Meet the Rescues: Underdog Railroad Rescue

What matchmakers do 

Underdog Railroad, a small nonprofit rescue in Portland, saves dogs locally and from high-kill California shelters. Dogs are fostered until healthy, then placed in forever homes.

It all started five years ago, when URR founder Jody Kurilla saw a 10-year-old Poodle on Pet Connect who was to be euthanized the following morning in San Bernardino.

Jody booked a flight (two to get there, two to get home), and the next day had Fifi onboard. “She cried and cried, so I held her, and told her she was going home. She went to sleep, and slept all the way home.”  Fifi’s been home ever since.

Pet Connect thought Jody did a great job, and soon called about another dog. Jody responded, and this one — also scheduled to die — was adopted quickly.

Intrigued, Jody contacted local rescues, asking: “Am I crazy? Should I do this?”

“Pixie was one . . . she said she thought I’d do great work and that I should.”

URR is devoted to those who will be killed if not rescued, who “no one is coming for,” including “medical, old, or behavioral dogs,” says Jody, adding that they take all ages and breeds — “a variety of dogs.”

Jody says the rescue isn’t “looking for numbers,” but for great matches, one tail at a time.

“We’re like dating . . . a matchmaking service.”

And they’re serious. Recently a woman with cats was considering an adoptable dog. Volunteers did a home visit, spending no less than two hours, “just to make sure the dog and cats would do fine,” Jody smiles. They did.

The all-volunteer group is foster-based, “so we really get to know the dogs and can make great matches.” They share stories and photos on Facebook “from the time they’re received until they go home,” says Jody, adding, “People love it.”

This inspired the creation of a video — launching soon as part of a new campaign — based on a piece by a performance artist at MOMA. Jody hopes the film will move others the way Fifi moved her.

The stories are endless. A favorite of Jody’s shows the before and after of a little guy left in the drop box at a shelter. Ugly with mange when he arrived, Jody says his ‘after’ shots “make you go What!? Can’t be the same dog.”

Following the mantra of one tail at a time, Jody says if they are anything, it’s careful. “We’re taking the dogs that no one has responded to . . . headed for euthanasia. Then we’re working to get them in front of that someone (they are out there) for whom this is their forever dog.”

In five short years, URR has written countless love stories that without them would have ended before they began. Their dreams for the future are no less profound, and continue their legacy of love.

Because that’s what matchmakers do. And Underdog Railroad does it well, one tail at a time.

Get to know them and see stories you won’t forget (for all the right reasons) on Facebook, and at

—    Kristan Dael

Meet the Rescues: Pixie Project

Here for ALL of them

Homeless pets come to The Pixie Project from everywhere -- overcrowded rural Oregon shelters, “Texas, California, strays, owners who can't keep them, it's all a combination," says executive director Amy Sacks. "We're here for all of them."

At this nonprofit animal rescue and adoption center located in NE Portland, adoption is a fun, positive, family-friendly experience that’s all about getting pets into lifelong homes.

"Our dogs and cats go through a LOT of behavior assessment,” says Sacks, “and they are carefully matched to improve the success of a happy adoption.”  

Sacks believes a bad adoption can ruin the future for other homeless pets later in a family's life. 

"If people get a bad fit they’re likely to go out and buy their next dog or cat. To me, you can save one dog, or save all the dogs that family may adopt in the future if you make a great match."

Sacks and her team are diligent about ensuring every pet they deem adoptable is behaviorally and medically ready to be homed. "Whatever has to be done to get a behaviorally sound dog or cat ready for adoption, we will take care of," she says, which sometimes includes extensive surgery.

The belief that spay/neuter to prevent unwanted births is key in minimizing animal suffering is one reason The Pixie Project also operates The Scott Wainner Pixie Care Clinic, providing low-income and homeless pet owners access to vital veterinary care including spay/neuter, emergency services, dental extractions, amputations, mass removals, and other life-saving surgeries.

"When you have senior people with 12-year-old animals, and you look at resources spent, it's better to address the need of the pet owner and keep that pet home where it is cared for and loved," Sacks says. "Typically that pet has been with their beloved owner their entire life. Why should a senior feel forced to surrender a pet due to expenses? Senior animals have very limited adoption opportunities. Why separate them?"

The Pixie Project team is committed to the adoption process start to finish, interviewing applicants carefully, and discussing what they seek in a beloved companion. They also tell clients up front that a "perfect match" may take time -- but it’s worth it.

"The more we can make adoption an experience people love, the more people can trust this system and the less animals are put to sleep,” says Sacks.

Want to help?

"We always have a need for foster parents, and being in a home setting lets us better assess a dog or cat when it's time to place them." Also needed are donations (including vehicles) and volunteers. Other ways to help include attending a fundraiser or purchasing Fetch eyewear or items on Pixie’s Wish List from Amazon. Learn more at

—    Christy Caballero

Meet the Rescues: OFOSA

Wanted:  OFOSA Heroes

What began in 2001 with just five animal-loving people has become what is today one of the most active shelters in the Northwest. Chalking up 1600 adoptions in 2015, OFOSA Board President Cathy Nechak expects they’ll complete well over 2000 adoptions this year.

Partnering with Best Friends Animal Society and other leading organizations, in recent months OFOSA has been called upon by Best Friends to help the “little Cajuns” — animals left behind or lost and unclaimed during and after the Louisiana flood.

“We got five heartworm-positive dogs,” says Cathy, underscoring one of the things for which OFOSA has historically been known: caring for those others will not. “These dogs have a 99 percent chance of survival,” Cathy says. “I don’t expect them to die.”

An interesting thing came up when preparing to transport these dogs, which included puppies. “Where’s the mom?” Cathy wanted to know. Told they thought OFOSA wouldn’t want her, Cathy asked, “Why, is she not nice?” They replied, “Oh, she’s wonderful!”

Mom made the transport. “We don’t leave moms behind,” says Cathy — “not our style.”

What is their style is being heroes to pets who have none — and doing it right. “When things get tight, others cut staff. We don’t,” says Cathy, adding, “I’m a firm believer in having one caretaker for every 12 dogs. They need to be fed, kept clean, exercised and loved.”

Which brings us to the critical focus currently in play for this important member of the NW rescue community: closing the gap. This time, OFOSA needs heroes.

Adoption fees generally cover exams and tests for disease, vaccinations, microchipping, and flea, heartworm and other treatments as needed. Sometimes the cost of these necessary steps are just a dollar or two less than the adoption fee for the pet.

As year-end approaches, OFOSA needs to close the gap in order to continue its important work. 200 OFOSA Heroes contributing just $10 per month can do just that.

Could you be a Hero? A member of the OFOSA 200?  In addition to the joy of knowing you’ll be helping to save yet another 2000 (or more) sweet pets’ lives, you’ll have the honor and the pleasure of bragging rights. Contributors will receive an “OFOSA Hero” digital “badge” to share on social media, and a great bracelet that goes with everything — but looks especially great with the sparkle in your eye that says: “I saved a life and I liked it!”

Be a Hero. Call or email OFOSA today, and feel the love.

OFOSA holds adoption events weekly at partner PetSmart stores in Cedar Hills, Hillsboro, Wilsonville, and Tanasbourne. They’d love to meet you, talk more about how you can help, and introduce you to some of the amazing little rock stars — including many “little Cajuns” who survived unimaginable tragedy but are smiling and full of life . . . and ready to meet the new love of their life!

—    Kristan Dael

Note: Carolyn Ackerman, owner/operator of Let Carolyn Paint it, has been beautifying homes and commercial buildings with painting and other services for 20 years. A lifelong animal lover, Carolyn’s business donates 50% of the proceeds from every job to animal rescue. She supports OFOSA by underwriting this story.

Meet the Rescues: Bonnie Hays

If you're a homeless pet, the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter leaves a light on for you.

The shelter takes in all stray animals in Washington County. “We are one of the safest counties in America to be a homeless pet,” says Jennifer Keene, the shelter’s Animal Behavior and Outreach Coordinator for the shelter. “We work extremely hard to make sure every animal has the best possible outcome.”

Job one is returning animals to their owners

The shelter staff not only scans for microchips and identification on animals coming into the shelter, they also actively search craigslist and other social media looking for people who have lost pets that might be a match for those in the shelter. As a result, the shelter's return-to-owner rate is "two to three times the national average," says Keene.

"When Animal Services Officers pick animals up in the field. We prefer to reunite the pet with the owner, rather than bring them in and impound them and charge more fees," she shares, adding that they often agree to deliver animals to the owner’s home. t"We always want to return the pet as quickly and easily as possible. Our officers and shelter staff are pretty awesome."

Dogs and cats not reunited with their owners — like strays with outdated microchips or no ID at all or animals whose owners choose not to come for them — find a second life at the shelter.

Animals are rehabilitated mentally and physically

The Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter has an in-house veterinarian and community partnerships with other veterinarians, so animals who aren't healthy when they come in can be saved. “For example, Roy, a stray cat recently brought in, had been attacked and his wounds were infected. Staff cleaned his wounds and treated in for infection and pain. He will recover in foster care and then be available for adoption.

Staff and volunteers also provide behavior enrichment, interventions and training for animals in the shelter in order to keep them mentally healthy during their stay and to prepare them for adoption. "We have a read-to-dogs program that's really popular with our volunteers," Keene says. "The dogs sit and listen to someone speaking to them in a pleasant voice; it's a break from the shelter environment, time like they would have in a home."

Even challenging pets find homes. While the shelter adopts out hundreds of animals every year, it also works very closely with a wide variety of local, reputable rescue groups that can be a better environment than the shelter for some pets.

"We’ve had adopters choose pets they know have cancer, or chronic illnesses requiring ongoing care, or the elderly. We’ve adopted out 14-year-old pets. It's amazing. People open their hearts to the less perfect ones and that's so encouraging."

The numbers reflect this shelter's success.

"Our success is due to collaboration between staff, volunteers, donors and community — even someone calling because they see a dog running in traffic — we really can't do what we do without our community."

Keene loves working with pets, but says, "It's also the relationship between people and their animals. I'll see a car come tearing in, practically on two wheels, and I'll just know — someone's here to pick up a lost pet! The pure joy, the pet they were worried they'd never see again, is here at the shelter, safe. It's a beautiful thing."

~Christy Caballero

1st Avenue Shelter

Kitty awaits adoption in the 1st Avenue Shelter. 

Kitty awaits adoption in the 1st Avenue Shelter. 

Second Chance For Animals

Greenhill Humane Society of Eugene is making the most of a new opportunity to give animals a second chance.  When budget cuts closed Lane County Animal Services, the folks at Greenhill stepped up, transforming the former LCAS facility into 1st Avenue Shelter, a wayside for animals who were abandoned or lost, or rescued from neglectful or abusive situations.  Support reaches beyond cats and dogs to include gerbils, ferrets, parrots, chickens, and even a young cow found locked in a van.

If an animal goes missing in the Valley, the 1st Avenue website is the place to look.   Photos are posted immediately upon an animal entering the shelter, in hopes their people will come for them.  If unclaimed after 5 days, animals enter the adoption queue.  First Avenue posts flyers of adoptables on its website for easy printing, and businesses and schools are encouraged to print and display them.  The website also displays courtesy postings of animals reported lost and not yet found or taken to the shelter yet.  At Greenhill, animals are taken in by their owners or transferred from other shelters.  Photos of Greenhill and 1st Avenue animals can be seen side-by-side on Greenhill’s website.   The two shelters are also on Facebook.

Spuds awaits his forever family.

Spuds awaits his forever family.

First Avenue has five large yards where animals spend time when not in their kennels.  Volunteer hours have doubled since July, but the shelter needs more helping hands to spend time walking and socializing the dogs.  Dog harnesses are needed, as well as food and toys to keep dogs active while in kennels.  Since Greenhill took over the LCAS operations in July adoptions have increased, but more are always coming — in just the last two months, First Avenue has taken in 286 cats and 335 dogs.  Since the change, staff and volunteers have been removing old carpets, transforming offices into rooms for animals, and getting new signs.  Cary Lieberman, director of Greenhill, says the transition has been a bit confusing for people, but that, “We’re here, we’re available, and the animals are waiting.”

1st Avenue Shelter
3970 W. 1st Ave., Eugene
(541) 844-1777 *

Born Again Pit Bull Rescue

Elliott with new dad PJ Cummins

Elliott with new dad PJ Cummins

Second Chances

The folks at Born Again Pit Bull Rescue (BAPBR) believe in second chances, not just for the many dogs they foster and place in loving homes, but also in their mission to educate the community about these dogs who have received so much negative attention and are often targets of abuse.

BAPBR began as a private rescue in 2007 when founder Angela Adams fell in love with a Pit Bull puppy and began studying the breed.  Disheartened by the negative views thrust upon these dogs and the over-representation of Pit Bull mixes in shelters, she began a mission, according to the BAPBR website, “to repair the reputation of these dogs as the ‘family dog’ through responsible ownership, while working to educate the public to stop their abuse, over-breeding and neglect.”  Today, BAPBR is a nonprofit, no-kill organization that has become one of the most visible rescues in the Portland area, and one of very few specializing in rehoming Pit Bull-type dogs.

The organization’s visibility is thanks in part to the amount of community-building BAPBR does with local organizations to establish positive messaging, responsible pet ownership and to foster and promote adoptions.

BAPBR Board President Julie Honse says these partnerships are essential.  “For us it’s a mission where everyone is working for a good purpose, so we want to establish strong relationships with other groups.  We don’t have a building, we have foster homes; so we can’t take in every dog but we can help save as many as we can through promotion and marketing.” 

Before and After:  Butter was rescued from a crowded shelter in L.A., returned to health and adopted into a loving family

Before and After:  Butter was rescued from a crowded shelter in L.A., returned to health and adopted into a loving family

And education.  The website provides information on everything from proper socialization and nutrition to boarding and housing.  BAPBR also works hard on messaging, particularly around terminology.  “We use the term ‘Pit Bull-type dogs,’” says Honse.  “We don’t use ‘Bullies’ or ‘Pitties’ because there are 21 different breeds [in that category] and when you’re talking about behavior, every dog has their own experiences.  We embrace that every dog is an individual despite what they look like or what they are labeled.”

BAPBR’s work is paying off.  Seventy dogs have been placed this year, nearly twice as many as 2011.  Honse says they are working to expand their foster network and save even more dogs in 2013.  “We want to blow last year’s numbers out of the water.”

Born Again Pit Bull Rescue
PO Box 304, Sherwood, OR 97140

Clackamas County Dog Services

CCDS Ambassador dogs Scooter and Karbon look good in hats

CCDS Ambassador dogs Scooter and Karbon look good in hats

Helping dogs find their way home

In an unassuming building off East Hwy 212, Clackamas County Dog Services (CCDS) quietly makes it happen for homeless dogs.  Much more than a county shelter, CCDS has a mission that is served well by the staff and volunteers who care for the more than 1000 dogs that pass through their doors every year.

“I don’t think people realize how much we really offer here,” says Development Officer Maura White,  “We really provide the whole wraparound of services to make sure dogs get into a home and stay in that home.”

To meet that standard, the folks at CCDS conduct classes on dog behavior, training, and responsible ownership, as well as emergency preparedness and pet first aid.  They also provide support including dog rescue, protective custody for pets, spay/neuter clinics, and are currently fundraising for a mobile dental station to help low-income families keep their dog’s teeth healthy and prevent expensive vet bills.

White feels these services are essential to keeping pets at home.  “We have people who feel they have to surrender their dog because they can’t afford to feed them, so we have resources like the food bank or Animeals.  We recognize it can be a strain on people to feed their dog, but at the same time those dogs are the best companions they may have.”

CCDS Ambassador dog Scooter with Girl Scout troop member

CCDS Ambassador dog Scooter with Girl Scout troop member

When people are forced to surrender a dog, CCDS staff  work hard to ensure that dog finds a loving home.  “We really do an excellent job of matching people with dogs,” says White.  “We work with families to find a good match because we want those dogs to stay in those homes and not be returned.”

For the more than 500 dogs who become lost in this rural county each year, CCDS provides an online service for pet parents to post pictures of lost dogs on its website in hopes someone might help reunite them with their loved ones.  It’s all part of the primary mission at CCDS, says White.  “Our goal really is helping dogs find their way home.”

Clackamas County Dog Services
13141 SE Hwy 212, Clackamas, OR 97015
Shelter 503-655-8628/Emergency 503-655-8211

This story made possible by VCA NWVS, which "adopted" CCDS this year!

Family Dogs New Life No Kill Dog Shelter

P hotos  © Bob Libby, courtesy of Family Dogs New Life Shelter

Photos  © Bob Libby, courtesy of Family Dogs New Life Shelter

Heroes for the underdogs

In eight short years, more than 8000 dogs have found forever homes thanks to Portland resident, animal advocate and shelter director Tasha Giacomazzi and her crew at Family Dogs New Life Shelter in Portland.  The no-kill dog shelter — whose residents spend their days in large play groups, not kennels or runs — is devoted to rescuing and rehoming needy dogs regardless of age, breed or history. 

Among many things that make the Family Dogs crew special are these long proven traits:  collaborative, hard-working, committed and friendly.  The shelter works with animal control agencies and humane societies in Oregon and Washington, private rescue groups across the country, and occasionally individual owners.  Their priority is serving dogs “who have no other options,” such as long-term shelter residents who’ve run out of time or dogs other shelters may consider ‘unadoptable.’ 

Another strong Family Dogs trait is innovation.  Their signature “Piteos” — adorable videos featuring adoptable Pit Bulls — are charming, and effective.  Those at FDNL believe Pitties deserve homes as much as other dogs, and the Piteos aim to help shine a good light on the oft-misunderstood dogs. 


Great matchmakers, the Family Dogs crew only introduces prospective adopters to dogs they are confident will be a good match for both the family and the dog. 

Says Tasha of Family Dogs, “We believe in community and, we hope, with your help, we will continue reducing the number of dogs euthanized each year.  Together we can make a difference.”

Being devoted to those at or near “the end of the line” means the crew has worked with countless hard cases.  And perhaps that’s for the best — it seems few do it better than the devoted crew at Family Dogs.  Their motto, “We believe all dogs deserve a second chance at a new life,” is demonstrated daily not only through their efforts, but their success rate and the growing legion of believers whose lives they have touched.

Family Dogs New Life
9101 SE Stanley Ave. Portland, OR
503-771-5596 ∙

This story made possible by CVRC, which "adopted" Family Dogs New Life this year!

Must Love Dogs NW



Rescue on a mission

Located in Vancouver, WA, Must Love Dogs NW (MLDNW) doesn’t just rescue dogs, though they have to the tune of more than 2000 dogs since the organization was founded in June 2008.  Its mission is to “reduce and prevent animal homelessness by being the most innovative and service-oriented rescue in the area.”

The organization accomplishes this by offering low-cost spay/neuter assistance, community education, a dedicated foster network, food, and canine behaviorists.  MLDNW’s adoption program’s goal, and its key, according to co-founder and resident Alycia Hadfield, is “to unite people with the right dog.” 

“I actually like to call it a matchmaking program,” says Hadfield.  “We want the dog and the people to be very happy in the end.”

MLDNW’s website is filled with information for prospective foster and adopting parents, offering tips, breed information and fun facts, plus product info and even a book club.  One of the more poignant pieces of content appears in the “Tails from the Cages in the Back” page, which tells the stories of more difficult cases that have arrived on MLDNW’s doorstep and how they are working to find solutions to help these animals in need.



One recent story shares the tale of two dogs, Joy and Nala, who were rescued from a shelter after being abandoned by a hoarder.  The pair was placed into the loving care of a MLDNW foster mother and are now being nurtured back to physical and emotional health.  “Joy and Nala now have full bellies, a warm bed to sleep in, and one of the best foster families a dog could have,” the story concludes.

For dogs like Joy and Nala, Much Love Dogs NW is dedicated to providing the kind of support needed to give dogs the loving life they deserve.  “We work with a lot of dogs that may be scared in a shelter,” says Hadfield, “but when you get them out of that setting you really see them blossom.  There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a dog come in terrified and leave happy and vibrant with a family who is going to love them forever.”

Must Love Dogs NW
PO Box 87175, Vancouver, WA, 98687
(866)990-DOGS *

Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals

P hotos courtesy of OFOSA

Photos courtesy of OFOSA

Foster-based OFOSA breaking records

During a recent three-day weekend, a record breaking 51 dogs and 24 cats found forever homes through Oregon Friends of Shelter Animals (OFOSA).  The numbers show how far this foster-based rescue has come in a decade.

Ten years ago, a small group of shelter workers tried to save the life of a Cocker Spaniel that was ultimately euthanized.  Following that sad ending, the group vowed to do more to care for and find homes for animals in need.

Soon the group was conducting modest fundraisers and outreaches, and partnering with local vets.  Within a year, OFOSA’s growing foster network was strong, and animal transports had begun.  Today OFOSA regularly transports animals from Southern California to Canada and offers assistance to animals affected by large-scale disasters.  In fact, OFOSA rescued 120 animals affected by Hurricane Katrina.  Recently the group acquired a 29-foot motor home, gutted it (except kitchen and bathroom), and outfitted it with kennels.  Teams can now transport more animals, more safely.

OFOSA works with a coalition of smaller shelters and rescues, including Safe Haven in Salem, Luv-A-Bull in Eugene, and Columbia County Humane.  The groups collaborate in re-homing pets with slim chances in the shelter system.  Last year, 1,282 animals (about 500 cats and 782 dogs) found new homes, and over 2,000 more were rescued through transport.

OFOSA works thanks to more than a hundred volunteers from a variety of backgrounds.  Executive Director Linda Liebenstein says she’s proud of the work they do.  “Everyone supports each other and works together for what’s best for the animals,” she says.

While OFOSA does not have a shelter, its surgery clinic is staffed with three veterinarians and one vet tech.  The team provides spays/neuters, microchipping, vaccinations, and flea and worm treatments. 

With no physical shelter, fostering is the heart of OFOSA.  About 100 foster families help restore animals to good health, provide training and socialization, and temporary homes until forever families are found.


Fostered pets are in a home/family environment, which appeals to many potential adopters who appreciate being able to see the animals’ true colors.  Foster “parents” are also able to provide valuable insights into the animals’ personalities and behaviors.

The mission of OFOSA’s foster care network is providing individualized care and the time needed to locate forever homes.  For this reason, when someone asks how they can help, Liebenstein says, “We always need fosters willing to open their hearts and their homes.” 

OFOSA holds adoption outreaches every Saturdays except holidays at PetSmart locations in Cedar Hills, Tanasbourne, Tigard and Wilsonville.  All adoptables can be seen at   

4240 SW 185th, Beaverton, OR 97007
503-747-7818 or