Dog Rescuers

Almost 8 million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters each year, and almost 50% of them will not come out alive. The cycle is horrific.  Dogs come in abused, neglected, heartbroken, sick, old, pure-bred–with one thing in common…they are unwanted and unloved.  It is hard on the animal-lovers who work for the shelter. It is hard on anyone who loves animals.

What many people don’t realize is that about 35% of abandoned animals are pulled out of shelters by rescue groups. Rescuers go deep into the shelters looking for adoptable dogs. They find foster homes, they provide food and vaccinations and spay/neuters. Their own homes are usually brimming with wagging tails. They sell t-shirts for medical care fundraisers. They network to find just the right family for each dog. They organize transport to move dogs all over the country, to get them to homes where they will be loved and taken care of. Their phones buzz with incoming texts, emails, messages…about the dogs they’ve saved, or about dogs that are urgently in need of a place to stay before time runs out.

Rescue groups operate all around us.  Rescuers seem to lead double lives…working full time jobs, raising families and giving the rest of their time, hearts and homes to the dogs they save. It takes a great human to traverse through this bittersweet cycle. Rescuers experience extreme joy when opening a shelter cage to save a dog, only to turn around and have their hearts broken when they look into the eyes of the desperate dogs still in their kennels. And there is pain–anger–when they walk to the front of the shelter, only to see a line of people dropping off unwanted pets. It takes a hearty soul to care so deeply, to do so much, to function so effectively around “humanity” and to give so much of their lives.

This is the story of Kelly and Judy: special souls who are dog rescuers in this never-ending stream of unwanted and abused animals.  View the photos in slideshow to see captions for each.  Start slideshow by clicking on the first photo, and then using the arrows to navigate through.

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Dog Rescuer, Shannon Nachajko and Catahoula Rescue of New England

Dog rescuer, Shannon Nachajko from Catahoula Rescue of New England shows what it’s like to be mom and chief rescuer to these super smart breeds of dog who are often misunderstood. Spend three minutes with Shannon and her Catahoulas and Heelers.


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Animal Welfare in Cuba: Aniplant Cares for and Protects Dogs and Cats

Animal welfare in Cuba is a daunting challenge.  On my recent trip to Cuba, I had the honor of meeting Nora Garcia Pérez, the founder of Aniplant, an animal care and protection organization in Havana.  Nora has dedicated the past 28 years of her life to the animals of Cuba:  from big ventures like founding Aniplant and promoting animal welfare on Cuban radio and TV, to smaller efforts like traveling around Havana in a little yellow Fiat with the passenger seat removed to make room for two street dogs who sleep in the car every night.

Aniplant, or Asociación Cubana para la Protección de Animales y Plantas, is located in Centro Havana, not far from the University and only steps from the beautiful Malecón sea wall.   Aniplant seeks to eliminate the suffering of Cuban animals through sterilization campaigns to reduce the number of strays, public education to promote the need for good veterinary care and animal health, facilitation of dog/cat adoptions, and hands-on intervention in cases of animal abuse.  

If you’re a dog lover and have ever been to Cuba–or to any third world country for that matter–you know the helpless heartache of seeing painfully thin and sick animals on the streets.  And while Cuba is a highly educated, healthy and empathetic population, their lack of resources is a tremendous problem.  Often, people simply do not have the means to properly care for animals.  That means that many dogs/cats go without spaying/neutering, resulting in unwanted animals roaming the streets in search of food and shelter.  The Cuban government collects strays from city streets, and almost all of those dogs/cats are immediately euthanized by poisoning or electrocution.  Aniplant’s main mission is to reduce the number of strays by providing as many spay/neuters as possible.  They have performed nearly 5,000 sterilizations each year since 2012 and are currently trying to expand operations throughout Havana and all of Cuba.   Like everything related to Cuba, it is complicated.  While Aniplant is the only animal protection organization permitted to function in Cuba, there are ministries and permissions to deal with and there are the obstacles of getting medical supplies and donations around the U.S. embargo.

The Aniplant location at 128 Principe is home to 19 dogs:  16 adoptable ones and 3 waiting to be on their way to homes in the UK and the USA.  The dogs have the run of the back areas of Aniplant–the kitchen, a play area outside and a little room just off the courtyard.  There are employees at Aniplant who work to train and socialize the dogs, and to prepare their meals of rice and meat.  A veterinarian and vet tech are also on staff for routine procedures and emergency care.  And every Friday, hundreds of pounds of meat for dog food are delivered to Aniplant to be sold to the community for fundraising.  The place is immaculate, colorful, lively and upbeat–the receptionist sings on occasion and offers tiny cups of strong coffee to those waiting patiently for services.  Dog and cat owners chat with each other and hold their pets close in the tiled lobby.  Potential adopters check in at reception and discuss the adoption application process.  And every now and then, the dogs break into barks or whines as a visitor makes their way back through the courtyard.

I spent several days at Aniplant, photographing and videotaping and will have a short multimedia piece to share with you soon.   In the meantime, if you are moved by this story, please consider a small donation to the Aniplant Project.   Considering that veterinarians in Cuba make only about $250 a year, any amount of money donated will go a long way to helping the animals.   Donate to Aniplant.    Nora’s wish list also includes a truck or large van to take the Aniplant spay/neuter clinic on the road and a small animal ventilator.  If you, or anyone you know can help with those items, please contact me.

Aniplant lobby
The reception area of Aniplant, located at 128 Principe near Hospital in Centro Havana.
Veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, cleans dog teeth
Aniplant veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, cleans the teeth of a sedated Beagle in Havana, Cuba.
cat awaits surgery at Aniplant
A cat has been sedated and cleaned by the veterinary technician and awaits surgery at Aniplant.  Havana, Cuba.
Training a dog at Aniplant to walk on a leash
Aniplant houses 19 dogs currently up for adoption. These dogs get training–like leash walking and basic commands–from the trainers on staff at Aniplant, in Havana, Cuba.
Disposable surgical gloves washed and drying in a window
Disposable surgical gloves are washed and dried for re-use at Aniplant. Medical supplies are precious and nothing is wasted.  Havana, Cuba.
Potential adopters visit Aniplant dogs
The dogs at Aniplant are available for adoption. Guests are allowed to visit with the dogs and encouraged to apply for an adoption.  Havana, Cuba.
Dog rests in a built-in space in Aniplant kitchen
Aniplant moved into their space about 5 years ago. Renovations included building cave-like spaces for the dogs in the kitchen. Havana, Cuba.
Man carries a dog in for veterinary care
A man brings a Husky in to the Aniplant lobby for veterinary care. Aniplant is open 6 days a week for veterinary services, workshops and the sale of fresh meat for animal food.  Havana, Cuba.
Dog in a bathtub at Aniplant
This sweet face was always the first to greet me…and anyone else at Aniplant.  Havana, Cuba.
Dog in shopping cart awaits care at Aniplant
This dog had been hit by a car and was carried into Aniplant in a shopping cart for follow up care.  Havana, Cuba.
Cuba Aniplant Veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, checks his messages
Aniplant Veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, checks his messages while waiting for the clinic to open in Havana Cuba.
Nora Garcia Pérez with Carol Fletcher
Founder of Aniplant, Nora Garcia Pérez (left), and Carol Fletcher following our interview.  Havana, Cuba 3/13/15.
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Rescued Dogs of Havana Cuba: Sheltered by Museums

As many of you know, I’m a dog lover and have an on-going project documenting the work of people who rescue dogs.  And I love Cuba.   I love walking in Havana, photographing the elegant decay and witnessing the extraordinary changes happening there.  I love meeting the people, getting to know their hopes and worries, and always admiring their persistence, creativity and resourcefulness.   So this month, I decided to overlay these passions and dig a little deeper into the stories of the rescued dogs of Havana, Cuba and those sheltered by museums.

Street dogs are commonly seen in Havana, picking through the trash or teetering down the sidewalks.  It is heartbreaking and frustrating.  But in a country where food can be hard to come by for people, perhaps it is not unusual or unexpected.   One thing that has surprised me is that many museums in Old Havana have taken on the role of sheltering dogs.

On my first trip to Cuba I saw a fat little dog wearing a business card and sleeping near Fototeca in Plaza Vieja.  On subsequent trips, I saw more of these dogs with business cards…in front of other museums, in front of Havana’s University, and wandering around the old plazas…dogs who generally looked healthy and happy.  So, on this trip, I went looking for these card-carrying dogs to find out more about their lives and the people who care for them.

These are the five dogs of Museo de la Orfebrería (Museum of Metal/Silver Work), a quiet courtyard museum on Obispo near Plaza de Armas.  They are cared for by Margarita Garcia and Odalys Valdéz, who work at the museum as guides and security.  The dogs spend their days napping in the shade of the courtyard, or lazing on the sunny bricks in front of the museum.  During the day, they greet visitors politely–without fanfare or dogged attention.  And they keep Margarita and Odalys company during their 6 day shifts working 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  In return, Margarita and Odalys feed them and keep fresh water on hand.  The dogs are sheltered in the museum– partially in the role of protecting the museum from thieves–but most definitely to save the dogs from a hard street life.

After noticing a few strays outside who seemed to pace by regularly–as if looking in…one more time…for an opening, for an invitation, I asked Margarita if there were ever more than five here.  “No.  Only five.  We cannot feed or have more.  But these five?  Good for them.”  And good for Margarita and Odalys and all the guides who care for these precious little souls.

Entrance to Havana's Museo de la Orfebrería
Margarita Garcia stands at the entrance to Havana’s Museo de la Orfebrería, where she works and cares for the museum’s five rescued dogs.
Aparicio wears an identification card
Dogs under the care of Cuba’s museums wear cards identifying them. The cards have the dog’s name, where he/she lives and that he/she has been sterilized. These cards are intended to protect the dogs from being picked up by Havana’s dog-catchers.
Odalys and Margarita
Odalys and Margarita stand in the doorway of the Museum while dogs sleep in the background.
Dogs in the Courtyard
The five dogs have full access to the museum’s courtyard.
Preparing the meal
In a back room of the museum, Margarita prepares a meal of rice and a few bites of chicken for the dogs.
Dinner for Five Dogs
Margarita sets out a meal of rice and a little chicken for the dogs in the courtyard of the museum.
Sleeping Dog
Canelito enjoys cat-napping in the courtyard.
Vladimir at the front door of the Museo de la Orfebrería
Vladimir’s favorite place is at the door, greeting the many tourists walking past on Obispo near Plaza de Armas.
Odalys and Dogs
Guide Odalys enjoys passing the hours with the dogs.
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The dogs at The Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary

This post is all about the dogs at The Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary.   Yeah, yeah, I know that my project is about the dog rescue organizations and the people who run them…but I find all the dogs and puppies so distracting!   All those personalities, those smiling faces, and all the wagging tails and busy feet–it’s too much for me sometimes and I only want to sit among them and play.   So, today, it is all about the dogs…and maybe a horse too.   I hope you enjoy the characters.  Hug a dog today…and everyday!

And please — Volunteer.  Donate.  Foster.  Adopt a shelter dog.

smiling dog
She barked, growled and grunted and now sits basking in our attention.
puppy dog in hay
This little one came out of the Puppy House to greet me. The next day, he had to go back to the vet. Two of his litter-mates had tested positive for distemper.
puppies heart and soul animal sanctuary
These babies are part of a litter of six at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary. Two of the six were already at the hospital and the four remaining in the Puppy House weren’t feeling so good. The next day, the two at the hospital were diagnosed with distemper and these four siblings had to join the other two at the vet for treatment.
Perry old dog dementia
Perry is about 16 years old and suffers from a little dementia. He wanders the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary.
White horse and chihuahua
Jasmine the white horse and a little friend at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary
Dogs watch chickens
Dogs watching the chickens get a carrot treat.  Many animals find sanctuary at Heart and Soul. Every species has their space and everyone is safe.
three legged dog and puppies
Ivan may only have three legs, but he’s got a ton of patience for these rambunctious lab puppies. He spent most of the late afternoon watching the puppies rough house and occasionally got into the fray.
dog horse eating
While Jasmine worked on her alfalfa dinner, the dog kept her company.
Dog food dish
One lucky dog has the kibble bowl all to himself at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary
Dog on porch
This dog was skeptical of people, and watched me cautiously from the safety of the porch
Emma Tibetan Spaniel
Emma greets visitors on the porch of the Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary’s Giant Doghouse
dog trees valley rock ridge
At Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary, there is a hike every day to the ridge.
three dogs in new mexico
Jasper, Ivan and Daisy enjoying the New Mexico afternoon at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary.
smiling barking growling dog
This little personality talked and talked and talked. She gave you about 7 seconds…and if you did not acknowledge her presence…there were some sharp words :)
Smiling dog
This smiling lovely barked, growled and scooted under the porch rail to get our attention without leaving the porch.
dog in doghouse
Jasper hides out in the little dog house after a hike at Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary.
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Rescued dogs – their quirks & foibles

Atticus is simply not in the mood to play with the girls.  All 3 are rescued dogs & adjusting to normal lives.
Atticus is simply not in the mood to play with the girls. All 3 are rescued dogs & are adjusting to normal lives.

I spent a perfect July day with three dog rescuers and twelve happy rescued dogs.  Yes, 12.  It can be a little tricky at first when three packs come together…there’s a lot of hustle and bustle, tails and toenails moving in all directions, sniffing and more sniffing, and sometimes some curling lips and a little flash of teeth.  But with the exception of Fancy Pants–an alpha female who could just not handle having another little lady in her house–the 12 came together for a grand Sunday afternoon.

It’s remarkable, really.  These rescued dogs have been through untold trauma.  Stuff that we can never know or fully grasp.  They’ve been abandoned, neglected, abused, starved…the list of horrors is unending.  Their trust in humans has been breeched, and their hearts–and sometimes bones–broken.  Their experiences sometimes leave them with extra quirks–foibles, peccadillos.  It takes a special person to reach through all that and to give these broken dogs the unconditional love, care and dignity that brings them back.  They need restoration, some normalcy in their lives so that they can be considered for adoption.

The rescue people watch the dogs carefully, learn quickly…and accommodate these newly lucky dogs better than any restaurant or hotel I’ve ever seen.  They know who needs a little extra space, who needs to eat alone, who is afraid of slick floors or won’t go down stairs, who wants the pool filled, who appreciates a rug in the sun, who likes to chase and who likes to be chased, who needs which pill when, who likes ice cubes, who’s not feeling well, and who may need just a little extra cuddle today.

I think the dogs know how lucky they are to have been pulled out of hell and into the orbit of these compassionate people.  The dogs grow healthy, confident and hopefully forget all the bad things that happened before their rescue, before their foster, before their forever homes.  And while they may never lose those little quirks, they do learn to love again.

Bribery still won't get Rook down the stairs
Bribery still won’t get Rook down the stairs
Edward plays soccer with his beloved green ball.
Despite a billiard-ball-sized cancerous tumor hanging from his stomach, Edward plays soccer with his beloved green ball. Moments later he fell to the ground in a seizure. After 5 minutes, he recovered and went looking for the ball.
Pet shop boy Otis--and Ruby, the slightly askew rescue
Pet shop boy Otis– and Ruby, the slightly askew rescue


Solstice is frightened by the remains of a bird
Solstice is frightened by the remains of a bird
Hiccup on the couch
Hiccup was feeling a little anti-social after her surgery and stayed on the back of the couch most of the day
Shakira's purple stitches
Shakira needed eye surgery and got purple stitches
Anders the misunderstood
Anders the misunderstood. Sometimes he needs to be ignored until he calms down


Solstice & Atticus
Solstice (who is deaf & is learning sign language) looks up to Atticus (who has a bad eye)
Introducing the new foster
Fancy Pants is introduced to Avery, the new foster healing from 17 broken bones. More about Avery in my next post this week.

The quirks and foibles of rescued dogs.  From July 28, 2013 visit.

Want more information about fostering or adopting a rescued dog?

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Hot dogs!

We have had a mind-numbing heat wave in Chicago this week.  And the heat is still here…  It was muggy and oppressive even before the sun came up this morning.  So to refresh you and make you smile on this hot and humid Friday, here are some hot dogs cooling down.

As a reminder, if you’re hot, they’re hot.  Careful on the burning sidewalks.  Try turning on dog-level fans to stir the air.  Make sure everybody’s water dishes are full–yours included!  And for god’s sake don’t sit in a hot car for longer than 1 second!  Happy Summer Friday everyone!

Edward jumps for joy as he, Anders and Fancy Pants get a refreshing spritzing from Judy.
Edward jumps for joy as he, Anders and Fancy Pants get a refreshing spritzing from Judy.
Rookie boxing the water to retrieve his toy...or just because!
Rookie boxed at the water…either trying to get his toy, or for the splashing goodness!
Fancy Pants cooling her jets
Fancy Pants cooling her jets
Pool puppy, Edward
Pool puppy, Edward
Edward getting into the action with Fancy Pants and Anders.
Edward getting into the action with Fancy Pants and Anders.
Rookie's handsome mug :)
Rookie’s handsome mug :)



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Rescue Dogs & Their People

Anybody who knows me knows that I am crazy about dogs.  I have never been able to understand people who would give a dog up.  And to be honest, I don’t want to understand them.  The act of giving up a dog is mean, and shows no empathy, no compassion, no responsibility.  And yet, there are many who do it.  Every day, every hour, probably every minute, dogs are brought into shelters all over the country…as strays, or maybe they are too old to play, too much to care for, or they just aren’t wanted anymore.  It’s a heart-breaking cycle…for the hundreds of thousands of dogs who wait for their people to come back and for those dogs who are euthanized because no one came.

It’s also an emotional saga for the people who rescue dogs.  These people go deep into the shelters to find the dogs who need them the most, or to locate certain types of dogs for breed-specific rescue groups.  They have an intense love of dogs that is all encompassing.  It is a daily, hourly, constant thought or worry for them.  They take dogs out of shelters to fill openings in foster homes–or their own homes.  They raise money for care.  They network to arrange permanent homes.  They schedule a patchwork of transportation to drive dogs to new fosters, or forever homes, all over the country.  These people…and there are many…work tirelessly and with all their might for the dogs.  I am in awe of their strength.

There is a great joy in opening a cage and rescuing a dog.  And there is great pain turning around during that moment of joy and looking into the eyes of the other caged dogs who are hoping you will reach for their door next.  So it is with a bittersweet determination that I begin this project to photograph some of these very special souls who rescue, foster and transport dogs.  Please take a look.  Meet a few of the dogs and the people I will be spending some time with over the next few months, and let me know your thoughts.

Rescue Dogs & Their People
Rookie loves Kelly.
Rescue Dogs & Their People
Atticus kisses Judy, with Hiccup & Beau
Rescue Dogs & Their People
Solstice’s fair skin sunburns easily. Most days, she wears a t-shirt and sunblock.
Rescue Dogs and Their People
Atticus is an older Boxer with one bad eye. He is protective of Edward, a Boston Terrier with cancer.
Rescue Dogs and Their People
Shakira stays mum.
Rescue Dogs and Their People
Rookie is afraid to come down steps…
Rescue Dogs and Their People
Rookie telling me why he is afraid to come down steps.

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Buçaco (Bussaco) and Brownie the tour guide

Buçaco and Brownie the tour guide

The route North in Portugal
The route North in Portugal

What an amazing place! The Buçaco Palace Hotel Luso–how do I begin to describe the 260 acres of ancient trees and immaculate gardens, lots of trails to walk through the forest, and an ornate, luscious old hotel with gargoyles and icing-carved details all around?

We walked and hiked this place for days. It used to be a monastery, where silent monks planted and tended the gardens. Stations of the cross little houses are hidden on the trails–coated in vines, filled with life-size clay figures (some broken), and among 300-year-old trees. There are quiet places to sit and meditate in the cool shade among sunbeams sneaking in the canopy of trees. This would turn out to be a highlight of our trip…primarily because of a little brown dog with extra toes. We called her Brownie.

Buçaco Palace Hotel
Buçaco Palace Hotel
Buçaco Palace Hotel
Buçaco Palace Hotel
Lovely little Brownie
Lovely little Brownie
Brownie with Bryan
Brownie with Bryan

On our very first hike, we were greeted steps out the front door by this scrappy little caramel-colored girl dog with floppy ears, extra toes, brown nose and beguiling amber brown eyes. She let us pet her, and then turned briskly away, walking ahead and looking back at us to follow her. We did. We kept up with her, up the steep rocky paths into the woods and up to a stunning view down to the hotel. Each time we followed her into the woods, we traced our journey on the trail map the hotel had given us–but never once needed the map to find our way. We just followed Brownie as she walked the paths to some of the most stunning and isolated viewspoints. She came back for us if she got too far ahead and waited for us while we stopped to admire a tree or a view. This went on for 2 days. We took her, and “Joe” the German Shepherd, breakfast, lunch, and dinner scraps as payment. We walked in the mornings, afternoons and evenings too, playing with Brownie in the hotel courtyard and letting her guide us to see all the trails at Buçaco. This dog was happy, sweet, independent and playful. I wanted to rescue her–take her home and began to work it out in my mind. I knew though that she would not be happy on a 6 ft. leash in a 1,000 square foot apartment in Chicago with 3 other dogs. We ate a lot of meals outside in order to share them with Brownie and Joe. They gave us great happiness, and I think they enjoyed our company too.

Buçaco Windows
Buçaco Stairwell Window
Buçaco's dining hall
Buçaco’s dining hall

The hotel was so beautiful, empty foyers, empty stairwells–massive and marble. It was filled with chandeliers, stained glass, and wood work. And our bathroom! Spacious! The toilet, tub and sink seemed lost in the big echoey room.

We spent most every waking moment out with the dogs. There was a cascading walk of 10 terraces (steps numbered: 8-16-16-16-15-15-15-14-14-13) with a fountain running between the dual walkways. There was a 357-year-old cedar (planted in 1644 and now supported by an iron gate and cords tying it to earth) and a massive Tasmanian eucalyptus planted in 1876–and I do mean massive, straight-as-an-arrow and at a horseshoe bend in the road. The trunk couldn’t have been circled by 7 people holding hands…maybe 8 or 10.

One afternoon, we went out to walk and Brownie was nowhere in sight. We called, whistled…nothing. We began our walk–distracted and dampened by not having Brownie with us. As we neared the mid-point of the walk, Brownie raced past us on the path. Instantly brightening our day with her spunky look back at us. One day we went to nearby Coimbra for groceries to picnic with and picked the dogs up McDonald’s cheeseburgers…THAT was a hit!

On the final morning, we found them curled together beside a hedge. Stretching and smiling as we brought them breakfast scraps. We took a long slow walk to the Coimbra Gate enjoying both Joe and Brownie’s company that morning. I cannot describe the sadness I felt driving away that afternoon, looking back in the rear view mirror as the two of them sat by the steps of the hotel wagging their tails at other guests. Right before leaving, I met another lady who had saved her bacon for them too. :)

Brownie with Bryan
Brownie with Bryan

I wonder where they are today. And if they are safe, happy and healthy. They were angels.
As all dogs are.

To see a 2:21 video of Portugal, that ends with Brownie and Joe: Portugal-QT

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