Rescue work reaps remarkable rewardsWhen Linda Alvarez arrives home, six little canine faces pop into the big bay window of her Winter Street home and begin sounding a welcome alarm.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
When Linda Alvarez arrives home, six little canine faces pop into the big bay window of her Winter Street home and begin sounding a welcome alarm.
Alvarez, a 23-year employee of UW-River Falls, has three small dogs of her own and three others who will stay with her until they find “forever” homes.
She’s been helping the Small Dog Rescue of Minn. for a few months, getting started after she met some of its volunteers while seeking an animal to add to her family.
Alvarez said most dogs in the program have been abandoned or rescued from puppy mills.
She permanently adopted a silky terrier named Chupi, who came with seven dead puppies inside her, significant parts of both ears chewed off and all but four of her teeth rotten and in need of extraction.
“When you get these dogs,” she said, “they’re always in huge pain.”
Another had a massive ear infection and an infestation of mites, as well as being emaciated.
Alvarez said she is working with one of her dogs to break its habit of eating feces, a habit rescuers commonly see in puppy-mill canines and that often develops when they suffer from malnutrition.
Two of her foster dogs came as a “bonded pair.” One of them is deaf and blind; the other is her guide dog of sorts. The two stick together and often clean each other.
Alvarez said she has fun with the little dogs and finds that her companions make great listeners and enrich life greatly.
“The health benefits are not only physical, they’re also psychological,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez worked at the university for 21 years as the multicultural coordinator before moving into her current position as the Study Abroad advisor in the Global Connections Center.
Before starting at UW-River Falls, she worked as a nurse and thinks some of that training helps her in working with the abused, often terrified animals that must learn how to act like a dog and trust humans again.
She got started fostering after meeting several people in the region involved with rescue operations -- including the SDR, the Protective Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of western Wisconsin and Wags & Whiskers Rescue of Minnesota.
She said they all emphasize spaying and neutering companion animals. Also, they’re selective in finding good, permanent homes for the traumatized animals.
Alvarez had mourned the loss of her 17-year-old silky terrier and began seeking another. Through Shawntel Tomberlin, a volunteer for several area rescue organizations, she witnessed a “rescue caravan,” which includes a lot of people from several states donating time, gas, vehicle travel, money and other resources to rescue the dogs from puppy mills or auctions, then find them foster and permanent homes.
Alvarez said Tomberlin, a seasoned “foster mom,” has been her mentor. Tomberlin said the general philosophy of rescuers is to use foster homes to spread out the animals and not burden shelters, which are often overcrowded and must euthanize animals that aren’t adopted within a certain timeframe.
Tomberlin said, “The key ingredient is fostering.”
She told the student helpers that over the years she’s fostered about 25 dogs and that they’ve all found permanent homes.
Students offer help
Alvarez also serves as the advisor for the campus-based Student United Way that began two years ago.
In that capacity, she talked to current SUW president Liz Stolte about different service projects the students could take on.
Stolte said those activities have also included a school-supply drive, trick-or-treating for canned goods, visiting senior citizens, a painting project and helping Alvarez assist schools in Kenya, Africa, slums. The group plans to take part in the Feed My Starving Children program.
“We’re also starting a Relay for Life team,” said Stolte.
She said membership was sparse the first year but has now grown to about 25 active members. The core startup group promoted SUW in all the ways they could -- wearing their “Live United” T-shirts, talking to fellow students about the organization, developing an SUW website -- and the ideas keep flowing.
Last week was the first for students to come and help SDR with Alvarez’s foster dogs. Three helpers on Wednesday night were all smiles as they held, pet and fed the dogs.
The students will also help walk them, a few of which fear leashes and have a lot to learn about walking with one.
Alvarez said, “It has an academic side to it,” adding that she briefs the students about the different animal-welfare organizations in the area and how they operate.
The helpers learn about the rescue and foster process as well as the importance of spaying and neutering. Alvarez said she realized UW-RF students would be good candidates for working with animals, particularly those studying veterinary medicine and agriculture.
“I hate to waste a good companion animal,” said Alvarez as she expressed thanks for the students’ help.
“You’re saving these dogs’ lives,” she said.
Alvarez encourages others to get involved, too, saying the rescue organizations welcome donations of money and goods. They need all items related to caring for dogs and cats: Food, shampoo, leashes, toys, blankets and other supplies.
And she said, “There’s a great need for foster families on this side of the river.”
People looking to adopt a pet should be aware that most organizations charge a fee and screen potential new pet owners with an application process.
- Gregory’s Gift of Hope is a rescue and re-home non-profit organization based in New Richmond offering refuge, nourishment and medical attention to injured, abandoned and abused animals. It declares to protect all animals and promote spay-neuter programs. Learn more about Gregory’s Gift of Hope online at www.GGOH.com or contact it by e-mailing at email@example.com or calling 715-246-2467 during business hours.
- Home for Life is a long-term animal sanctuary providing lifelong care for the special-needs dogs and cats. It caters to the many animals that may not be able to find a permanent home because of their age, chronic illness/disorder or other handicap. The non-profit organization has its administrative functions in Stillwater, Minn., and a sanctuary in Star Prairie. Learn more about Home for Life online at www.homeforlife.org or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 800-252-5918.
- Pet Haven, Inc., is a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization that rescues and re-homes cats and dogs, helps spay and neuter to reduce overpopulation, promotes companion-animal welfare and advocacy. Learn more about Pet Haven online at www.pethaven.org or calling 952-831-3825.
- Protective Animal Welfare Society of western Wisconsin (PAWS), is based in River Falls, serves Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties to protect cats and dogs from cruelty, neglect, homelessness and indifference. It finds animal foster and permanent homes, offers spay-neuter assistance and works to educate society. Learn more about PAWS online at www.pawswi.com or e-mailing email@example.com. Phone numbers for programs are on the website.
- Small Dog Rescue of Minnesota, based in Minneapolis, is a network of volunteers working to rescue, rehabilitate and find permanent homes for dogs weighing 25 pounds or less. Learn more about SDR online at www.sdrminn.org or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- St. Croix Animal Friends, based in Roberts, formed in 2005 to promote positive relationships between animals and people through education and community programs, as well as provide animals with compassionate experience in finding them temporary and permanent homes. It has been fundraising in order to build an animal adoption and education center somewhere in St. Croix County. Learn more about SCAF online at www.stcroixanimalfriends.org or by e-mailing email@example.com or by calling 715-749-3763.
- Wags and Whiskers Animal Rescue is a non-profit organization based in the Twin Cities and operating through a network of volunteers to save animal lives and find homes for stray, abandoned and surrendered dogs. Learn more about this organization online at www.wagsmn.com or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 651-329-2110.