Charities Have Gone to the Dogs

If you think the only news that's ever printed is bad news, wait until you read about the great works being done by two charities to improve the lives of dogs.

People Saving Pets

PetSmart Charities

I was privileged this week to spend a little time talking to Steve Pawlowski, Communications Manager of PetSmart Charities. He was quick to point out that PetSmart Charities is a separate entity from the PetSmart retail stores, although the stores do give some hefty donations to the charity. PetSmart Charities, founded in 1994, has several projects, but the two I find most interesting are the Emergency Relief Waggin' and the Rescue Waggin'.

Emergency Relief Waggin'

The Emergency Relief Waggin' program provides shelter services and general relief to companion animals who have found themselves caught up in natural or man-made disasters. Working with the ASPCA and the Humane Society in locations hit by flooding or other disasters, PetSmart Charities operates emergency animal shelters (because human shelters won't allow pets). They provide pet food, wire crates, plastic carriers, fenced kennels, bowls, leashes, fans, a generator, a battery charger and lights to aid the animal rescuers on scene.

Emergency Relief Waggin

In May, 2011, seven Emergency Relief Waggin' vehicles were sent to aid dogs affected by the floods and tornadoes in the south and Midwest, helping nearly 7,000 animals who were displaced. Specially trained volunteers accompany the supplies to unload the vehicles and set up the shelters so local rescuers can begin tending to the animals as soon as possible.

The Emergency Relief Waggin' program was established in 2007, and has recently worked with dogs in Memphis, TN, and Joplin, MS, as well as those displaced by Hurricane Irene.

Rescue Waggin'

The bulk of my talk with Steve was spent discussing the Rescue Waggin', as PetSmart Charities is celebrating the rescue of their 50,000th dog since they started the program in 2004. Partnering with a company called Humane Strategies, Rescue Waggin' provides nationwide transportation for dogs and puppies to help level out supply and demand issues in different areas of the country. Supply shelters are selected for the program based on overcrowded conditions and high euthanasia rates - some as high as 90%.

Rescue Waggin logo

Destination shelters are selected where there is a waiting list for healthy, adoptable dogs so that no local dogs are displaced or euthanized by the new arrivals. On the scheduled date, employees of Humane Strategies pull up their vehicles to the supply shelter and about 50 - 60 dogs and puppies are loaded on. The dogs are trucked to the destination shelter, where they are met by potential adopters. Most loads are divided fairly evenly between puppies and adult dogs. About 95% of the dogs are mixed breeds, with the most common type being Lab mixes.

Pawlowski says shelter workers at both ends of the transport shed "lots of tears" during the "amazing, emotional" experience of sending so many dogs away from a euthanasia chamber and toward a new forever home.

Many of the supply shelters have infrastructure issues that make it impossible for them to house very many dogs, which is what leads them to have such a high euthanasia rate. After taking some of their dogs off of their hands, Rescue Waggin' can also provide grants to the shelters to help them upgrade their facilities. Some have even "graduated" to become destination shelters as a result of these grants.

Dawn

50,000 dogs and still going strong

So, about that 50,000th dog. On October 4th, Rescue Waggin' vehicles pulled up to the Santa Fe, NM Humane Society shelter at 7:00 am to pick up 30 dogs and puppies for a seven-hour ride to the Boulder, CO Humane Society in Boulder Valley. Dawn, a senior Golden Retriever was in the group and was designated as the 50,000th dog rescued by PetSmart Charities' Rescue Waggin'.

Dawn had been given as a gift to a family who kept her for about six months, then surrendered her to the Santa Fe shelter. Little did she know she would soon be in the spotlight. When she was unloaded in Boulder Valley, Dawn was treated to a walk down the red carpet past balloons, signs, and banners welcoming her to Colorado. Even the paparazzi (or should I say "puparazzi"?) were on hand. According to Pawlowski, Dawn just "ate up" all of the attention. "She knew she was a star!" he says.

Rescue Waggin dogs

Even better, Dawn was adopted by a forever family three days after arriving in Colorado.

Learn more about PetSmart Charities and even make a donation online to help them in this important work. They were the first and are still the largest organization to do this type of work.

Jason Debus Heigl Foundation

The other charity I've been following lately is the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, founded by Katherine Heigl, star of Grey's Anatomy and the upcoming Stephanie Plum movie, One for the Money. Heigl organized the foundation in her late brother's memory and has done two huge things for the dog world.

In December, 2009, when it was revealed that many Chihuahuas in west coast shelters were being euthanized, while on the east coast, there were waiting lists for the little dogs, the foundation donated the funds to ship twenty-five dogs cross country to their forever homes.

More recently, after Heigl's uncle Jack died, she wanted to do something to honor both his love of pets and his 40-year career in the Naval Reserves. This just gives me goose bumps. The foundation donated $30,000 to the Los Angeles Animal Alliance for their Fall 5000 Super Adoption Program.

Through the Super Adoption Program, any US veteran can adopt a pet from a participating shelter in the Greater LA area at no cost any time between November 4, 2011 and January 30, 2012. We all know that animals can bring a lot of joy into any life. Can you think of anyone more deserving of this joy than a veteran?

Learn more about the Heigl foundation and make a donation if you can.

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