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.
I was shocked that many of them lived outside 24/7. That they didn’t have basics like deworming, flea treatment, heartworm preventative (in a shelter next to a swamp!). They didn’t have bedding or toys or treats. All they had was one heroic woman working nonstop as a volunteer trying to save the dogs by networking them to rescues.
I remember thinking—if I didn’t know it was like this, then lots of people don’t know.
That was the moment I committed myself to doing something about it. But I had no idea how. My home was already inundated with foster dogs and puppies. The only skill I could offer was my writing.
So that’s what I decided to do—write about it. I started traveling to the shelters, learning all I could, telling the stories of the beautiful dogs and the people who fought for them relentlessly.
I brought others with me, invited my son, Ian, and then Nancy Slattery to come along and document it all in pictures—knowing that often pictures are more powerful than words. I was convinced that without awareness nothing would ever change. We had to tell people.
For the last two years, Who Will Let the Dogs Out (or Waldo as we call it for short) has been operating as an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. When Nancy and I first approached OPH founder, Jen Dodge, for advice on starting Waldo, she generously offered to let us get started under the umbrella of OPH. This allowed us to hit the ground running with our message and our work. We’ve been blessed to have the backing of an established rescue behind us as we got our legs underneath us, and we will always be grateful for the encouragement of Jen and the OPH family.
And now that work has grown—with our film, Amber’s Halfway Home, and with our travels that have taken us even deeper into the south and the world of dog sheltering. We have so many projects and ideas and plans for the future work of Waldo!
So, this month we launched Who Will Let the Dogs Out, as an independent nonprofit (501c3 pending)! It’s exciting and just a little bit scary to do this on our own.
Our mission has not changed. Writing our bylaws and organizing has meant a lot of soul searching and understanding what we want Waldo to be. We’ve recommitted to our mission:
Raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
Here are some of the ways we plan to do that:
Advocate for change through the use of film, journalism, and photography by sharing the stories of dogs in need and the rescuers working on the front lines, particularly in our rural southern states, to raise awareness for the work they do and the help they need.
Assist shelters and rescues by sharing information about grants, programs, and fundraising ideas; plus passing along the creative ideas, practices, and solutions we’ve seen at some of the 63 organizations we’ve now visited in nine states, networking to connect shelters and rescues and organizations that can help each other.
Invite EVERYONE to be part of the solution through their local shelters, or through programs like virtual volunteers, adopt-a-shelter or rescue, and efforts to educate the ‘next generation’ so they will value the dogs in their care and in their community.
You’re the first to know of our big move, and we’d like to invite YOU to be a part of Waldo!
First, help us spread the word! The bigger the microphone, the bigger the impact. We need your help to reach more people with our message. As I travel throughout the south, I am more and more convinced that the problem of dogs suffering and dying in our nations shelters is absolutely fixable. The biggest hurdle is awareness. People need to know. Legislators need to know. Communities need to know. That’s why we formed Waldo and it’s why we need your help.
Here is a YouTube video about Waldo (please share and subscribe – we need 100 subscribers to get a customized link):
Donate! Starting this venture takes money. We’d love to have your support on our Launch Campaign. I will tell you more about our budget and our Launch Campaign in my next post.
Get involved! If you’d like to be a part of Waldo, we’d love to have you. We are recruiting volunteers to help with our efforts, and I’ll tell you about that in my next post too! Right now we are a board of three. Nancy and I handle storytelling and fundraising, and Patty works directly with the shelters and rescues to help them find grants and resources.
Recently, I interviewed one of my heroes of rescue, Laura Prechel. I asked her why she stepped up. What makes her do what she does—saving thousands of dogs in Tennessee through her transport operation, all while working a full-time job. She shrugged and said, ‘Somebody had to do something.”
Laura’s background is in the music industry, so she added, “It’s like that song ‘somebody oughta do something about it.’ Well, maybe that somebody is me.”
I looked up the lyrics later and realized that Lily Tomlin said it even more succinctly:
Those words haunt me. Even as we think we are helpless, each one of us has something to offer. Somebody ought to do something about all these dogs suffering and dying. I want to be somebody who does something about it. I hope you want to be a somebody too.
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 Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020) which tells the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired the author to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It also explains how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. The book is available anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold will 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 tells the story of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for ten film festivals (to date), it is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change.