What motivated you to start a dog rescue organization?
- Dogs have always been my 'thing.' Even during my childhood, I always knew that I wanted to help animals. I found myself fostering and completing administration tasks for other rescues. I didn't like the way other rescues were running certain components of their businesses, and felt I would prefer to do it for myself. So I took the leap, and started Strong Paws!
How long has your dog rescue been in operation, and what has been the biggest challenge so far?
-We started in 2019, and since then, we have helped 425+ dogs find forever homes. Honestly, the biggest challenge so far is the people aspect of running this. It can be challenging dealing with all types of personalities and communication styles, as well as with the general public who insist on relinquishing their pets for an abundance of valid and invalid reasons.
Can you tell me about a particularly memorable or heartwarming rescue story that stands out to you?
-It is hard to select just one story! We focus predominantly on euthanasia list dogs or strays in the overrun areas of Houston & Cleveland, Texas. These are dogs that society has failed usually more than once. Seeing them get adopted makes all of the legwork that goes into running this worth it.
If we have to choose one recent pup, we pick Jojo. She was on the euthanasia list at the shelter when another rescue took her babies and left her behind. She was fearful, frozen and terrified- she couldn't even stand without urinating on herself out of fear. Our Houston fosters have given her the time that she needed to flourish, feel secure and start to build connections with her foster friends as support. It has taken her 4 months, and she is moving on to an adoptive home in New Jersey in two weeks! She still has to work on her confidence, however her adoptive family has experience and is willing to put in the time and work to continue on helping her grow.
How do you go about selecting dogs for rescue? Are there specific criteria you look for?
- Our team member, Alex, is the main person who scrolls the euthanasia lists and communicates with the shelter volunteers. We look for dogs of any breed and age that are dog friendly and can be handled by shelter staff and volunteers.
What steps do you take to rehabilitate or train rescued dogs before finding them new homes?
-We rely heavily on our fosters to communicate what they are seeing with home life as we do not know the history of the heavy majority of our dogs. Our fosters report back to us daily about the dog's progress and continued concerns. We will hire trainers or utilize our network to discuss with others in the rescue field how to best address novel behaviors.
Are there any specific types of dogs or breeds that your rescue focuses on, or do you rescue all types of dogs?
-Not at all! We help all breeds, ages and sizes of dogs. We all have our preferences (Meg loves the seniors, Alex loves momma dogs & dog's left behind.. we have a shared love of the scared dogs who flourish while in foster).
What kind of adoption process do you have in place to ensure that dogs are placed in suitable and loving homes?
-To adopt from us, first a family must complete an adoption application on our website. We contact the applicant, vet reference, personal references, and complete a virtual home check. Alex also utilizes her spidey senses to get a read on a potential applicant. We are not a rescue that requires yards/etc- dogs can be happy in a variety of environments and lifestyles. Since our southern fosters spend a good amount of time with the dogs before traveling, we always have a good sense on the type of home our dogs would thrive in.
How do you fund your dog rescue organization?
-Thoughts and prayers to the social media gods, angel sponsors, donations from the general public, private foundations and also pledges. We also have wonderful and ambitious kiddos that host fundraisers for us and donate from their product sales. Gyms will also host fundraisers and donate portions of spectator feeds to us. There are also incredible companies like Rescue Treats that also donate proceeds from sales to help us pay for medical expenses. People also donate goods and services for us to raffle off online or at in person events. We also sell apparel online via our online store that are dog and fitness themed.
We are especially grateful for all of the people and businesses who want to see us continue to make a difference in the lives of animals. We could not do what we do without them.
Are you primarily reliant on donations or do you have other sources of income?
-We rely primarily on donations to exist. We sell apparel in person to also fundraise for the harder to raise for pups without blatant medical issues. For example, heartworm treatment is upwards of $1,000 per dog to treat- and with no 'visual' injury to post, it is challenging to fundraise for.
Can you share any success stories of dogs that were adopted and went on to live happy and fulfilling lives?
- Absolutely! We get updates frequently from adopters. We have had quite a few euthanasia lists pups go on to be emotional support animals for their human siblings. We assisted with Rain, who's owner was experiencing domestic violence. We were able to help rehabilitate this dog with foster and trainer support. She is now living her best life and stealing blankets from her human kiddo siblings.
Are there any ongoing initiatives or programs that your rescue is involved in to promote responsible dog ownership or prevent dog abandonment?
- Since initiation, we have had a partnership with Choice Pet of Hartsdale & Scarsdale, NY. This pet store collects dog and cat food year round for our community pet pantry. Food is donated directly to the public mainly in Bronx, NY. We believe that providing this support will help keep dogs safely in their homes and out of the shelters. We are also working on a partnership with a Westchester Mental Health Organization to help adults in need of animal food for their emotional support animals. In addition, we often supply food and supplies to the Positive Tails free community vet clinics 2-3x a year in New York City.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in running a dog rescue organization?
-It is always a risk relying on donations as animal emergencies can unfortunately pop up at any time. We try to always have an emergency fund in case an urgent event happens and a dog needs emergency medical care.
How do you handle cases where a dog cannot be adopted due to health or behavioral issues?
-We have a strong philosophy in regard to quality of life in our rescue. If one of our veterinary partners feels that a dog has a poor outcome medically, we trust their judgement to make the decision to help the pup cross peacefully. We do not want our dogs to suffer and despite the sadness, we find peace in knowing they have passed with our foster families who have shown them love and provided them with a home they may never have had.
In our 4 years, we have had to make the decision to euthanize one dog for behavior, his name was Cayne. We consulted with dog behaviorists and trainers before making this decision for our boy. It is not a decision that we take lightly, and was done to protect him and the public from harm. We have learned that rescue sometimes also means freeing a dog from a life of anxiety and fear... He passed in Meagan's arms, in her home, surrounded by people who cared about him with his lambchop stuffy and nose covered in chocolate frosting. We will never forget him.
Are there any specific partnerships or collaborations you have with other animal welfare organizations or veterinary clinics?
- We have built great relationships with southern rescues, animal welfare organizations and veterinarians who support our work. We feel that we are all in this together and have the same mission. By teaming up we make a greater impact. We trust the shelter volunteers and staff from the shelters we pull from at BARC Houston in Texas, and Cumberland County Animal Control in North Carolina, as well as other rescues in Texas that send us adoptable dogs.
We trust our veterinary partners in these regions to help see our dogs through medical treatment. The main veterinarian we use is The Rescue Vet Clinic in Houston, Texas. We have full trust in their team & their rescue friendly pricing makes it possible for us to help as many dogs as possible.
We also have been sponsored by Barbells for Bullies the last 3 years, and they have selected us for grants for our medical cases.
Can you talk about the impact your rescue has had on the local community or the overall dog welfare in the area?
- This is a tricky one because we span multiple states! For our southern states, such as Texas and North Carolina- we are helping reduce overpopulation and helping adoptable dogs move north for adoption. Houston alone has over 1 million stray dogs. In our northern states, we have built a great community of fosters across New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who help us fundraise and help our pups get seen and adopted.
How can individuals who are interested in supporting your dog rescue organization get involved or contribute to your cause?
- There are SOOOOO many ways to help and support. The easiest way is to follow our social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin) and share posts. We cannot tell you how many dogs get adopted from shares and increased visibility.
To get involved and volunteer, a volunteer or foster application can be completed on our website: www.strongpawsrescue.org
! We are always looking for long and short term fosters in the tri state areas to help move our pups north. Fosters are the backbone of our rescue. We also need help with transport to/from fosters and also for vet appointments. Individuals can also help virtually by assisting with foster and adoption applications, foster chat support, and by helping us with our newsletter and mailing list too!
If individuals were interested in contributing financially, we encourage families to become $1/month sponsors. Charitable giving is accessible to all- and the more families that join together to help us, the greater the impact we can have. We also have service learning projects such as food and donation drives across multiple states to support our dogs in foster and for our community pet pantry.
Any advice to those who want to start their own rescue?
- GO SLOW!!! Take the time first to volunteer for 3 or more organizations before starting your own. Try different roles in all arenas. It is important to learn how rescues operate, how EVERY component works, and it will help you decide if this is a business you would like to start. By doing so, you will also start to build your network, make connections, and find contacts that you can trust. We also recommend starting with a low number of dogs to get into a rhythm of how a dog will transition from foster to adoptive home, medical care involved, finances involved, and types of support needed. There are a lot of moving parts to running a rescue organization!
Meagan and Mia