A dog's best friend

Jul. 14, 2014 @ 11:12 AM

For Sue Rogers, founder and president of the non-profit Ruff Love Rescue (RLR), home is where the dog is. For nearly 15 years, she and her tireless staff of devoted volunteers have been on an unwavering quest to save and re-home countless numbers of dogs that have been abandoned, neglected and abused.

“We take on the harder cases. Many of our dogs have special needs such as an amputated limb, heartworms or were severely abused,” said Rogers surrounded by a colorful pack of patriotic-clad pooches at a recent outdoor adoption fair. “Older dogs or those with disabilities typically get passed over at the shelter or worse — abandoned by their owners and left to die. It’s beyond heartbreaking. Ruff Love believes in second chances. We work hard every day to save one life at a time.”

Rogers got her start rescuing dogs when she moved to North Carolina from California in the 1990s. After volunteering to help a coworker with her small rescue organization, Rogers found herself taking in more and more dogs with fewer and fewer finding homes for various reasons.

“My friend ended up getting out of the rescue business,” she said with a laugh. “So, I decided to start Ruff Love Rescue and focus on dogs that typically slip through the cracks or wind up being euthanized. Once we commit to a dog no matter what the issue, we’re all in. At Ruff Love Rescue every life has value. At no time is euthanasia ever an option unless it’s medically necessary.”

On Saturday, July 5th, RLR showcased 15 of its finest, furry friends at an adoption fair. From Libby, an older hound-mix with a regal salt-pepper face and elegant eyes that tell a tale of abuse and redemption, to Logan, aka “The Rock Star,” a lovable, pit-bull terrier mix sporting sunglasses, a wagging tail that won’t stop and a larger-than-life personality. But for Logan, there’s just one hitch — he’s part pitbull. For that reason, he’s been waiting two years to find the right home. Yet somehow, all the tail wagging and free, sloppy kisses won’t change the stigma and misperceptions associated with his breed.

“Logan is one of the main reasons I started volunteering with Ruff Love,” said Megan Forrest, beaming with pride and sporting a huge smile at the wiggling, orange and white heap flopped down in front of her waiting to have his belly rubbed—again.

Forrest donates time and money to the organization and believes Logan personifies the true meaning of unconditional love. “He is sheer magic despite his past abuse and proof that you can’t judge a book by its cover or an animal by its breed. Logan is a big baby who adores people and lives to please,” she said.

According to Forrest, Ruff Love’s commitment to providing assessment tests by their in-house dog trainer to determine each animal’s temperament ensures the best fit and safety for both the dog and its new owner. Keeping a vigilant eye on certain characteristics such as sociability, aggressiveness or fearfulness towards humans, sounds or objects that might trigger a negative response, Forrest stresses that Logan passed with high marks but would be best suited for a female. “He used to be scared of men and would cower when one approached,” Forrest said.

Logan, stretched to the end of his leash, is working the crowd of men, women and children like a politician running for office. He glances back at Forrest seemingly thankful for her pride and hopefulness for his future. Taking off her sunglasses she reveals eyes full of tears.  “I just want him to find the perfect companion,” she said. “Logan deserves as much as happiness as he brings into this world.”

Just outside the glare of Logan’s limelight, seated in the shade, is one of RLR's tiniest volunteers. Five-year old McKenzie Moroni and her adorable charge, RJ — an elderly male Chihuahua with big eyes and a crooked smile — are enjoying the breeze and each other.

“RJ came to us with a broken jaw and his teeth were so decayed that it had eaten into his jaw bone,” Rogers explained shaking her head. “He should have died, but look at him now. He’s healthy, happy and waiting on his new forever home.”

McKenzie, her six-year-old sister Gabby and mom Krista are just a few of RLR’s foster volunteers who offer up their homes and hearts to dogs such as RJ who are patiently waiting to be adopted. Currently, the Moronis foster one dog and find the opportunity full of teachable moments for their girls.

“Fostering a rescue dog is an incredible way to teach children the value of doing something for others without expecting anything in return,” Moroni said. “It can be really tough to let a dog go once you’ve fostered them for months, even years. But the real joy comes in knowing once a dog is adopted, it opens up another spot for another dog in need.”

And there is always another dog in need. Rogers can’t remember exactly how many dogs she has rescued or found loving homes for. Currently, RLR has 100 dogs (and counting) and is constantly seeking donations and foster homes in an effort to keep up with the ever-growing numbers of unwanted pets. But matching the right dog with the right family is RLR’s ultimate goal.

“In a perfect world every dog would have a home,” Rogers says. “But the world is far from perfect. Just look around. All of our dogs offer an endless source of love and friendship. Despite their disabilities, at the end of the day they just want to love you no matter what.”

Just then, a massive, black dog with three legs comes bounding toward Rogers, dragging his giggling, happy owner along. “Willie,” shouts Rogers, smiling and laughing all at the same time. “I just love it when a dog we’ve adopted out comes back to visit.”

Rogers and Willie wildly greet each other like long-lost college roommates. Willie’s bubbly new mother, Ashley Hamlett, brings Willie to as many RLR adoption fairs as she can to show that ‘happy tales’ really do come true for dogs with disabilities.

“He’s a tripod, he just doesn’t know it,” jokes Hamlett. “He’s a 75-pound wild toddler trapped in a dog suit.  It’s Willie’s world and we’re all just living in it.”

Willie’s story, like the other rescue dogs, is one of severe neglect.

“His leg was mangled from being hit by a car, he had heartworms, the mange and serious eye problems,” Hamlett said. “There are no words to say how grateful we are to Ruff Love Rescue for saving him and fixing all his problems. Sure, he’s missing a front leg but it’s not slowing him down one bit. We don’t see him as disabled, we see him as a rare treasure.”

Today, Willie shares his family with the Hamlett’s 10-year old blind dachshund, who he shadows around the yard and is now his best friend.

“Rescue dogs are incredible because they are so loving and grateful to you for saving them,” Hamlett said. “Truth be told, they are the ones who really save us. Willie is living proof that love really does conquer all. ”