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Lost Dog: Helping Save Lives, One Pet at a Time

Area residents explain their dedication to the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation.

Diane McIntosh, a volunteer with the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, sometimes holds on to puppies too young to play with the other dogs during adoption events.

Diane McIntosh, a volunteer with the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, sometimes holds on to puppies too young to play with the other dogs during adoption events. Photo Contributed

— Behind every adoption successfully completed by the Arlington-based Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, there's a volunteer with a happy heart.

There's a small volunteer army across Northern Virginia that turns out every weekend to help cats and dogs find homes, but there's never a shortage of others looking for a safe place to be fed, sheltered and loved. Volunteers are what make the organization run, from walking dogs at adoption events to petting cats to making sure adoptable animals have safe transportation from rural shelters to this area for medical care.

These volunteers are playing, and will continue to play, a major role in Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation’s participation in the ASPCA/Rachael Ray $100,000 challenge, an ongoing competition in which the rescue group and others across the country are trying to surpass the number of animal adoptions recorded between June 1 and Aug. 31.

But why do people agree to share their limited free time with animals? What brings them in, and what makes them stay?

Here are a few of their stories:

A FAMILY EFFORT

Diane McIntosh and her family have been involved with fostering dogs for the foundation for three years, not to mention the two other rescue groups she helps.

Adoption Events

Fridays, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Tysons Corner PetSmart - cats only

Fairlakes PetSmart - dogs only

Saturdays, noon-3 p.m.

Sterling Petco - dogs only

7 Corners PetSmart - dogs & cats

Saturdays, 1-4 p.m.

Fair Lakes PetSmart - dogs only

Rockville PetSmart - dogs only

Sundays. 1-4 p.m.

Sterling PetSmart - dogs only

Alexandria PetSmart - dogs only

Leesburg PetSmart - cats only

Reston PetSmart - cats only

Tysons Corner PetSmart - dogs & cats

The former federal government employee of 38 years was recruited by her niece, who told her about the organization and its need for temporary homes for dogs.

"Then they needed someone to work the adoption table at an event in Alexandria, and sometimes while I'm working the table, I'll need to hold a dog or two," she said.

McIntosh, of Springfield, also helps bring dogs from other animal shelters to be examined by a veterinarian for Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation before their photos are uploaded onto the rescue's website and they are made available for adoption. She is so often called on to help transport animals, she recently purchased a new SUV purely because it can fit nine animal crates at a time.

"If I'm taking dogs and cats, I can fit a few in the front seat too," McIntosh laughed.

She and her husband have three dogs of their own, including one, Rusty, who would fall under the knowing title of a "foster failure." Rusty was supposed to be a foster dog, staying with the family in their Springfield home only temporarily, but soon became a permanent resident.

"The entire trip from the shelter, he stayed with his head on my shoulder," McIntosh recalled. "He was found in a coal mine in West Virginia. We had him two and a half years."

Her family tends to foster, or adopt, older dogs and currently has a 13-year-old Labrador/Shepherd mix named Glen who "doesn't have teeth and is getting cataracts. We didn't have plans for a third dog, but I'm past the puppy stage. He just wants to have a nice place to live," and McIntosh and her family are happy to provide him with that.

Joining Together To Save Animals

There are dozens of animal welfare organizations across the country working to secure "forever homes" for dogs and cats of all ages. And while there's a general camaraderie amongst them, stemming from their common cause, what's a little friendly competition among peers?

For the past few years, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has sponsored a nationwide contest to challenge shelters to see how many more animals they could adopt between June and August beyond the total the year before.

The idea was to "spur innovation, increase public support, empower staff and, most importantly, save more lives," said Bert Troughton, ASPCA's vice president and a leader of what has become the ASPCA/Rachael Ray $100K challenge.

The organizations that adopt the most animals above its total from June to August the year before wins not only in terms of putting cats and dogs in loving, happy homes, but a sizeable chunk of change to carry them forward to save even more.

"We know that the contest can help save more lives in the long-term too, because all of the added attention and support contestants earn during the contest can be harnessed for continued life-saving," Troughton said.

ASPCA started the challenge in 2010, and in 2012, TV personality and animal lover Rachael Ray joined up with the organization, as she did again this year, allowing the organization to offer more than $600,000 in prize grants to shelters that win in each of four categories:

A $100,000 grand prize grant will be awarded to the organization that reports the largest increase in adoptions over the total from the year before.

A $25,000 "community engagement award" will be given to the organization that saves at least 300 more cats and dogs of all ages and "demonstrates the best job of getting its community involved in its life-saving efforts."

Additional $25,000 grants will be awarded to the organizations in each division that reports the biggest increase in adoptions over the previous year. Troughton pointed out that the big winner will be considered the best in its division, but will not be awarded the $25,000 in addition to the $100,000 grant. There will be a total of four Best in Division prizes.

Division one is for organizations that bring in between 1,500 and 2,500 animals per year; division two is for organizations that bring in between 2,501 and 4,000 animals per year; division three is for agencies that bring in between 4,001 and 7,000 animals per year; division four is organizations that take in between 7,001 and 11,000 animals annually; and division five is any organization that takes in more than 11,001 animals annually.

And there will be $15,000 in second-place grants awarded in each division, for those organizations that report the second-greatest increase in adoptions from June 1 through Aug. 31 over the same time last year.

The winners will be notified by the end of September, and there will be "several celebration events taking place across the country" to honor those groups, Troughton said.

The challenge is open to any non-profit or government-sponsored animal welfare organization that brought in at least 1,500 dogs and cats and spays or neuters all animals prior to adoption, according to the official rules posted on ASPCA's website, http://challenge.aspcapro.org/2013-challenge-rules.

"Shelter staff and volunteers use training from the ASPCA and their own ingenuity to come up with ways to increase community involvement, increase dog and cat adoptions, increase the number of lost animals returned to their owners, and, in some cases, increase the number of animals transferred to other adoption agencies," Troughton said. "It's a whole lot of work and a whole to of fun because every single life saved is a victory — regardless of who wins the grant prizes for the biggest increases."

This year, a total of 49 organizations in 30 states are competing for the grants, he said. To see the Challenge Leaderboard, visit http://challenge.aspcapro.org/contestants.

— Amber Healy

She continues to volunteer with Lost Dog "because I believe in them," she said. "Sometimes it's very crazy and frantic, but it's an organization near and dear to my heart. It's one of the best rescue organizations around. I'd do anything for Lost Dog."

THE "PUPPY PALACE"

Peggy Plummer can't say no to a puppy face.

It's been 11 years since Plummer and her family adopted their first dog, 10 years since they adopted their second, and six and a half years since they've turned the garage of their Mount Vernon home into what they call the "puppy palace."

The Plummers foster litters of puppies, typically pit bulls or other terriers, sometimes taking in the mother dog before she's delivered and nursing the pups until they're all old enough to be adopted out.

"Volunteering was a no brainer," Plummer said. "We wanted to do something to give back."

There have been more than puppies fostered at the Plummer house, in groups of 10-12 at a time.

"When you have that many, it adds up fairly quickly," and finding creative ways to keep the groups together but in their own pockets of space can be tricky, she said.

Her organizational skills caught the attention of Barbara Hutcherson, the adoption coordinator for Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, who asked Plummer to be their puppy foster coordinator, helping to make sure that litters of puppies had foster homes lined up and available to bring the dogs to adoption events on weekends.

For the Love of Animals

In 2001, there were too many dogs without homes and too few people to help them.

That wasn't acceptable to Pamela McAlwee and Ross Underwood, lifelong animal lovers who wanted to save dogs and cats alike from shelters where their futures were non-existent if they weren't adopted.

McAlwee and Underwood were a few years into running a gourmet take-out pizza deli on Washington Boulevard in the Westover neighborhood of Arlington, when McAlwee went to help a friend find a dog to adopt. While visiting a shelter, she saw six dogs that were about to be put down within a few days. Upon hearing that, she promptly took all six of them home that night. She got them spayed or neutered and cleaned up and put a classified ad in a newspaper, and in between orders for pepperoni and cheese and vegetarian pizzas, she worked to find good homes for them all. She did this several times, adopting dogs about to be euthanized and finding homes for them.

That's how the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation was born, out of the take-out phone number for what's now the original location of the Lost Dog Cafe. McAlwee had worked with other rescue groups before, but she wanted to focus more on finding good homes for the animals instead of waiting for a "perfect" placement. The rescue group started with 25 dogs.

Now there are 150 dogs at a ranch in Sumerduck, Va., owned by Lost Dog, as the rescue organization is known, along with 20 cats and an assortment of other animals, including a horse. Other dogs and cats live with fosters — more than 100 dogs are currently in temporary homes until they're adopted.

"It's amazing what we accomplish with an all-volunteer base," said Barbara Hutcherson, Lost Dog's adoptions coordinator. There's a small paid staff that largely takes care of the animals at the ranch, where the dogs are walked two or three times a day in addition to having roomy kennels for living and fields for running around.

"The ranch is a wonderful place for animals to come and wait for their chance to get their forever families," she said. There are soft beds for the dogs and cats to sleep on, in addition to plenty of room to play and run around. The dogs might arrive in carriers or crates to the half-dozen adoptions event in Northern Virginia each weekend, and it's common for volunteers and prospective adopters to see that and pity the dogs, but at the end of the typically three-hour adoption event, the dogs are clamoring to get back into the crates and head back to the ranch. They're eager to get back — partly because the events are filled with people and new smells, and that's a lot for the dogs to deal with, Hutcherson said.

Predominantly, the dogs and cats come from overcrowded shelters in other counties across the region, from Prince George's County in Maryland to rural shelters in West Virginia.

As part of the ASPCA/Rachael Ray $100,000 Challenge, Lost Dog is trying to outdo their adoptions from last summer.

The goal is for 1,500 adoptions between June 1 and Aug. 31. As of Monday, July 15, 451 dogs and cats have been adopted during the challenge. June 2013 has had 176 more adoptions than June 2012.

It's a big job to do, but Hutcherson is confident the group can, at a minimum, surpass the adoptions completed last year, when more than 560 animals were adopted.

To put those numbers in perspective, more than 18,000 animals have found homes courtesy of Lost Dog in the past 12 years, Hutcherson said. The group typically takes in as many animals as it adopts out, with roughly 2,400 animals coming in to Lost Dog's care in 2012 and nearly the same number finding homes.

People who find and fall in love with a cat or dog during an adoption event get to take their pet home the same day, a feature not common with other rescue groups and one that sometimes creates friction between Lost Dog and other organizations.

Another attribute of Lost Dog that makes them stand out: If pet owners who adopted their cat or dog from the foundation find themselves in a position where they can no longer care for the animal for any reason, the rescue group will take custody of the animal again.

"A few months ago, we had a dog returned who had been with her family for 10 years," Hutcherson said. "Her person just fell on some really hard times ... But we are dedicated to the animals," and within a few days of the dog returning to Northern Virginia, she found a home with another older dog, Hutcherson said.

"Older dogs have so much soul," she said. "We've had a lot of success placing older dogs," because puppies require a lot of energy and attention, and some people want a family dog without having to go through the trials of house breaking all over again.

Lost Dog is the only organization in Northern Virginia participating in the ASPCA challenge. The rescue had to verify its numbers and qualify in order to participate, proving the volunteer base and "the commitment to really take this challenge and run with it," Hutcherson said.

"The contest was designed by the ASPCA to help rescue groups and shelters," she said. "They haven't just said, OK, here's the money. They provided a list of ideas on how to get better. If you have questions about a specific aspect, you can call and get help. They've provided a ton of resources."

If Lost Dog wins one of the grants provided through the challenge, the winnings likely will be used for vet bills. Nearly all the animals that come into Lost Dog's care have medical issues, ranging from the typical need to be spayed or neutered, to flea or heartworm treatment, to surgery or serious, long-term medical care. The only reason Lost Dog would turn an animal away is if the costs are so great they couldn't care for that animal, a situation that the rescue tries to avoid.

"It's difficult when you're looking at a list of shelter animals and you have to ask if you can afford the big vet bill for one animal" compared to smaller fees for multiple animals, Hutcherson said. "We want to take them all. It's uncomfortable, but we want to do every single thing we can."

The funding for the rescue comes from adoption fees, but also from donations, made during adoption events or online, and from proceeds from the four Lost Dog Cafe locations across Northern Virginia and the one Stray Cat Cafe, next to the original Lost Dog Cafe in Westover.

More information on Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, including a short video of the ranch, is available at www.lostdogrescue.org.

— Amber Healy

"I've been doing that for three years," she said. "When I get a call from a shelter about a pregnant dog or a dog with pups, I'll send an email out to the other puppy fosters, arrange transport, get them to the vet and take care of their medical needs."

It's especially important for puppies to be in good foster homes, because they can't be out and about during adoption events like older dogs that are ready to be placed in homes, she said. "They can't go to the kennel" or to the ranch Lost Dog owns, out in Sumerduck, Va., because they haven't had all their shots, which makes them vulnerable to illness.

When asked if she's ever taken a break from fostering, Plummer got quiet for a second, then chuckled.

"Maybe for 10 days," she said. "I think we went two weeks without fostering, and that includes any times we've gone on vacation. We do a lot of back-to-back litters. But it's wonderful. I love the puppies, working with them, watching them grow."

She's grateful for the other foster families in addition to the rescue organization at large.

"This is just a great big team," Plummer said. "In a rescue, you've got a lot of ups and downs. There are things we share with each other. We pull each other through. It's such a great group to work with, and Pam [McAlwee, Lost Dog's co-founder] and Barb [Hutcherson] are amazing."

CALL HIM THE CAT MAN

Harry Shubin and his wife, Julie, know what it's like to get sweet-talked into taking on more responsibility.

"Always a cat person," Shubin, a Fairfax resident, was introduced to Lost Dog through a secretary at work when his family was looking to adopt a kitten after the loss of a cat he'd had for 16 years. He was more interested in adopting an older cat, but his family had other ideas. So they went to an adoption event. Within a little time, he had "managed to convince everyone that we should come home with an adult cat too."

It took a while to find the right cats, and Friday nights became the family's time to go to adoption events, chat with volunteers and spend time with the animals. During an adoption event about six months after they started going regularly, someone asked Shubin if he was interested in adopting.

"Before I could say no, someone opened up and said no, they're just volunteers," he said.

A year later, Shubin, officially a volunteer with cat adoption events at the Tysons Corner PetSmart, was asked to help find a cat volunteer coordinator for the center in the store, where cats sometimes live before they're adopted.

"We had about 30 volunteers at the time," and Shubin said he made it clear — at least to him — that he was not interested in being responsible for keeping track of which volunteers had which cats at which time. But something happened and, before he knew it, Shubin was put in charge of the cat volunteers, a team he now counts at about 400 people.

"I refused twice," he said with a laugh. He's not alone in being drafted to help out. His wife and daughter are both cat adoption counselors, meeting with prospective cat owners before paperwork is signed and formalized.

And at home, there are six cats they call their own. "One's diabetic, another has [irritable bowel syndrome], two have to be kept in a separate room because the other cats terrorize them." Never a dull moment, Shubin said.

He credits PetSmart for being a great partner with Lost Dog, hosting many of the adoption events throughout each weekend. He frequently checks in with the store to make sure the cats that are there have been fed and checked in on by volunteers, and the managers make sure to receive copies of all adoption paperwork as well.

Other rescue groups might cringe at the thought of allowing an adoption to be made the same day people meet a cat, but Shubin believes that's the best way to go.

"We'd rather adopt more cats to 85 percent perfect people than wait for that 99 percent perfect house," he said. "We can always take an animal back" if the situation doesn't work out for some reason. And there are always more cats to adopt, looking for good homes.

THE MIRACLE WORKER

Centreville resident Earl Smith has a reputation for taking sad-eyed, frightened beagles and turning them into happy, friendly, outgoing pets.

Case in point: the two dogs he's recently fostered.

"Blue was a shelter dog. When I took him in, he was less than social," keeping his head and tail down, not attempting to play with his own three dogs, Smith said. Within a few weeks, his tail was up and wagging, his eyes alert and on the watch for squirrels or birds.

Another dog, Cappy, had been with Smith for only a few days. "Five weeks ago, he was in a home where he'd lived for 10 years. He got dropped off at an adoption event" without prior warning or explanation by his previous owner.

Smith has been fostering dogs, mostly beagles, for six years, and has turned many fosters into full-time pets.

"My first dog was from Lost Dog," he said. "Eleven years ago, I got my first beagle. A couple of years later, I got him a buddy. After that, I'd see rescue groups and wanted to volunteer," and signing up with the foundation was an easy decision to make.

During one of the first adoption events he attended as a volunteer, "there was a dog at an event and she was old. I thought, how can I let this dog go to a kennel? So I asked if I could foster."

Since then, he's fostered 45 dogs, often getting animals that appear to have been abused or made to fear humans in some way.

"I have a soft spot for the sad ones, the ones no one has loved for a long time," he said. "With a rescue organization, any home they have is better than the place they were before."

It's hard work, trying to make the dogs feel comfortable in a new environment, especially when they're introduced to new animals all at once. But there's a moment that makes the heartbreak worthwhile.

"For me, the best reward is when I get home and the new dog is there with my other dogs waiting to jump on me and say hello," he said, smiling. "I just want to know they're safe."

Some Lost Dog volunteers have taken to calling the beagles that look the most unsure and frightened "Earl dogs," because they know he can work his magic with them.

He admits it's difficult to get attached to a dog knowing the animal's just there temporarily. Some families send pictures through the years so he can see the dog grow up, often with a family's children. Others promise to do so, but forget as time goes on.

"I keep photos of all the dogs I've fostered," he said, opening up his cell phone and scrolling through before and after photos of some dogs mixed in with ones he's been sent of his success stories in their new lives. It's a practice embraced by many Lost Dog volunteers.

A RESCUE DOG MADE HER FAMILY COMPLETE

Since the age of four, Beth Howell has had a dog. She doesn't remember how she found Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, but for the past eight years, she's been helping with dog adoptions in Fair Lakes.

However, she's most grateful to the organization for bringing her dog Jill into her family's life.

After losing a dog she'd had for 16 years, her family went to a Lost Dog event with the idea of maybe someday adopting a new puppy. After spending upwards of two hours with the adorable pup, Beth Howell gave Jill a new home.

Jill’s brother, Jack, had been adopted by another family the same day. Jill quickly took on an important role in the Howell household, keeping Beth's husband company while he was recovering from an illness.

"She makes us smile all the time," Beth Howell said. Jill is a "blend" of breeds, the family found after having her DNA tested, just for fun. "There are traces of German shepherd, Yorkshire terrier, spaniel and about seven other breeds in there," all in a dog that weighs about 30 pounds.

The Howells don't foster, but are staples of adoption events on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. "I'd really like to [foster] but I'd have to convince my husband," she laughed. She does, however, help transport dogs from shelters in other counties to the foundation.

"I always wanted to contribute in some way, and I love helping animals," Howell said of her inspiration for becoming a volunteer. She helps get dogs ready for some special events, including 5K races that sometimes serve as fundraisers or outreach events for Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, in which dogs are taken out to be seen by prospective adopters or just to stretch their legs. There have been times when passersby have approached Howell to tell her they adopted their dog from the foundation, and how happy they've become.

HER DAUGHTER'S DOING

Judy Haynes of Herndon was trying to help her daughter find a way to complete her volunteer requirement for an eighth grade civics class. Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation was one of the few groups that would allow 14-year-olds to help out with parental supervision, so the mother-daughter team signed up.

That was four years ago.

"We started out holding leashes for the dogs," Haynes said. When their own dog passed away, they thought about fostering from the organization.

That led to a "foster failure," as the family soon adopted a "20 pound terrier who doesn't tolerate dogs bigger than she is. Now we foster a lot of Chihuahuas," Haynes said. The family has fostered at least 20 dogs in four years.

The smaller dogs often don't do well at adoption events in large, noisy, brightly-lit places like PetSmart. They can be uncharacteristically aggressive or nervous, and don't really give the best impression of themselves, she said. One way to help present the dogs in their best light might be to put a video of the dogs at home on Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation’s website, a project she's considering.

The power of knowing a dog has found the right home is awesome, Haynes added. She recalled one woman and little boy who came in to look at dogs during an event. Through the course of chatting with them, Haynes learned that the boy was in a foster home, and the woman wanted to help him feel more comfortable and safe.

"They were made for each other," she said.

Staying with Lost Dog now that her two teenagers have surpassed their eighth grade civics obligations was an easy decision.

"It's very rewarding to do this," she said. "The volunteers, Barb and Pam, there are so many great people involved."

A WRANGLER OF FAMILY MEMBERS

Volunteering with Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation helped Lisa Marie Czop find her place in the world when she was feeling a little, well, lost.

"When I moved back down to D.C., I was a little lost in what my adult life was supposed to look like," she said. She knew she wanted to make a difference with animals, and when a relative found an animal to adopt through Lost Dog, she decided to sign up as a volunteer.

She has stayed with the group because "we really are the people-friendly rescue. It is simply too easy for someone to go to a pet shop and purchase an animal. LDCRF makes it easy for potential adopters to find an animal that they can welcome into their family while still keeping the well-being of our animals a top priority," an attribute she believes sets the group apart from other organizations in the region.

Currently, Czop manages the Alexandria adoption event and helps run a transport program, in addition to working as liaison with shelters in West Virginia. Then there's the occasional foster duty for dogs and puppies, in addition to helping out with the organization's website and fundraisers.

"The amazing thing is, I'm just one part of this overall machine that saves thousands of lives each year," she said. "The LDCRF volunteer team is a family, and we all bring our individual strengths together to help as many animals as possible."

Even with a full life away from the organization, "there is nothing that can compare to the sheer joy of saving an animal from certain death in a shelter and adopting it into a wonderful loving home," Czop said. "Volunteering with LDCRF means that I get to play a part in making a tangible difference in the lives of animals, which means that I'm serving a greater purpose with my life overall."

INSPIRED BY PARKER

Arlington resident Beth Stevens adopted a dog and found a whole new social circle.

Her start with Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation came when she adopted her puppy, Parker, in the summer of 2008.

"A year after adopting Parker, I saw an ad in Lost Dog's newsletter asking for puppy fosters," she said. “I knew the more foster families they could recruit, the more animals they could save. So I signed up. I ended up fostering about 60 puppies between 2009 and 2011."

But she didn't stop there. Recently, she's fostered a mother cat and six kittens, in addition to helping with transports, walking dogs at adoption events and helping new adoptive families get all the necessities for their new pet.

There's almost a spiritual aspect to working with Lost Dog, she said.

"I get back so much more than I give," Stevens said. "It's incredibly gratifying knowing that I'm a small part of the long chain of volunteers that have kept an otherwise-adoptable dog or cat off the euthanasia list and on his or her way to happiness in their forever homes. I'm not just helping to save their lives. I'm also saving a piece of my soul and my sanity every day that I volunteer."

She points to the popular Budweiser commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, featuring a young Clydesdale and his trainer. The horse eventually leaves the farm, and the man appears sad to see the animal leave.

"The guy goes to Chicago to see the horse in action, and the horse recognizes the guy and comes barreling down the road," she recalled. "I keep up on Facebook with many of the folks who've adopted my fosters. And when I see those dogs, and they get all wiggly and happy to see me, I feel like that guy in the commercial."

How To Help

To learn more about the ASPCA/Rachael Ray $100K challenge, find a new pet, donate or volunteer with the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, go to www.lostdogrescue.org.

FINDING A HOME IN A NEW CITY

When Gina Ysunza moved to Falls Church from California in 2010, she wanted to find an outlet that would help make the area feel like home.

"I started off volunteering with cat adoptions at the Saturday events" after a friend from church told her about Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, she said. Now, in addition to helping with the Saturday adoption events, she serves as the cat volunteer coordinator at the Seven Corners PetSmart, making sure the cats in the center are looked after by signing up volunteers to stop in and feed and play with any cats living there between adoption events.

Working with Lost Dog is inspirational to Ysunza.

"Knowing that I can help even one cat get a second chance at a new loving home" makes it worthwhile, she said. "And getting to spend lots of cuddle time with cute kitties" doesn't hurt either.

A FURRY SIBLING DOES THE TRICK

Aileen Reinhard and her daughter, Sydney, were looking for a new pet after losing their beloved beagle. "We went online and looked at their website and requested that a couple of beagles come to one of their events," Aileen Reinhard said. "There, we met and fell in love with our 'son' Peanut, who was just saved a few days earlier from a shelter in rural Ohio."

Sydney, who was just 7 years old at the time, and her mom signed up to volunteer walking dogs during adoption events as a way to help other families "experience all the joys of adopting a four legged 'son' or 'daughter' such as we feel every day," Aileen Reinhard said. "It really is true that our rescued pet rescued us."

Now, they help work the sign-in table for volunteers and run new volunteer orientation during the Friday night adoption event in Fair Lakes. "Sydney writes out the name tags for both Friday and Saturday events at Fair Lakes. We also participate in special events for increasing public awareness for LDCRF, make tablecloths for the adoption events and helped with the sewing of dog adoption and donation vests," which are worn by dogs who are walked by volunteers outside the events, with little pockets on either side.

Volunteering with Lost Dog is "such a great experience," Aileen Reinhard said. "The selfless, genuine dedication of all the volunteers is immeasurable, all coming together for the common good of animals that would otherwise be forgotten forever but instead are saved and cherished for the rest of their lives in their forever homes."

And, as parents of an only child, working with Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation "has given our daughter exemplary, positive role models to interact with and to gain a perspective that service to others, even four-legged, is very rewarding," she added.

A SECOND JOB, A LABOR OF LOVE

Marcia Tiersky was just looking for a way to share her time.

Now the president of the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation board, Tiersky, who started volunteering with the organization in 2002, helps oversee quarterly board meetings in addition to interviewing potential adopters, answering questions from anywhere and everywhere, fostering dogs and updating the website when new animals arrive for adoption.

"LDCRF is sort of my second unpaid job that is a labor of love," she said. "Knowing that we are helping thousands of dogs and cats each year is extremely fulfilling. It gives me hope that my life has a purpose."

The organization has grown from three adoption events per week, averaging 20 adoptions each week, to 11 adoption events each week, averaging 50-70 adoptions each weekend. In her 10 years as president, the number of volunteers also has expanded, now numbering in the thousands.

"It's amazing," she said. "And it's all because of our wonderful volunteers. We could not do what we do if we did not have people to hold the dogs, show the cats, conduct interviews, do paperwork, answer adopter questions, respond to emails and calls on the phone line, and generally spread word of mouth about the rescue."

MONEY WON EQUALS LIVES SAVED

All volunteers interviewed were asked what Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation’s winning the $100,000 challenge would mean to the organization, and the response was unanimous.

Winning that money would mean more animals could be saved.

"That could mean medical care for hundreds of dogs and cats," Tiersky said. "It could mean installing additional space at our ranch for more dogs or cats. It means we could rescue animals in need of serious medical treatment that we otherwise might not be able to afford to help. However we decide to use the money, it would all go for the purpose of saving the lives of dogs and cats, and so it would be well spent."

Other volunteers suggested the money might be used to buy new vans to be used to transport animals, or to make repairs or extend the facilities at the LDCRF ranch. But the bottom line is, shelter animals can be expensive to care for, and every dollar raised by the organization, or any prize won through the ASPCA/Rachael Ray challenge, means that many more animals can be brought in from rural shelters. Every animal brought to Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation is another chance at life.

Editor’s note: Writer Amber Healy is an occasional cat volunteer with Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation.