Rescued dogs flourishing in AMI homes
SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY
UnderDog of Florida’s Founder
Shona Otto shares a moment with her own five dogs, all of which are adopted.
More than 2,000 unwanted dogs, most headed for or rescued from kill shelters, are living the good life, thanks to Shona Otto and UnderDog Rescue of Florida.
"There are so many good dogs out there," said Otto, a former Island resident who now lives in Bradenton. "I just can’t stand to think of all of them being euthanized when they would make such good pets."
With that in mind, Otto and a strong central core of volunteers work tirelessly to rescue, foster and place the dogs with families.
Otto, whose parents Steve and Jana Samuels live in Anna Maria, said their daughter has brought home strays all her life, and UnderDog is just an extension of her lifelong passion.
"You should see some of the dogs when they first come into UnderDog," Jana said. "They’re dirty, smelly, scared, skinny — their fur is all matted. Then you see them when they’ve been fostered for a week, and you wouldn’t recognize them. They are learning to trust."
The organization specializes primarily in placing smaller dogs, according to Otto.
"Most of the dogs in shelters around here are larger dogs, and most of the people wanting to adopt a dog prefer a smaller dog," Otto said.
With that in mind, the UnderDog volunteers started combing the state for smaller dogs that would make good pets.
"We found a lot out of the Miami shelters," Otto said. "People there don’t want small dogs. They have kill shelters there and they don’t have any time to try to place the dogs. If no one claims them, they are put to sleep."
UnderDog volunteers have networked with shelter workers and with other volunteers who cull out dogs that will make good pets — sometimes literally snatching them from death.
Every week or so, volunteers from Miami load anywhere from one or two up to 11 dogs into their cars and drive across the state to meet up with an UnderDog volunteer in North Port.
As likely as not, the UnderDog volunteer will be Michelle Conroy, who lives in Sarasota.
Conroy had been volunteering at a local shelter after she left her job.
"I felt I was really lucky to be able not to work, so I felt I needed to give something back," she said. "Since I am not really fond of humans, I went to the dogs, literally."
But Conroy said she didn’t feel that her work at the shelter was enough. After doing some breed-specific fostering, she met the UnderDog people.
"UnderDog is a group of amazing women (and a couple of men) and we all work well together," she said. "We get a lot of our dogs adopted. We seem to have different things we’re good at and we all try to make it happen together."
No one organization keeps tabs on stray dogs in the United States, but it’s estimated that five million to nine million dogs are euthanized each year, according to the ASPCA Web site. And it’s estimated that several dozen more live and die a hard, short life on the street for each one that’s put to sleep.
No other non-third world country has anywhere near the stray and feral dog problem that this country has.
"People need to spay or neuter their pets," Otto said. "We spay or neuter all the dogs we adopt out. We give them a complete health check, microchip them and get them started on flea and heart worm prevention."
The organization still desperately needs foster homes for their dogs. It’s in the foster homes that the dogs are evaluated for their permanent homes. Will they do well with children? Can they live with other dogs and cats?
Otto said her organization also needs volunteers to transport dogs and to keep up the Web site.
And, of course, people willing to open their hearts and their homes to a dog are treasured.
Over the next five weeks, The Sun will be featuring a different Island household that has adopted from UnderDog Rescue of Florida. Each is a story unto itself. We’ll talk to a couple who are still moved to tears when they recall the death of their beloved dauschund and who also get misty eyed whenever they talk about their new dog, Pasco, and all the love he has brought into their lives.
We’ll also check in on Jazzie and her mom, a waitress who lives in Anna Maria, and on Izzy, who serves as a sort of hearing ear dog and helps her mom let her dad know when help is needed. Then there’s the story of Ted, an older dog that has brought much joy and love into his new home.