HOPE Animal Shelter launches an initiative to provide a bridge for at-risk dogs to their forever homes.
Story by Emily Dieckman, Photos courtesy of HOPE Animal Shelter
Stacy Van Dyke is a board member at HOPE Animal Shelter who has also been volunteering with the organization for nearly eight years. She jumps at any opportunity to help animals, and a few years ago, she started working with Wanda Abeyta, another member of the local animal rescue community, to help dogs at the Santa Cruz County Animal Control (SCCAC) in Nogales, Arizona. The shelter has limited space and resources, and their hardworking staff were forced to make difficult decisions about euthanasia for many adoptable dogs. Van Dyke went down to see for herself.
“They just have a very small number of kennels, and so they’re full all the time,” she said “I recognized that it was well-run and that the officers really cared about the dogs but just didn’t have outlets for the dogs. With it being so close to the border, most people don’t drive all the way down there to look at dogs.”
Van Dyke and Abeyta Have spent several years working to find new placements for whatever dogs they could, in an ad-hoc project run on late-night phone calls and sheer tenacity. They built a network of rescues interested in helping the dogs in SCCAC, so when the shelter hit capacity and a dog was at risk, they’d call around to see who could take the dog in, find it a foster, or even find it a home. It was rewarding every time they saved a dog, despite the many miles driven back and forth between Tucson and Nogales. But it was hard every time they were unable to find a space in time. It was especially heartbreaking when another shelter wanted to help, and might have the necessary space in a few weeks, or even a few days, but that wasn’t soon enough.
Now, HOPE has created the Precious Time Dogs program to help place dogs in qualified rescues and save more lives.
“It’s meant to give dogs who are most at risk an opportunity to get just a little more time to find a rescue outlet or an adoption,” Van Dyke said. “If [a rescue] didn’t have a foster by the last day I needed to pull the dog, then before, we would lose that dog. Now, we can pull that dog if there is a rescue that’s interested but just needs to get the foster lined up. Sometimes it’s a week. Sometimes it’s overnight.”
When an animal is at risk, HOPE volunteers work with SCCAC and partner shelters to find a temporary placement for the animal until a permanent home is available. Once they find a rescue willing to take the dog, HOPE picks the dog up and administers initial vaccines, a heartworm and tick-fever test, deworming and a microchip. Dogs who test positive for tick fever or heartworm are treated at HOPE. Then, the dog is transported to the rescue. Van Dyke said the initial treatments are an important part of the mission.
“We’re trying really hard to create a level of trust between the project and the rescuers, so they’re not surprised by a dog they take,” Van Dyke said. “A lot of local rescues are amazing, foster-based rescues. They do go down [to Nogales] sight unseen sometimes and just take a dog, but this is a nice way for them to really know what kind of dog they’re getting.”
If no partner rescues or their fosters are available, the most vulnerable dogs are placed with Precious Time Dog foster volunteers or—space permitting—at HOPE Animal Shelter & Sanctuary. In the meantime, HOPE works to find a suitable rescue organization and list the dogs for adoption and the HOPE website.
The Precious Time Dogs program currently partners with 12 rescues in Arizona and Nevada. Since June, they’ve pulled 44 at-risk dogs from Nogales, including a dog who was hit by a car and another who was left to fend for herself after her owner died.
Van Dyke said the SCCAC has been outstanding to work with, and that their care for the animals is evident. Staff members take videos and photos of dogs to share with PTD, and they’ve met her after hours and on weekends to transfer dogs countless times.
The other partner shelters have proved invaluable as well. In one instance, Sunshine Dog Rescue had agreed to find a foster for a dog named Tootsie. When PTD took in Tootsie, a small Shepherd mix, they took her through the usual rounds of vaccinations and screenings when they realized she was pregnant. Three days later, she delivered three puppies. Sunshine quickly lined up a new foster that was able to accept all four dogs.
Cherished Tails, a Tucson-based rescue that specializes in taking in senior dogs, is another partner.
“The majority of dogs that come from down there are lovely,” said Cherished Tails director Pauline Haas-Vaughn. “They have nice temperaments, they’re well socialized with people, they’re usually well socialized with other dogs. Somebody needed to step up for them, and I feel like Precious Time Dogs has done that.”