A couple of years ago, I decided to put my lifelong obsession with dogs to good use and became a volunteer at my local animal shelter. I swore up and down that I wouldn’t adopt a dog, for a variety of logical reasons, and I actually held out for about a year. Then, to NO ONE’S surprise but mine, I fell in love with, and adopted, my dog Pippa.
Before I started volunteering, I had no idea how much constant work went into rescuing animals. It is a never-ending cycle of intake exams, spay/neuter surgeries, walks, feeding, socializing, cleaning EVERYTHING, marketing, fundraising, matchmaking, and mountains of paperwork. The reward, though, is worth it. In 2018 alone, our shelter saved 9,182 animals (including dogs, cats, chickens, goats, and any other pet or small farm animal brought in).
Since volunteering, I have become a huge proponent of the “adopt don’t shop” motto. Don’t get me wrong; I have no issues with responsible dog breeders. However, to me, the people who do the hard, often heartbreaking, work of rescuing dogs (and all animals) are true heroes. Their stories are the ones that rescue me when I start to feel like every news item is yet another instance of hate or negativity, and I want to recommend some of my favorite shows and books if you ever feel in need of rescue too.
Pit Bulls & Parolees
PB&P is a show about Tia Maria Torres, her children (teenagers when the show starts, but now in their twenties), and Villalobos, their pit bull rescue organization. While the primary focus of the rescue is still pit bulls, they have expanded to taking in other types of dogs after moving the rescue to Louisiana in 2012. Besides rescuing dogs, their mission includes hiring people who are on parole, and therefore often can’t find other types of work. This show hits you right in the feels – joy, sadness, anger, hope, and admiration. (Fair warning: I have shed a lot of tears watching this show.) You can learn more about the show and watch full episodes at Animal Planet’s website.
Amanda to the Rescue
This show came out in the fall of 2018 and also makes me cry like a baby, but I finish every episode feeling like the world is a better place. The show is about Amanda Giese and her dog rescue, Panda Paws. It frequently features her two awesome teenage kids, Jade (14) and Beast (16), and her partner, Gary, who all help with the rescue. They are joined by their pack of dogs: three adorable spaniels and a two-legged boxer named Duncan. The mission of the rescue is to take in animals with medical needs that most shelters and rescues are not equipped to handle, then adopt those animals out to loving homes where their medical needs will continue to be met. Full episodes are available online from Animal Planet.
Rotten by Michael Northrop
This is the story of a troubled kid, JD, and a troubled dog, Johnny Rotten. Both kid and dog need to learn to trust again, and when an intentional act threatens Rotten’s life, JD realizes what’s really important.
Smiley: A Journey of Love by Joanne George
The story of a dog rescued from a puppy mill who was born without eyes and who has dwarfism as a result of the practices of the puppy mill. The vet tech who rescues him gives him a home and training, working toward making him a therapy dog.
Oogy: the Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin
When a dad and his twin boys have to take their terminally ill cat to be euthanized, they never expect to meet their next animal in the vet’s waiting room. They certainly don’t expect it to be a puppy that was used as a bait dog and mangled from the experience. What follows is a story that is as much about what Oogy does for their family as what the family does for him.
Will’s Red Coat: the Story of One Old Dog Who Chose to Live Again by Tom Ryan
Will’s elderly owners can no longer care for him, and so he is taken to a kill shelter in New Jersey. Will himself is a senior dog, deaf, and mostly blind – not a good candidate for adoption. But author Tom Larry sees a post online about Will’s story and decides to give him the best life possible. Will, scared and confused, eventually learns to enjoy life again with the help of Tom and his other dog Atticus. This one will melt your heart.
My Life Among the Underdogs by Tia Torres
The new memoir by Tia Torres, of Pit Bulls & Parolees, tells the stories of nine dogs that impacted her life. I’ll be honest, I haven’t gotten to read this one yet, but I bet a bag of dog food it will be fascinating.
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
This isn’t really about rescue dogs, but with the recent death of Mary Oliver, I can’t make a list of dog books and not include this wonderful collection of poetry that explores all the ways dogs bring us closer to who we’re meant to be.
Of course there’s a lot more out there about rescue dogs and the people who work with them – what are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments! (Bonus points if you include a picture of a dog.)
— Whitney Etchison, currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama