Saving one four-legged life at a time

Paws to Care: Saving one four-legged life at a time

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Chance had almost run out of chances. He was returned to the shelter twice, and was a large pit bull. In times past a dog like Chance would never make it out of the shelter. Not through fault of his own or through fault of the shelter, but because there are too many dogs and not enough space.

But a volunteer could see the character bubbling inside him, dying to get out. He had a smile behind the scared and reserved eyes; a colorful collar lay snug around his neck and popped against his white fur. Perhaps he had value after all and was not a throw-away.

Chance was pulled, vetted, and transported to Illinois where he met Tiffany. She knew he was the dog for her. They fell in love with each other, a match made in heaven. Chance now has a spot on the couch instead of a cot at the shelter.

Chance’s story and so many others like it, have provided fuel for a group of rescue workers who are committed to changing the animal welfare landscape here in Dyer County and beyond. Loosely organized at first, the group was brought together by Diana Griffith, who established Paws to Care in February 2017.

“I got tired of seeing the animal situation in the community,” said Griffith. “We have a responsibility to care for these animals and I simply decided to quit complaining and do something about it.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Paws to Care board member Rene Dunagan. “The homeless pets we help have no voice, so we must speak and care for them. I believe that God gave us control over the animals, but He also told us to take care of His creatures.”

Griffith formed Paws to Care with the mission of developing Dyersburg and Dyer County into a no-kill animal community through: 1) pulling and transporting dogs and cats from the Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society to no-kill rescues further north, 2) spay and neuter programs, 3) trap-neuter return programs for community cats (still to be implemented) and 4) education in the community.

The first order of business was to create strategic partnerships with vet offices, boarding facilities and the humane society. Throughout 2017, Griffith and other volunteers worked hard at fostering relationships and developing processes that made sense and worked well within the various groups. The volunteers worked with the shelter and became acquainted with humane society policies and procedures and formed relationships with the staff.

When Paws to Care landed on the scene in early 2017, the humane society was coming out of a cycle with the highest euthanasia rate it had seen in a number of years, jumping as high as 84 percent in 2013 and leveling out at 46 percent in 2016. The cost of putting animals down, both financially and emotionally was a drain on the humane society staff and resources. The strategic partnership with Paws to Care became a win-win for both groups and the euthanasia rate began to significantly drop with 2017 seeing one of its lowest rates in years at 21 percent. By the end of 2017, Paws to Care had developed rhythms and systems that facilitated saving nearly 1,000 animal lives in 2017 alone. Today that number is well over 2,000.

As Paws to Care began to grow and word began to spread, other animal-friendly organizations in town wanted to get involved. One of the first to partner with Paws to Care was Nauvoo Pet Resort, a boarding facility off Harris Road in Dyer County. Nauvoo Pet Resort partnered with Paws to Care and offered half-price boarding fees for shelter animals. When the humane society was at maximum capacity, rather than euthanize for space, they began calling Paws to Care. Paws to Care would pull as many animals as they could and send them to Nauvoo Pet Resort until they could be put on a transport to other bigger cities where they had a better chance of adoption. This enabled the saving of more than one life at a time, as the animal sent to Nauvoo would be saved but the space they vacated could also be occupied by another animal, who otherwise would have been euthanized.

For Nauvoo Pet Resort Manager Kelly Ford the simplicity and beauty of it makes her want to keep doing it. “I want every animal I help to know the love of a family and I believe they are worthy of compassion and basic rights. I’m blessed and so proud to be a part of such a great group and I know we can continue to push forward saving animals and educating our community one day at a time.”
How does it work?
Paws to Care’s No. 1 goal is to transport animals out of rural northwest Tennessee and get them to no-kill adoption centers in larger cities like Chicago or St. Louis, where they will be safe and cared for until they find their forever home. Dogs or cats picked up or surrendered to the humane society will be flagged by Paws to Care for transport. If the animal was found, a grace period of three days (by law) is given to ensure that the owner does not return to claim the animal, while surrendered animals are available for transport immediately. Paws to Care volunteers will work to identify which animals could be flagged for transport. Volunteers also conduct temperament tests to determine if an animal is suitable to be in a home with other animals or if it needs to be the only fur baby in the household.

Behind the scenes, transport coordinators work with a number of rescue organizations and adoption centers to place animals in their facilities. Certain rescue workers specialize in a specific breed, while other organizations focus on animals under 25 pounds. Once the right adoption facility is identified, the animal is tagged for transport but first comes a quick stop to the local veterinarian’s office.

Dyer County Animal Hospital became a strategic partner for Paws to Care in the late summer of 2017. Each dog that is transported requires a vet check as well as a health certificate to travel out of state. Dr. Jimmy Crisp and Griffith worked together to create a system where Paws to Care could easily bring through the 40-50 animals that were coming each week without disrupting the business flow at Dyer County Animal Hospital.

“Our business partners are vital to our success. Without good working relationships with all involved it simply won’t work.” said Griffith. “We now partner not only with Nauvoo Pet Resort and Dyer County Animal Hospital, but we also get support from Pet Stop and Animal Care in our town. It truly is a community effort.”

The number of moving parts and the logistical challenge of it all can be overwhelming but at the core is a group of over 20 volunteers with a common goal of saving dog and cat lives. Volunteer Cindy Riggs identified with the mission and jumped in head first to help Paws to Care any way she could.

“About 8 years ago, I picked up an injured dog on the side of the road. When I looked into his eyes, I could tell he trusted me; and that was such a good feeling. The dog went on to a new home after being treated; and I gained a passion for animal rescue. At that point it became my desire to be more involved. It is so rewarding to know that I can have a small part in helping dogs and cats on their journey to a new life.”
Who pays for it all?
Like any non-profit, Paws to Care is funded through supporters and grants that fund its mission. As the mission grows, so does its need for funds and the group is ready to launch its first major fundraiser, Saturday, Oct. 27 at Fyrne Lake Farms. The Tails on Trails event is being billed as fun for everyone on two and four legs. This event is from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the pavilion.
How to get involved?
If you would like to get involved with Paws to Care, there are several ways you can help. The greatest need is for fosters – even if you can only foster for a week at a time, this helps reduce boarding costs and you’ll be saving two lives at a time – the foster and the space they vacated at the shelter. Not everyone is cut out to be a foster and Griffith admits they have several failed fosters – not because the dog or cat did anything wrong but simply because their human foster could not bear to let them go and adopted them.

If fostering is not for you consider volunteering, help is needed to work with animals, coordinate fundraisers, drive transport vehicles and so much more. For more information on volunteering or fostering just complete the appropriate application at You can also find us on Facebook at pawstocaretn

Paws to Care is a 501c3 tax-exempt organization and all financial gifts and donations are tax-deductible. Financial giving is possible via Facebook or through PayPal. You can also mail donations to PO Box 905, Dyersburg 38025.