“I’ll Do Anything to Save an Animal”

“I’ll Do Anything to Save an Animal”

“I’ll do anything to save an animal.”

Those were the words of Remi, the founder of Paws 4 the Cause in Lexington, Kentucky. We’d just met up with him as a last minute addition to our shelter tour after that morning’s originally planned visit had canceled. It was sheer luck that we happened upon Paws 4 the Cause, or maybe my restlessness.

Twenty minutes before we were to leave for our scheduled stop that day, we got a message that the director we were to meet had a family emergency. Nancy settled in to edit pictures, and I surfed the internet. We had three hours to kill before we’d need to leave for our afternoon visit. On a whim, I pulled up google maps and searched for a nearby rescue. Maybe there was another place we were meant to be.

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Somebody Oughta Do Something About It

Somebody Oughta Do Something About It

I have something BIG to tell you. It’s exciting, and also somewhat scary for me.

Three years ago, I visited a shelter in North Carolina. I wanted to see where my foster dogs were coming from. I’d foster over one hundred by then, and I was curious—why was there an endless stream of dogs in need?

I remember that moment so clearly. The smell, the sounds, the desperation, but also all those beautiful dogs.

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Keeping the Animals Out of the Shelter

Keeping the Animals Out of the Shelter

The mission of Paws of SWVA is similar to so many rescue organizations in the south – keep animals out of the shelter.

Not only are shelters extremely stressful places for animals, too many shelters in our rural south still kill dogs (and cats) for space, so crowded shelters mean more animals die. Paws of SWVA keeps dogs (and cats) out of the shelter by providing foster homes, securing rescue placement, and getting animals adopted, many times out of state.

The other way that Paws keeps animals out of the shelter is by promoting and providing spay/neuter services. They run a van service twice a month to Bristol, Virginia to a veterinarian there because vet services are so few and far between (and expensive) in southwest Virginia.

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Saving Webster Dogs

Saving Webster Dogs

Standing in the sweltering sunshine, I looked around the rambling hillside farm scattered with dog kennels and equipment and livestock. After listening to Rose’s story of Saving Webster Dogs, I observed, “So, basically, you are the county shelter.

“Oh, yes, that’s pretty much it,” agreed Rose.

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Saving the Bullies

Saving the Bullies

Fact: Rescue is hard.

But rescuing pit bulls is harder. That’s why I was really excited to discover a pit bull rescue in my new hometown. And after I met Jessica, the founder and director of Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue, I was profoundly grateful that a rescue like this exists. I just wish there were more.

Traveling to shelters and rescues all over the south for the last four years, one thing has been consistent before, during, and after the pandemic: there are pit bulls everywhere and they are dying in the highest numbers.

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Shelter Tour Week Two

Shelter Tour Week Two

Our second week on tour coincided with Hurricane Ida, which thankfully skirted around the places we planned to visit mostly dumping a bit of rain here and there. We were able to rearrange our visits and move our one all-day outside to after the weather passed thanks to the flexibility of many people.

While our visits confirmed what we learned the first week – shelters are growing crowded as owner surrenders continue to ratchet up, and puppy and kitten season does not abate. But we also noticed something else that was different on this tour than our previous ones. There are a lot more purebred dogs in the shelters.

My best guess is that this is because so many people bought puppies during the pandemic and those puppies grew into adolescent dogs which require a lot of work and don’t always live up to the expectations of owners. Plus certain breeds have characteristics that owners may or may not have anticipated or been able to handle. Beyond that, economic circumstances have a lot of people surrendering dogs they can’t afford anymore. At any rate, we saw purebred large breeds like Huskies, Rottweilers, Labs, plus many smaller breeds and scruffies.

We also saw a lot of puppies and small breed dogs, which is usually not the case as those dogs get pulled by rescue or adopted at a much higher rate. It was telling that rescue coordinators are struggling to find rescues willing to take puppies.

To me, the presence of so many ‘desirable’ type animals in the shelters is a ‘canary in the coalmine’. It is time for rescues to double-down on all that they can do to help because full shelters lead to killing dogs for space. Even at the shelters that have for many years been saving every treatable, adoptable animal, there is a fresh fear that killing for space is on the horizon if things don’t improve.

Fingers crossed for the early fall back-to-school surge in adoptions and rescue pulls.

We will tell you MUCH more about all thirteen organizations that we visited on this tour in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel so you don’t miss a thing!

And in case you weren’t following along in real time on Facebook, the week’s posts are pasted below.

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Fall Shelter Tour Part One

Fall Shelter Tour Part One

Traveling through the south this time around feels different. It’s not just the masks that are sometimes prevalent and other times completely absent. As we wind through the mountains on our way to Nashville, I wondered about priorities. Is it wrong to want to save dogs when people are struggling so much? Will people care what we about what we are seeing? Will they find everything as heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, as I do?

I think it’s even more remarkable how hard the people we meet are working. Despite the compassion fatigue and an often apathic public, so many continue to fight for lives, even as the wave of homeless dogs builds instead of ebbing.

Everyone said that the silver lining of the pandemic was all the adoptions, the empty shelters, the new awareness of rescue, the flood of fosters. And that was great. I’m definitely not discounting that moment. It was awesome.

But in its wake, shelters and rescues are drowning. That was the word we heard more than once from shelter directors and rescue coordinators in answer to my question, “How are you doing?”

They are drowning. Owner surrenders are at an all time high as people struggle to care for their families in uncertain times. The result of 6-12 months of no spay/neuter surgeries, puppy and kitten season is astronomical. Even now, getting a vet appointment to spay or neuter a dog can take weeks.

Rescues are full and adoptions have slowed to a trickle. Everyone either already adopted a dog or is hesitant to commit to a new life when the future looks as precarious as ever. With no dogs moving north and huge numbers of dogs arriving at the shelters via owners who can’t keep them or animal control officers who are as busy as ever, the result is unavoidable. Dogs are being killed in places that once claimed no-kill status. Parvo is rampant as puppies fill the shelters and linger instead of heading out to rescues.

I keep hoping the story will be different at our next stop, but so far, halfway through our tour, that has not been the case. We are sharing our stories in real time on Facebook and Instagram and plan to share even more via this blog and our YouTube channel once we are home. I hope you are following along. But just in case, here’s a recap:

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Help Us Let the Dogs Out

Help Us Let the Dogs Out

When I chose the name, Who Will Let the Dogs Out it wasn’t just because it’s a clever twist on the title of the popular song, Who Let the Dogs Out. It was because that’s exactly what I want to know— WHO will let the dogs out? My belief is that everyone can do something. You, me, pretty much anyone with a heart to help.

Too often we let the enormity of a problem stop us from doing anything about it, believing we don’t have the power to have an impact. And yet no big change happens in this world until lots of ‘powerless’ individuals speak up.

Thanks to the tremendous support of so many backers of our Kickstarter campaign, the film Amber’s Halfway Home has been completed. It’s the story of one individual who is having a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of animals (and likely people).

Amber is a powerful force for rescue, and yet she is still just one person. What she needs is for more people to step into that vast, scary gap and speak for the animals who have no voice.

Here is a trailer for the film and a glimpse of Amber in action:

After traveling to nearly fifty shelters, rescues, and dog pounds, I remain convinced that the problem of dogs suffering and dying (and being warehoused) in shelters is absolutely fixable. I’ve seen the places where change is happening; where leaders are refusing to accept the status quo and are finding ways to save every single animal.

The solutions aren’t complicated or even expensive, but they require leadership and commitment, plus willing hearts and hands. What we need most are more people who speak up, step out, and engage the people who can make those changes possible.

Our mission is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them. Amber’s Halfway Home is one way to reach the people who can let the dogs out. Awareness is the first step toward change, and screening this film is one way we can put this story in front of the people who can make the changes necessary to fix the problems.

As we await word on acceptance into festivals, we are looking for venues and opportunities to share the film with audiences and start the conversation. Screenings can be used as fundraisers, forums, or adoption events. We’re looking for rescue groups, shelters, libraries, town halls, even breweries or private homes.

We created Amber’s Halfway Home as a vehicle for bringing change. It’s a powerful, well-crafted film that will touch hearts and motivate people to get involved. Visit AmbersHalfwayHome.com to get more information or to contact us to set up a screening.

And of course, you can always contact me directly with questions, ideas, or to set up a screening.

Until each one has a home,

Cara

Please help us by subscribing (button on right side) and sharing this blog. You can also keep track of us on Facebook and Instagram.

Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. If you’d like to contribute to our work, we encourage you to click on the how to help link above and give directly to a shelter. You can also donate to our work via OPH’s donation page by designating Who Will Let the Dogs Out in your comments.

One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020) tells the story of not only our foster experience but some of our shelter visits and how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. It is available for anywhere books are sold. Proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.

Our short documentary film created in partnership with Farnival Films, Amber’s Halfway Home, tells the story of heroes in the dog pounds of western Tennessee. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story that will compel viewers to work for change.

For more information on any of our projects or to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, please email me carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

X-Port Paws

X-Port Paws

I don’t remember if it was Michelle or Liz who told me, “You are the drop in the pond, and we are the ripples.”

It was maybe the biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten. I’ve never actually met Michelle or Liz, two women who have become rescue sisters to me. Michelle lives in New Jersey and Liz lives in Florida.

I met both women as a result of my work advocating for shelter dogs. Both read my books and reached out wanting to be involved somehow. I had hoped to meet them in our travels in 2020, but like so much else, those trips were canceled.

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