Tuesday, October 16, 2007

DogsInDanger seek the kindness of strangers

Recent NYC success stories, Happy, Sandy, Spot, and Princessa--all found homes through DogsInDanger--many more still waiting.

Alice Walton and her dog Hannah have been regulars at the Rocky Run for some time now, and we're lucky to have them both. Hannah, it should be mentioned, has already had a blog post devoted to her activities. Hannah clearly leads a dog's life in the very best sense of that term--but millions of other dogs aren't so lucky. And some are about to run out of luck right now.

Alice is working with DogsInDanger, a nonprofit national shelter outreach program, seeking to get dogs out of the shelter system before they are euthanized. We all know there are vast numbers of wonderful dogs out there, needing homes and families, but we tend to forget (or just don't want to remember) how many of them face death every single day, because the system can't accomodate them all. DogsInDanger is trying to raise public consciousness of this lamentable fact, and use it to spur people to action. We can shrug our shoulders hopelessly when reading depressing statistics, but put a face on the problem, and a time limit, and maybe the situation can be improved at both ends--more adoptions, to start with. And in the long run, hopefully, more attention paid to the causes of this problem.

There has been a lot of media attention on the group, as their innovative website went online recently. There was a nationally distributed story in the Associated Press, and there has also been coverage on The Today Show recently.

So it was great of Alice to take the time out of a more than usually hectic schedule to answer a few brief questions for Washington Tykes about her work.

How did you come to be involved with this organization?

I had worked with animals in academia for a long time, first getting my PhD in Biopsychology (concentrating in animal behavior), then going on to veterinary school. Though I was doing well in vet school, I wasn't happy studying medicine and realized there were a lot of other ways I could help animals. I thought, "giving Foo-Foo her rabies shot isn't going help as much as working 'for animals' in a larger way." I should add that I have a lot of respect for the veterinary community! So I started looking for animal welfare-related jobs and this one popped up on craigslist! I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but it's turned out wonderfully.

Why did you pick DogsInDanger over the many other groups devoted to rescuing dogs?

I felt that this was a really unique opportunity because the concept of DogsInDanger hadn't been done before. The central idea is to bring public awareness to the fact that 4 million dogs are put to death every year, simply for lack of space -- and no one knows about it! If people adopted shelter animals instead of buying them from the pet shop down the street (where the puppies come from puppy mills), we'd have a very different situation in this country. The sad thing is that shelters don't want to euthanize their animals, but the law sees no other way. DogsInDanger has invited all municipal shelters, animal controls, and humane societies that euthanize, all across the country, to register and post their urgent dogs on our site, along with the dogs' euthanasia dates. It is heart-wrenching, and there are some who don't like the concept, but it's presenting the facts and the truth. And to make changes to the present situation we have to come to grips with the truth.

Do you have a story about a particular dog your group saved that you'd like to share with us?

There have a been lots of success stories for DiD, even in these very early stages of the site's operation. People have driven for hours to get to a dog they saw on the website. A couple from Chicago drove 5 hours to adopt Sweet William, a black lab who was featured in our AP article. At the same IL shelter, there was a little black dog named Shy, who shivered and shook at the back of her cage during her 5 day stay at the shelter, despite the shelter staff's efforts to calm her down. A different Chicago couple drove down to see her; they spent a lot of time talking to her and soothing her so that she no longer trembled, and they took a happy Shy home! It's been a very emotional job so far -- being privy to both the happy and the sad stories -- but it's been incredibly rewarding. I'm very lucky to be a part of such a positive movement.

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