On the narrow stretch of sidewalk outside the Cheeky Puppy pet-supply store, two black-and-white puppies named Schnapps and Shirley explore the confines of their wire travel cage, soft black noses sniffing at the early summer Dupont Circle air. Among the eight dogs at this City Dogs Rescue adoption event, the 13-week-old border collie mix pups are clearly the biggest draw: Passersby and young children flock to them, hands outstretched.
“Careful, please don’t touch the puppies — they haven’t had all their parvo shots yet,” Pam Nalley warns. One of CDR’s dedicated cadre of volunteers, Nalley made the 10-hour drive from the shelter where she works in Pickens County, S.C. Had City Dogs not intervened — paying for the pups’ shots and spaying and Nalley’s drive to Washington — they would have been euthanized.
Off to one side, a small, older dog named Rayna rests in the shade beside foster mother Patricia Preware. Rayna, whose silky outsize ears mark her as a cocker spaniel mix, politely wags her tail as a stranger says hello. Preware, an international development specialist, brags about Rayna with mingled pride and anxiety. “Puppies are fun, but see how nice she is?” says Preware, who has a 9-year-old dog of her own at home. “Rayna’s the best of both worlds. She’s super calm, and she loves people, too.”
The satisfaction of finding permanent homes for dogs such as Schnapps, Shirley and Rayna is the driving force behind City Dogs Rescue. Although less than three years old, the nonprofit organization has found adoptive homes in the Washington area for more than 700 stray and abandoned dogs from five high-kill shelters in Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina — all with a volunteer staff and office space at the Friends Meeting House near Dupont Circle. With its dual focus on social media and socializing, CDR is a 21st-century enterprise.
When Darren Binder and his partner, Dave Liedman, received a friend’s anguished plea on behalf of a year-old black Lab named Bentley who was hours away from being euthanized at a Georgia animal shelter, they had no inkling their answer would lead to founding an animal rescue organization.
Liedman, 35, co-owner of the District’s City Dogs Daycare, was accustomed to setting aside several spots as temporary waystations for local rescue groups’ dogs en route to their adoptive homes. But after the pair took in Bentley and placed him with a new owner, they decided they had to do more. “We realized, this dog was about to die a week ago, and now he’s here. We just said, ‘We’ve got to do something,’ ” Binder recalls.
Liedman made a drastic career shift 10 years ago, quitting his job as a communications systems engineer at Mitre Corp. to co-run City Dogs Daycare with friend Jesse Heier. Today his job at the day care dovetails with his tasks as a City Dogs Rescue director, coordinating intakes. For the other directors on CDR’s board — Binder, 45, who is vice president and deputy general counsel at Bon Secours Health Care System; Meredith Raimondi, 27, a scheduler and executive assistant to Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.); and Sasha Miller, 41, a partner at law firm Zuckerman Spaeder — as well as a core group of about 30 volunteers, the commitment to the rescue group is an after-hours proposition.
“When Dave and I started this in 2011, we figured we were going to adopt maybe two, three dogs a month. Two years later, in November 2013, we adopted out 50 dogs in just one month. So it became something way, way bigger than we anticipated,” Binder says.
The rate of dog adoptions took off two years ago, when Raimondi started volunteering on weekends. “I wanted to learn more about social media, to do communications,” Raimondi says, “and I became very passionate about what we were doing.” Her involvement expanded the group’s social media presence exponentially, her co-directors say. “We have a strong Facebook presence now. The alumni page [for those who have adopted or fostered in the past] is really popular; when Meredith came on board, we had 200 likes, and we now have 13,000 in two and a half years. It’s pretty crazy,” Binder said.
CDR’s formidable corps of volunteers — it was voted “Best Place to Volunteer” by Washington City Paper this year — transports shelter dogs to the D.C. area, and coordinates with veterinarians, foster owners and adoptive families to get them into homes as quickly as possible. The organization encourages its volunteers to take the lead. Debodhonyaa Sengupta, a lawyer with Sughrue Mion’s intellectual property practice and an adoption counselor for CDR on weekends, orchestrated the Cheeky Puppy adoption meet. “I would say 60 to 70 percent of our volunteers are either lawyers or work on the Hill,” she says. “We all have full-time jobs, and this is what we do when we have some [spare] time.”
Its youngest volunteers are no less engaged. Nine-year-old Ethan Katz of Stevensville, Md., whose family adopted his golden retriever mix Brooklyn from City Dogs Rescue last year, has raised more than $13,000 in donations for the group through online sales of a T-shirt he designed. Katz and Brooklyn appeared on “Good Morning America” last month to promote the campaign.
Along with maximizing social media, putting the “fun” back in “fundraising” is a key to the organization’s success. “How many rescues have their events at drag bingo?” Binder asks. The events tend to be centered on socializing in D.C. bars, including longtime CDR supporter Nellie’s Sports Bar on U Street. “One thing that’s been a priority for us is infiltrating ourselves into the city and the community,” Raimondi says. “It’s pretty easy to get your friends to go to a bar [with you] to support dogs. Getting your friends to go stand with you outside a Petco in Herndon: not as fun.”
Dining Out With Dogs is the group’s largest fundraising event of the year, netting the group about $10,000 last year. CDR teams up with area restaurants, including Logan Tavern, Grillfish, the Heights and the Pig, to send their supporters out en masse in exchange for 15 percent of the restaurants’ revenue for that night. And of course — for one night, at least — patrons are allowed to bring dogs.
The camaraderie among the District’s tightly knit community of dog lovers offsets the depressing realities faced by rescue workers. According to the ASPCA, a little fewer than 4 million dogs enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of these, about 31 percent, or 1.2 million dogs, are euthanized each year. Out of the approximately 50 dogs per month it saves, CDR still has to turn some away. Raimondi estimates that she gets “dozens” of e-mail requests she must turn down each day from local rescue groups with extra strays.
For the eight dogs at the Cheeky Puppy adoption meet, at least, there were happy endings. Shirley the border collie puppy was adopted after the event, and her sister, Schnapps, shortly thereafter. Rayna, the older cocker spaniel mix, found a new home this month.
These success stories are what keep the volunteers going. “It can be tough,” Binder says. “But for me, it’s about empowerment now; I’m doing something about it. It’s sort of what helps us get through it, because even though we can’t do everything, it’s nice to know that we’re making a difference. It’s amazing what people can do — even when they think they can’t.”
There are about 3,500 animal shelters and 10,000 animal rescue groups in the United States and Canada, according to the Humane Society of the United States. The two types of groups join forces to find homes for animals.
“Rescues play an integral role in helping shelters save lives by taking animals from the shelters they partner with,” says Abby Volin, rescue coordinator for the Humane Society. “They have resources that shelters don’t have, to give the animals extra care and extra time so they can become adoptable and find new homes.”
At the same time, innovations such as the ASPCA’s Moving Animals Places program allow rescue groups and shelters to relocate homeless animals from one region of the country to another, says Emily Weiss, ASPCA vice president of shelter research and development, making it easier to move animals from high-kill shelters to regions where there is a greater demand for adoptive pets.
In the Washington area, there are 18 animal shelters and scores of rescue groups — exact figures are “incredibly hard to come by,” Volin says, because rescues don’t have brick-and-mortar locations and are harder to track.
Locally, rescue groups help traditional shelters such as the three in the District — two run by the Washington Humane Society and one by the Washington Animal Rescue League — by keeping animals out of shelters and moving them into homes, says ChristieLyn Diller, marketing and communications director for the Washington Humane Society. “It gives [the animals] extra exposure to adopters, and it’s just a great community.”
For information on fundraising events, volunteer opportunities and adoptable pets, check out your local shelter or rescue group.
●The Washington Animal Rescue League holds a “Yappy Hour” first Mondays at Cantina Marina, 600 Water St. SW, to benefit adoptable dogs and cats.
●The Washington Humane Society hosts its D.C. Walk for the Animals and Pet-a-Palooza on Sept. 27, to raise money for homeless pets.
●The Montgomery County Humane Society raises money through its fundraising partnership with Bethesda Big Train baseball, a monthly silent auction at its Wagging Tails Thrift and Gifts store, and its annual “Love Ball,” which takes place in November at the Rockville Hilton.
To find a shelter near you:
Rescue group benefits:
At Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, children can join the Lucky Kids Club and throw toy-making parties for dogs and cats. High-schoolers, or Lucky Ambassadors, can help promote the group’s efforts on social media, write for its quarterly newsletter, or photograph or videotape adoptable animals.
● Homeward Trail Animal Rescue holds a “Yappy Hour” every Friday night at Le Meridien, 1121 19th St. North in Rosslyn.
●The Animal Welfare League of Arlington this year started Team Rescue Tails, a year-round, multi-sport charity racing and fundraising team. Runners, triathletes and cyclists can raise money through their chosen sport.
To find a rescue group near you:
Visit the Partnership for Animal Welfare Web site at www.paw-rescue.org/others.php.
Lanyi is a freelance writer.