Saving Lives (or not) in El Dorado Arkansas

June 26, 2024

The weather couldn’t have been worse for our visit to El Dorado, Arkansas. We were headed there to visit Union County Animal Protection Society (UCAPS) and it was POURING rain. Before heading out to the shelter, we stopped to see the adoption center in downtown El Dorado.

The small, repurposed brick house was filled with puppies, cats and kittens, medical cases, and a few of the very adoptable dogs. It bustled with volunteers walking dogs, bottle-feeding puppies, and answering calls and questions.

Terra, the board president, introduced us to several dogs recovering from demodex mange and/or starvation, and a puppy recovering from parvo. The UCAPS shelter is an all outdoor shelter, just outside of town, so the bright building is a convenient and welcoming place for volunteers to help and potential adopters to meet animals.

There is a local pound in El Dorado, but it functions as a 10-day kill shelter, and calls UCAPS to come take puppies and any dogs with medical needs. Terra explained that they wish they could work together with the pound, pooling resources and joining forces to save animals in El Dorado. As it is, many of the citizens of El Dorado assume they are the same organization. But they couldn’t be more different.

The rain was pounding by the time we reached the UCAPS shelter at the dead end of a residential street about three miles from the adoption center. The outdoor shelter is a crumbling collection of kennels filled with a hundred medium and large dogs. The chain link and metal posts between many of the kennels were rusted, broken, with homemade repairs to keep them from toppling. As Tanja, the shelter manager for the last thirteen years, said, ‘It’s held together with duct tape and a lot of love.”

We were all drenched and the rain didn’t let up, so eventually I had to put my notebook away and try very hard to remember details as Tanja shared the story of the dogs and the shelter.

Tanja also has a job in the funeral business, but clearly her heart is here with these dogs, many of whom have been here for years. The oldest residents, Bonnie and Clyde have been her for nearly ten years.

Two dedicated kennel workers steadily cleaned kennels and refilled water bowls as we walked line after line of kennels. The dogs all blur together for me now, but Tanja had an ear scratch and a kind word for each of them. Many have grown up here and too many may never leave. I pointed to a medium sized, long haired black and brown dog and said, “That one will get out, right?”

She shook her head and told me he’d already been there over a year. The dogs all have igloo dog houses, except the dogs who ‘ate theirs.’ Otherwise, the kennels were empty except for food/water bowl. I wished I had a magic wand and could produce nylabones and kong toys and raised beds and anything to make their lives a little more comfortable and fun.

What they really need is rescue partners. I reached out to Tara to get an update and she was excited to tell me that they’d taken delivery of a beautifully wrapped van courtesy of the Stanton Foundation.

They hoped to be able to transport animals to norther rescues using the van, but like so many organizations right now, moving dogs out is a struggle. Here is her update:

  • Although we made one trip to MI at the end of May with 24 dogs, transports have slowed way down. We have only transported a total of 10 for the entire month of June and we have so many puppies right now.
  • We are desperately seeking additional transport partners and have reached out to over 15 northern rescues in the last two weeks with no return messages.
  • We have posted that we are on a Critical Intake Hold due to lack of space, volunteers, fosters and funding. We have zero kennel space for adult dogs and we have only had one adult and one puppy adoption in the last 30 days.

Once we got home, we organized a Kuranda Bed fundraiser for UCAPS, and Kuranda generously donated the first five beds. Twenty more were purchased by donors in just days! Those beds have been placed in the kennels of the older dogs and long-timers so they have a way to get off the concrete.

UCAPS spends their money on feeding, caring for the dogs, and transporting them to rescues. There is nothing left over to try to improve the failing ‘facility.’ And to be honest, it’s not worth saving. What they really need is a building. These dogs are outside all year long in weather much worse than the downpour we were experiencing.

I know the rain made everything look worse, but it was hard to feel hopeful walking through the kennels, giving treat after treat until they were gone. I asked Tanja why she did this job – and she said she feels like it is her calling – it was put on her heart. She called it a labor of love.

I would say it’s more than that. I do not know very many people who could do what she is doing day after day with so very few resources. But I do have hope because of Tanja, Terra, the volunteers we met, and all the people who told us to go to UCAPS. Their belief in this work is relentless despite all they are up against.

As we handed off the meager supplies we’d brought (not enough to do much for the number of dogs there) and it continued to rain, I marveled at Tanja. She was drenched but smiling. She has not given up on these dogs or this situation. She struck me as a positive person, generous, kind and very forgiving of the people in this community who have let these dogs down.

I wondered how many people in El Dorado, Arkansas know about this place. The woods, the mud, the dilapidated kennels, the dogs spending day after day in their kennels, waiting. It made me angry.

How can this small city spend $600,000 on a brand new dog pound (their words) and leave Tanja and UCAPS staff and volunteers to do the real lifesaving on money they raise through hosting a 5K or a golf tournament, and holding online fundraisers?

Walking through the kennels as water dripped on me from every angle, I thought about what $600K could do out here. What these people could do with that kind of funding. They are saving lives, lots of lives, but too many dogs are spending those lives waiting in these isolated kennels.

It makes no sense. None.

I keep saying that nothing changes if nothing changes. Well, El Dorado, something needs to change here.

It is not just unfair, but it is asinine to spend vast amounts of your tax money on a holding facility that impounds animals and kills them when their stray hold is up. While at the same time, you spend nearly no tax money on the organization that is actually saving animals in a ‘facility’ that is quite literally falling down.

(The county gives UCAPS $10K a year, but that doesn’t even make a dent in the dog food budget.)

If you’d like to help UCAPS, consider donating:

Or shop their Amazon wishlist:

If you’re a tax-paying citizen of El Dorado city or county, speak up. You can use your tax money to save dogs or kill them. It’s your tax money, so it’s up to you.

If you are a rescue organization or shelter than can take dogs and/or puppies, please contact us or reach out director to UCAPS.

Learn more about UCAPS at:

Until each one has a home,


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To see our Emmy-nominated, award-winning short documentary, Amber’s Halfway Home, click here. If you’d like to see it on the big screen (along with other short dog films), check out the tour schedule of The Dog Film Festival, currently in art movie houses all over the country.

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.

For more information on any of our projects, to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, or partner with us, please email

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Aubrie Kavanaugh
25 Days Ago

I have to admit I am confused. So the repurposed house belongs to the city and cost 600K? And the place that is falling apart has a donated van and a 10 day kill period but has housed some dogs for years? Perhaps one belongs to the city and one belongs to the county. Some clarification would be helpful to I can understand better. Thanks in advance.

Cara Achterberg
24 Days Ago

You have a right to be confused because the situation makes no sense. In Arkansas, most cities have an animal control facility but the counties have no services. The city of El Dorado has a brand new 600K dog pound with a ten-day kill protocol. UCAPS is a private nonprofit rescue that has a repurposed small brick house for an adoption center (where they house puppies, animals in need of medical treatment, and do meet and greets), and a falling down outdoor shelter on the outskirts of town that houses the rest of their dog population (about 100 med/large dogs, some of whom have been there for years).