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River Farm Goes to the Dogs

Rescue Foundation’s first picnic at River Farm draws 80 dogs, over 100 owners.

Arnold is a massive dog. As he contentedly lay in the grass late on a summer evening, it was hard to imagine a more durable, dependable example of his species. But when his owner Barbara Hutcheson first met him, he was uncared for, underfed and wracked with pneumonia. He had been found wandering as a stray in Spotsylvania County. He was so sick the shelter probably would not have saved him. Even if he had been healthy, in rural counties like Spotsylvania there are few adopters for dogs in shelters.

But Arnold was discovered by the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, an organization that focuses most of its collection efforts on rural areas in Virginia and Maryland. Volunteers collect animals from shelters as far away as North Carolina and bring them to LDCRF’s ranch in Sumerduck, Va. All animals are temperament tested, vaccinated and spayed or neutered. On weekends, volunteers bring the dogs to Petsmart stores in Fairfax, Falls Church and Leesburg.

Hutcheson, a volunteer with LDCRF, agreed to take in Arnold as a foster dog while they attempted to find him a permanent home. But Arnold’s temporary status with the Hutchesons was short-lived. Hutcheson said her two year old niece made it clear that Arnold was going to stay. “[She] fell in love with him,” Hutcheson said. “There’s no chance I could give him up.”

Now Hutcheson brings Arnold to elementary schools, where they give presentations on responsible dog ownership and rescue. She said she’s also brought him into a day facility for mentally disabled adults. She said his stoic personality was well suited to these public outings. “They can bang on him, shout, yell, stomp, he doesn’t care.”

ARNOLD WAS PRESENT on Sunday at LDCRF’s first annual “Dog Days of Summer Canine Picnic” at the American Horticultural Society’s River Farm. Foundation volunteer and foster home host Peggy Bowers, River Farm’s horticulturalist, arranged the event. She said about 125 people brought about 80 dogs to the picnic. Many of the picnickers were some of LDCRF’s 300 to 400 volunteers. Many dogs had been rescued by LDCRF.

Besides food and raffles, picnickers could watch their dogs participate in contests like the 40 yard dash, hurdles and agility tests organized by Fur-get Me Not Doggy Day Care in Arlington. They could have their dogs’ portraits taken by Kassi Baker, and have them washed by Meg Corbett and Paul Bradley of Old Town Doggie Wash, a self-serve washing and grooming store on 105 Moncure Drive off Duke Street across from the Alexandria Animal Hospital.

Corbett and Bradley started washing dogs at 2:30 p.m. and there were still dogs in line at 8 p.m. “We haven’t stopped since we got here,” Bradley said. He estimated it takes about 20 minutes to brush, wash and dry a dog. They donated all proceeds from the washes to LDCRF.

“That’s a way for us to help the cause,” Corbett said.

Bowers estimated LDCRF earned about $4,000 from the picnic. This money will be put towards the shelter’s efforts to bring as many dogs as possible from the countryside where they are unlikely to be adopted to urban areas where there is a high demand for adoptable dogs.

“We pull from the rural shelter and bring them into the city,” said Pam McAlwee, LDCRF’s founder. McAlwee owns Lost Dog Café and the Stray Cat Café in Arlington. She estimated the LDCRF has saved at least 5,000 dogs and 1,000 cats from euthanasia since it was founded in 2001. “We’re just like the traveling gypsies. We go out where the dogs are not getting homes and we drag them into the city every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.