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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Top State Killing Dogs?

Top State Killing Dogs?

North Carolina has been named one of the top five states killing animals by Best Friends.

I’ve been to North Carolina. I’ve visited shelters and rescues, know animal advocates in the state, and fostered plenty of dogs from North Carolina (including the nine pups I’m fostering right now).

I’ve also traveled and visited shelters in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. I can tell you with all certainty, that there are more dogs dying in each of those states than North Carolina.

Now, I’m not going to say that North Carolina is a success story or doesn’t kill its share of animals (over 60K in 2019), but there’s a reason they were placed in the top five worst states for animal welfare and it has nothing to do with communities that don’t value animals or shelter directors who have not bought in to the No-kill formula or government that won’t properly fund their shelters.

It doesn’t even have to do with the fact that North Carolina killed the equivalent of the population of Daytona Beach in dogs and cats this past year.

It has everything to do with a very good law, a law I wish was in place in every state.

In North Carolina, county shelters are required to report their intake/outcome numbers for all the animals that pass through their care. And they publicly release these numbers so that anyone – you or me or Best Friends—can look up those numbers and know exactly how many dogs (or cats or bunnies or horses or skunks) are being destroyed by state tax dollars and how many are being adopted and how many are being transferred out via rescue in any county in North Carolina.

[And here I have to first commend North Carolina for having county shelters in place – whether they are modern state of the art buildings or the same concrete structures that have stood through hurricanes for decades. At least they have county shelters – something Mississippi and Tennessee and too many other states do not.]

If every state required their shelters to track and report their numbers publicly there would be a reckoning.

I’m certain of that because the one consistent fact we’ve discovered in our travels to nearly fifty shelters in seven states in the last 18 months, is that the public generally has no idea what is really happening at their local shelter. They don’t understand that with a limited amount of space, resources, personnel, and budget, many shelter staff conclude they have no option other than to destroy animals on a regular basis. Or to hold them indefinitely (so as to not kill them) in cruel conditions.

Sometimes it’s leadership, sometimes it’s the law, and sometimes its just the overwhelming number of animals shelters are expected to handle.

I remain convinced that if the public knew what was happening they would do something about it. If they saw the faces that we saw on every visit, they would be moved to action.


It is not that people don’t care that animals are suffering and dying in their communities, it’s that they don’t know.

So, kudos to you North Carolina for your transparency and for knowing that if we don’t identify the problem we have no chance of fixing it.

robeson 2019 numbers

If you’d like to read the 2019 numbers for North Carolina shelters, click here to see the full report.

Until every cage is empty,


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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 (or WALDO) in your comments.

My upcoming book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, July 7, 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 preorder now and a portion of proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.


An Angel in the Tennessee Dog Pounds

An Angel in the Tennessee Dog Pounds

As we walked through several municipal pounds in Tennessee, I kept thinking, “Thank God for Amber.”


She and her husband Brandon and their rescue Halfway Home are the only hope for too many animals whose lives could so easily be snuffed out, unknown and uncounted.

As far as I can tell, ‘animal control’ in Tennessee is Read more

Hope in Hayti (and a puppy rescue!)

Hope in Hayti (and a puppy rescue!)

The first time I talked to Dave Hollingshead, the street supervisor and defacto dogcatcher for Hayti, Missouri, I learned two things—

1)You pronounce Hayti, not like the Caribbean country, but Hay-tie, as in a bale of hay and a tie that goes with your shirt.

2) the dogs of Hayti are incredibly lucky to have Dave on their side.

Hayti is the county in Read more

Life on a Chain in Memphis

Life on a Chain in Memphis

“I wouldn’t do that to myself, so why would I do that to him? ‘Caint take his manhood.”

“She was born to do it; I just want one litter.”

If the team at All 4s Rescue League had a dollar for every time they heard those excuses, and the many others for why someone didn’t want to spay or neuter their dog, they wouldn’t need to do any fundraising.

On Wednesday, Nancy and I spent a day on the streets of Memphis with Read more

Anger Won’t Keep the Dogs From Dying

Anger Won’t Keep the Dogs From Dying

Okay, the first thing I need you to do before you read this post is park your anger somewhere. You’ll need to set it aside and listen with an open mind and heart. And remember that anger won’t solve this problem. Hate won’t help you either.

When we finally exited off the beautiful Natchez Trace Parkway and followed the interstate towards Jackson, I was already bracing myself. As we drove past the municipal facilities and a steel factory and finally pulled into the driveway of MARL (Mississippi Animal Rescue League), I had convinced myself I needed to go in with an open mind, leave my judgment at the door and Read more

What Money and Support Can Do When It Comes to Saving Dogs

What Money and Support Can Do When It Comes to Saving Dogs

Only an hour from Corinth where they are struggling to raise money for the shelter by sitting outside the supermarket collecting donations is a beautiful, brand-new 2 million dollar shelter teeming with staff and resources.


Tupelo-Lee Humane Society is blessed with Read more

Raising the Roof at Corinth-Alcorn

Raising the Roof at Corinth-Alcorn

“What people need to understand is that they aren’t collectibles.”

This was a comment made by Corinth City’s ACO, Stephen, in reference to the number of pit bulls that populate the shelter and that he picks up in his work.

“They all want certain colors. They should get a box of crayons.”

We met Stephen shortly after we arrived at Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter. We’d just sat down to interview Charlotte, the director, when Read more

Moving Puppies Out of the Midsouth

Moving Puppies Out of the Midsouth

After spending part of our day at the Ripley Trade Market nightmare, it was wonderful to spend some time with Meridith Perry, the president of Midsouth Animal Welfare Foundation, whose rescue partners with OPH(our rescue) in Mississippi to save dogs.

Blond, petite, and determined, Meridith has never known a time when she wasn’t rescuing animals. Growing up, before rescuing was a ‘thing’, her parents were always bringing home dogs and cats that the family would foster and then find homes for.

In Mississippi, the need is endless and when we arrived at Meridith’s home, what she needed first was Read more

Superheroes Do Exist

Superheroes Do Exist

I’d heard about the Animal Rescue Corps before, snippets mentioned by other rescue people in passing,  but nothing solid, nothing that I thought had anything to do with the world of dog rescue I inhabited.

I pictured a group of superheroes who swooped in during the direst of situations and rescued the dogs, but I had no understanding of how that actually worked, where the dogs went when it was all said and done, and if they were actual people or just this brilliant fantasy.

Yesterday we were on our way south to shine a light on the shelters, rescues, and pounds working so hard to save dogs, in the hopes of raising awareness and resources to help them do just that. It was our first official trip for Who Will Let the Dogs Out and we were excited to get started, maybe over eager. We woke to snow in Christiansburg, Virginia and Read more