Story by Melissa Barrow, photos courtesy of Sol Dog Lodge
The Tucson Dog gives lots of space to the rescue community, appealing in every issue for fosters and adopters. The rescue slogan is ‘find them a forever home’ but the story doesn’t end when an animal walks in the door of that new home — the forever part doesn’t magically happen. The animal rescue/adoption process is complex and multi-layered, with multiple moving, interdependent parts. Sol Dog Lodge emerged because of an unintentional gap in that process.
Welcoming a new four-legged member means an adjustment for the whole family. People and pets have to work out their rhythms and roles. Everyone (including those outside the household who interact with the animal) needs help adapting, familiarizing and building trust. Adoptee return is a heartbreaking but all too frequent problem, especially with puppies: the well-intentioned adopter, miscalculating the responsibility and lacking finances or familiarity with resources, gets overwhelmed. The adult dog comes back as unadoptable due to entrenched behavioral issues. While shelters make every effort to offer guidance, they’re simply too overwhelmed to provide in-depth, ongoing support.
Sol Dog Lodge (SDL) is not an adoption, shelter, or rescue organization, but they’re an indispensable piece of the whole puzzle: a nonprofit business that offers training, grooming, boarding, and respite care (giving people a temporary break for financial or health reasons, like PACC’s Safety Net, but smaller). As Executive Director Valerie Pullara explains, “We see ourselves as a support organization – a bridge between community, rescues, shelters, and even human support services. Collaboration is the whole idea. We’re all about dogs and people!” Shelters can’t do it all; by covering post-adoption support, SDL allows them space to focus on their areas of expertise.
To clarify, SDL is a nonprofit organization in service to the community. They run a business that supports that work. The fees paid for their services diversify the revenue stream to make it sustainable, rather than relying solely on grants or donations. Sol Dog’s business is mission driven. That mission: to keep dogs with families, through a hybrid of training and familiarization education. In essence, socialization is their most vital community service — that missing gap in the rescue cycle. They support adoption success by training more than dogs, they train people too! Family-wide education is at the core of everything. Their recently launched and hugely successful puppy classes train families and dogs for life through family house management and integration. Other offerings include service dog training, Canine Kids Camp (kids learn by shadowing trainers, bolstering adoption success and creating future volunteers), and relationship building classes — in partnership with Genie Joseph, PhD of The Human Animal Connection — where people learn dog language and communicate through touch.
SDL also offers grooming, essential to basic dog care (for certain breeds it’s even dangerous to go ungroomed) and a key part of socialization. They work to acclimate dogs to the grooming process, especially those who have never been groomed or have PTSD. Their Sensitive Dog package offers 3-4 sessions of non-grooming play and touch, building trust prior to the actual process. SDL believes in grooming for life!
SDL’s current capacity allows for grooming, training and boarding divided between two locations: Thornydale, and the original site – Prince at I-10. Both offer training, Thornydale handles grooming, and boarding is only at Prince, but their reputation for extraordinary care means long-term customers book a year ahead, so it’s always full. Boarding, then — most urgently needed by those in distress — is their biggest challenge. This limitation is vexing. Helping those in need is foundational to SDL, turning people away, heart wrenching. They refer people to Safety Net, but pandemic-related financial impacts have escalated need. There’s not enough aid to go around. Not Yet. An exciting project is in the works:
SDL is in the late stages of fundraising for a new Lodge on 4+ acres of Marana land that will give them a greater capacity for respite care and boarding. Designed to be a community space, the new facility will take them from 10 kennels to 65 for boarding/lodging, plus triple the training and grooming space, and will allow greater capacity for hiring people with disabilities. It will also feature a 16-space isolation casita for difficult cases or those with no vaccination records. There’s more fundraising to do, you can help out at https://soldoglodge.com/donate/
. Major donors are recognized with naming rights!
Expansion will allow SDL to make a bigger impact on supporting the whole Tucson rescue community. We’re back full circle to the idea of how interdependent the rescue system is. Shelley Harris, SDL Director of Marketing and Communications paints this picture when referencing their collaborative partner system: “ You’ve got High Desert Humane Society, Rescue Me, and Sol Dog — it’s an interconnected process. You can’t have one without the other.” They also work with Arizona Heartfelt Hounds and Grey Muzzle, to rehome sighthounds and senior dogs. No one system can do it alone; it’s people coming together to form support systems that make this happen. It takes a pueblo! Thanks to Valerie and Shelley for their dedication.