A stray wandering the streets of Lake Highlands tends to attract attention. Reuniting lost dogs and owners is a familiar process around here, expedited by microchips and social media.
Our frequent favorable experiences with doggie drifters make it easy to forget nightmarish scenarios playing out across town, where sections of southern Dallas are riddled with sick, dying and grossly at-risk animals whose chances at happiness hover around zero.
But once you know about what’s going on, “it keeps you up at night,” says White Rock area resident Marina Tarashevska, for whom Dallas’ oft overlooked canine perdition is all consuming.
A year ago, this petite, raven-haired Ukrainian native gave up her part-time marketing job to concentrate on her militant, in-the-trenches animal activism.
“It isn’t something I can do a little,” she says. “Once you know, once you start, you can only focus 100 percent.”
Her public Facebook page contains graphic evidence of a horrific problem, one image after another of mangy, frightened, mutilated animals or, worse, their carcasses, bones and skulls.
“People have gotten offended. They tell me they don’t want to see dead dogs in their feed. But we have gotten more and more rescuers by showing what is really going on,” says Tarashevska, who adds that even when she lived in Detroit, a city whose stray dog problem was reported by Atlantic magazine and other national media, she did not see circumstances as distressing as those in Dallas. (That is in part because winters in Detroit kill much of the stray population, she notes.)
She understands images of dogs injured by cars or puppies left to die in tightly knotted bags are tough to see. It is easier on the psyche, not to mention the social life, to forget southern Dallas, where she suspects the loose dog and dog-dumping crisis is an extension of deeper societal problems. Southern Dallas is contending with some 8,700 loose dogs, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group study for Dallas Animal Services. The problem goes mostly unseen by residents north of I-30 (where there is not a significant number of loose dogs).
Once she understood the degree of suffering — which required no studies, just a visit to the impacted area — she dedicated her life to saving abandoned animals.
As she utilized social media to garner attention, thousands offered support — and there are countless ways one can help, she assures.
Tarashevska’s level of commitment means long, hot or freezing days salvaging dogs from perilous places. It involves exposure to nervously gnashing teeth, contagious skin conditions, angry pet owners and, sometimes, biting criticism. Vacations, dinners out, clean carpets, general sanity and regular sleep all are part of a past life.
“But there are a lot of us,” she says. “There are so many people helping, and that is what keeps you optimistic.”
Hundreds of Dallas residents joined Tarashevska in her crusade to save animals citywide, and many others do similar work independently or through one of hundreds of animal-rescue organizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
If the following stories of sacrifice and salvation — not to mention the irresistible images of healed, happy pups prepping for their forever homes — move you, see the “Ways to Help” boxes on pages 35 and 38.
By the time of publication, we hope, many of our featured fosters will have been adopted, but never will there be a shortage of amazing animals waiting for a new best friend.
Marina Tarashevska is a locally famous, sometimes controversial, canine crusader.
Behind a front door affixed “Beware of Dog” sign, she holds back an anxious Chihuahua in a pink-flower choker, Faith Hill. Bella, a small beige and white mutt, hides behind her rescuer’s legs, barking in quick bursts. Miriam, a stocky older hound with a starched paw-patterned bandana knotted around her neck, keeps her distance, hesitant to inject herself into the entryway chaos. Tarashevska holds up a bowl containing bite-sized treats.
“You give it to them,” she says.
The idea is that they will warm up to us strangers when we feed them, and it works. There are more — two black Labrador mixes lounge side by side in a sunroom. “That’s Coco and Chanel, and we think they are related. They are inseparable,” she explains.
Tarashevska mothers as many fosters at a time as humanly possible, often taking in litters of parentless puppies in addition to the others. She participates in the Feral Friends trap, neuter, release program, too, so a cat colony resides in her yard.
Tarashevska spends days in the woods along southeast Dallas’ Dowdy Ferry Road, a known dumping ground for unwanted, sick, lame or dead dogs.
She encounters several carcasses — sometimes only pieces — for every live dog. She embraces each saved life. But the work can mess up a person’s mind.
“I wish there was a switch I could turn off in my head to stop the flashbacks of the awful horrifying things I saw,” she says following a particularly grueling day. “How am I supposed to be normal and happy and interested in anything? I know I won’t be able to put any food in my mouth today, I won’t be able to sleep, my stupid brain won’t stop running through ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys.’ ”
Each live animal rescue is different.
“Some of the dogs we find are so desperate to be loved that they jump into one of our cars and do not look back. Others are hesitant to trust and are gradually won over by our regular feeding.”
Some days she approaches neglectful owners who have dogs tied up in yards with no food or water and offers to relieve them of responsibility.
At times people have surrendered their animals to her; other times they curse her. One woman tried to run her down with a car.
Growing up in a destitute Ukrainian neighborhood, Tarashevska watched her grandmother drown whole litters of kittens.
“I hated her for it; I hated it at the time, but now I know she was showing mercy, doing what had to be done,” she says, because there were no resources to keep them alive. The experience lit a fire inside her.
After moving to Dallas she started her rescuing and activism independently because, she says, “I wanted to be able to speak my mind,” and she did not want to be beholden to an organization.
She is known to rage on social media about the incompetency of Dallas Animal Services (our city’s shelter once accidentally killed three dogs that she was scheduled to pick up, a case well-documented by Dallas media), and she has left dead dogs at the shelter’s front doors as a statement of protest against ignoring Southern Dallas’ dog dumping problem. (For the record, she also has acknowledged when they get it right.)
However when the offers of aid and donations grew to the thousands, she decided to form the nonprofit Dallas DogRRR (Rescue, Rehab, Reform).
Group members and supporters take in fosters, raise money for food and medical expenses and, following Tarashevska’s lead, fight like hell for neglected animals.
They have adopted Tarashevska’s ferocity and her no-dog-left-behind attitude.
When an abused pup recently needed a midnight rescue and a $3,000 surgery, one Facebook follower suggested letting the dog “go” and using funds raised “to help 10 other dogs.”
The commenter was met with swift, harsh criticism from the group.
Sarah Cooper, who handles adoption applications for DogRRR, says the thought makes her want to cry. “That is not how we do things,” she says. “Every life deserves a shot. There are no lost causes.”
Cooper says that’s what makes Dallas DogRRR different from many other dog rescues. “They can pull the pure breeds or healthy puppies,” she explains, but DogRRR pulls dogs off the streets, from abusive homes and the ones in shelters that face certain death. “We pick up whatever. Marina doesn’t care. It all started with her, and it grew so big in a couple years and now we can save so many dogs it is mind blowing.”
Brutalized by a speeding car and left to die in the dark, Spirit is now a shining light
The first public photos of Spirit came early last spring with a “graphic content” warning — blood matted the lanky Labrador’s blonde fur, one outstretched paw, mangled; his face and ear, sliced and shredded; his deep-set, dark eyes, downturned.
A car struck the dog, leaving him to die alone in a roadside ditch. But a passerby sent word that reached the now-established DogRRR group, whose members swooped in to save the animal, long shot though he was.
Then on an August afternoon, the reason Tarashevska and her crew do this comes at you as clear as the Texas sky — the reason bounds toward the front gate of a townhome on three legs, nuzzling its golden nose into your belly and hugging you, placing one large paw on your shoulder and licking your face.
“He is excited to see you,” says Cooper, who has been fostering Spirit since he left his first major surgery last spring.
A GoFundMe page raised some $16,000 to treat Spirit’s massive injuries, which required three surgeries including an eventual amputation of one leg. His body also was riddled with heartworms. Now that the treatment is almost complete, Spirit is technically almost ready for adoption.
But it is clear that Cooper and Spirit are hopelessly attached. “I don’t have a husband. This dog is like the husband,” says Cooper, a German native who still speaks with an accent. She’s talking about their sleeping arrangements — the young woman, who is studying to become a nurse, shares a queen-sized bed with Spirit, his good arm draped across her no doubt, as well as her own dog, Chambers, a gentle medium-sized sweetheart of unknown breed. There is a third, Glory, another foster and hit-and-run victim. The Joker-style scar on the right side of Glory’s face and his maimed foot only add to his certain cool-guy factor, “though Spirit still kicks his ass in a race,” Cooper says laughing.
Spirit might end up a “foster fail,” a lighthearted term used to describe a foster parent that winds up permanently keeping the dog.
The goal is to find good permanent homes for all foster dogs, but it is still bittersweet when they are adopted, Cooper admits. She never wants to say goodbye to Glory or Spirit, as she did not want to let go of the others she’s adopted out, but that is part of the hardcore sacrifices made by volunteers of her ilk.
“Yes, I cry like a baby when they leave.”
Heather and her three black beauties
Black dog syndrome, the theory that black dogs and black cats tend to be the last ones adopted from shelters, seems real to experienced rescuers.
“I’ve seen it,” says core Dallas DogRRR volunteer Heather Harris. That also means they are more likely to be euthanized when they wind up in kill shelters. Standing inside Harris’ White Rock area home, surrounded by three black foster dogs, it seems impossible.
All under a year old, and potty trained (save a wee bit of excitable urination here and there), these three ebony creatures are the embodiment of hope, love and all things good in this cruel world. Melodramatic? Maybe, but you are guaranteed to feel some of that when you lift the littlest one, Shirley, and she hugs you tightly, like a sleepy baby might.
Ace Ventura, whose shiny fur was nonexistent upon his rescue due to a bout with sarcoptic mange, now sits poised proudly, awaiting his glamor shot. Gentle and playful, his one vice might be nibbling the edges of those skinny notebooks used by reporters.
Leonard, who looks like Ace but with a white face, was rescued from a kill shelter in Mesquite. His calm demeanor sends him to a corner when the other two begin to roughhouse, yet outside, chasing a ball, he’s a swift, sure beast.
In another room of the house, Harris’ three permanent dogs wait semi-patiently for their turn to play.
Like DogRRR’s other core members, Harris has dedicated the better part of her life to saving animals.
“I lived in a condo before this. I have a real estate agent friend who helped me find a house. She said, ‘You must have a house if you are going to keep having all these dogs.’ ” When she moved into her house, she acquired more fosters and the agent/friend said, “I did not mean so you could get more!”
Donations to DogRRR help fosters like Harris maintain — “They pay for food, medical, accessories like pee pads, crates. People make donations and think my $5 or $10 doesn’t help, well, it actually does,” she says.
Dallas DogRRR (Rescue. Rehab. Reform.)How to help: Adopting a dog or cat, rather than purchasing a pet from a breeder or pet store, is one way to curb the problem. To make a major impact, consider becoming a foster. Many foster volunteers have as many as four or five animals in addition to their own pets. The demand for foster parents is high, Dallas DogRRR founder Marina Tarashevska says. DogRRR supplies food and pays all medical expenses. Fosters provide a temporary home. You can also help by donating money, food or supplies, or volunteering your time to drive pets to and from medical appointments. Click for more info
Erstwhile Richardson ISD teacher Janeye Pritchard was on summer break when the irresistible request from a neighborhood animal advocate popped up on her Facebook timeline.
“They needed help bottle feeding a puppy,” she says. “This little hand-sized baby needed to be fed every two hours, like clockwork. It was so cool.”
After watching that first pup grow to a hundred healthy pounds of dog, there was no turning back.
“I went to an adoption event, met people and knew this was something I’d like to do more.”
Soon she sheltered a whole litter of abandoned puppies. Her roommate Ashley Bradford fell in love with and adopted one, she notes, a bull terrier — “like the Target dog, you know?”
Both women now are hooked on helping animals — serving on the DogRRR board, fostering and striving to find happy homes for as many animals as possible — though volunteering often is a far cry from Pritchard’s precious first experience. Reality is that volunteers operate in a sea of disappointments and treading-water, getting-nowhere feelings.
“It can be a neverending, thankless, often seemingly hopeless job,” she says of rescuing. “[Volunteers] write grant [applications], beg for donations, deliver supplies, schedule and drive dogs to medical appointments, arrange adoption events and rush out in the middle of the night when a dog is injured …”
She recalls one live puppy found among its dead siblings inside a bag tossed off a Southern Dallas overpass. She religiously watches “euthanasia lists” supplied by shelters in Dallas, Garland and surrounding cities, sometimes knowing there is no more she can do.
“It just never seems to be enough,” she says, expressing gratitude for all of Dallas’ animal rescue groups and volunteers.
Her most recent foster, Gatsby, so named for his black and white coat that resembles a tuxedo, was wandering the streets of Southern Dallas with an open leg wound, suffering demodectic mange and severe malnourishment. In Pritchard’s care, Gatsby recovered and proved to be a cuddly, loving friend to fellow fosters in the home. And he’s a paragon of why the toil is worthwhile, she says.
“What an amazing feeling, to swoop a dog up out of the jaws of death, nurse it back to health … and then watch that dog find a loving forever home.”
White Rock Dog Rescue’s pups in need
Shasta needs some stability
When you picture a dog, odds are you imagine Shasta. Looking at the 45-pound, yellow lab who loves to run and play, you don’t see the puppy found in a ditch just off of Interstate 30 on a cold, rainy October day.
Lilia Hollis, Shasta’s foster caregiver through White Rock Dog Rescue, says an older lady drove by and thought she saw something moving in the ditch. Ignoring the ‘80s horror movie setting she found herself in, the woman pulled over and found a 3-month-old puppy.
“She was just sitting there,” Hollis says, recalling the story as it was told to her. “I don’t know how she ended up there, but she was reasonably well fed. She was just a little wet and dirty.”
A picturesque family promptly adopted the picturesque dog. The mother, father and two not-too-young children fell in love immediately. But when the mother of the family suffered what Hollis describes as a “catastrophic health crisis,” they no longer had time for a puppy, and Shasta was returned to WRDR. Now she lives with Hollis again while they wait to find the right family.
“She’s a beautiful dog,” Hollis says. “I don’t think she fully realizes her size, but she’s so playful and loves people.”
Knocked down, but she gets up again- Lolita
Lolita looks like a bit of a pushover. After all, the Chihuahua mix maxes out at about 15 pounds on a good day. But she’s tougher than you might think.
When rescuers with WRDR located Lolita, she had a terrible limp.
“The foot was turned and she couldn’t put any weight on it,” Hollis says. The veterinarians said Lolita had been hit by a car and it had broken her front leg in three places. “They wanted to amputate,” Hollis says, but she wanted a second opinion. “I wanted to try to see if they would set the bone at another vet.”
Hollis found the right vet. Lolita’s surgery was a success, but she needed to stay in for a month, and there was a pin left in her leg for two months after that.
And now? “The dog is perfect. She runs, she plays. She’s great,” Hollis says.
Lolita isn’t as timid as a lot of Chihuahuas, Hollis says, which makes her great companion.
Spencer is content to chill
Spencer is an old soul. Sure, the 55 pound black lab and shepherd mix likes to run and play. He is a dog after all. But at the end of the day, he wants to find a good spot on the couch with his people.
“He will get laid back,” says Basil Timmons, Spencer’s WRDR foster. “I think part of that is the lab in him. For a family dog he’s great.”
Ideally, that family might already have a dog, Timmons says, especially one that is about his size. “He loves to play and he loves to play with other dogs.”
But once the day is done, Spencer is a bit of a couch potato. “You get him to where you’ve burned out his energy and he gets a little bit of sleep in him. He’ll put his paws on your lap and then you can scratch him behind his ears. It’s great.”
Cassidy is looking for love
If you’re a pitbull-terrier mix with a lot of energy, sometimes the world’s perception of you is different than the reality. That’s the world in which Cassidy lives. The 50-pound white dog has energy to burn, which can scare some people. But Cassidy is a lover, not a fighter, according to Timmons.
A few years ago WRDR set up a dog-kissing booth at an adoption event. Cassidy was there, and people that ended up on her side of the booth got their money’s worth, Timmons says. “She was just there as a small pup, and she would just kiss everybody.”
Cassidy is a dog that is going to have to find the right fit with a family before she is adopted, Timmons says. Because of her high energy, she probably wouldn’t work well in a family with young children. “She’s a runner, so she’ll need somebody who does activities like running” to work out some of that extra vigor.