelty, neglect or ignorance? Feeding a dog to the point of obesity--cruelty or ignorance? What about leaving a dog at home for long periods of time? How many dogs in a home is too many? Is it cruel to transport a dog in a car without proper restraint? What about an aging guardian who surrenders an old dog to a crowded shelter (where he's a longshot for adoption) because he or she can no longer take care of that animal? What do you call it if a dog is harmed because his guardian is trying to do right but is simply following bad advice? And what about differences in culture that make some acts OK in one place and time but not OK in another?


A story in the Spring 2009 Update from the Center for Companion Animal Health at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine raises many of these questions and lots more. When I move beyond the obvious--dogfighting, physical abuse, starvation--and ponder each specific question, I realize how hard it is to draw a bright line. And I wonder, when lines are drawn--who should draw them? The Update poses some very real examples of well-meaning acts with unhealthy consequences, such as all-meat diets, and offers specific alternatives, but it leaves the larger ethical questions unresolved. These are for us to consider every day we share our lives with companion animals.