The smell is familiar to me now, but that hot August day in 2018 it overwhelmed my senses. The mix of disinfectant, urine, feces, mildew, and desperation was powerful, made even more so by the heat.
Shelters, even the good ones, I’ve come to understand, have the same smell. I recognized it that first time as the faint scent that would waft off of foster dogs when they arrived at our house off a transport from the south.
In that squat brick building, the smell was accompanied by the unrelenting noise of animals jumping against chain link, knocking over metal bowls, barking and whining, their nails grabbing for purchase on the cement.
I had no idea.
That was my first thought. How could I not have known?
I’d fostered over 100 dogs at that point, and yet, I was shocked at the conditions, the number of dogs, the crowded, cramped spaces, the lack of comforts like bedding, heat, air-conditioning, or anything to busy their terrified, confused minds.
What truly blew me away, though, were the people I met.
Yes, heavens yes, I wanted to save dogs. But more than that, I wanted to help these heroes I discovered scattered all over the south down rural roads, working their hearts out next to the county dump, hidden in plain site on municipal properties or private farms. They were saving dogs, but at the expense of their own lives.
They played an endless shell game moving animals around – out through rescue, sometimes through foster homes, shuttling them to the vet often hours away, buddying up kennels or stacking crates when the numbers got too high, offering anything to help people keep their animals in their homes, driving their own vehicles to meet transports states away, anything to avoid ‘euthanizing’. They spent their own money on kitten formula or vaccines or boarding services. They took home bottle babies and lost causes. They missed family events and socializing with friends, birthdays and holidays, all because they were so busy saving animals that someone else had failed.
And they all had the same look – weary, but determined.
As we drove away after that first visit, I said to my friend Lisa who had traveled south with me, “If only people could see this; they wouldn’t believe it.”
Through over sixty more shelter and rescue visits in nine states, I’ve continued to believe that the problem is not that people don’t care, it’s that they don’t know what’s happening. And more than that, if they do know, they don’t know what to do about it.
That is why we started Who Will Let the Dogs Out—to tell the stories through words, pictures, and now film. The stories of deserving dogs and the heroes who save them.
Our first documentary, created in partnership with Farnival Films, has been accepted to thirteen film festivals and won eight awards. And now, we’d like to show it to you!
Join us this Tuesday, December 7th at 7pm (Eastern) on our Facebook page, @Who Will Let the Dogs Out. We will screen the 30-minute film and follow it with a Q&A about the story in the film, the situation in the south, and what we all can do about it.
Click here to RSVP to the event so you’ll get a notification when we go live.
We are already planning our next trip to visit the dog pounds of Georgia and the extensive rescue networks in Florida. We will visit at least twelve shelters and rescues, sharing their stories and raising awareness and resources for their efforts. We could use your support, so please consider making a donation and/or purchasing one of our 2022 Great American Shelter Dog calendars. The calendars feature the incredible photography of Nancy Slattery and the beautiful faces of some of the dogs we met on our last trip. Every penny goes towards raising awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the incredible heroes who fight for them.
See you on Tuesday night!
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020) it’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is a short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for thirteen film festivals (to date) and thrice awarded best short documentary, it is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change.