Dog Rescue in Action – Students Impact the Future

 Three girls on sofa


When Julie Ogden tells her Woodcliff Middle School science students about her volunteer work at The Last Resort Animal Rescue in West Milford, NJ, they want to help.


Unable to assist the rescue in traditional ways due to their ages, Ogden’s students formed Woodcliff Animal Rescue Engineers (WCare) in 2008.  Through the extracurricular club sponsored by Ogden and technology teacher Fred Matzan, students use technology skills learned in the classroom to promote animal rescue.


The partnership between WCare and The Last Resort exemplifies an increasingly popular education model and a national trend in animal rescue.  Service learning combines community service with social and academic learning.  Service-learning projects allow students to gain firsthand knowledge and hands-on experience while effecting change in their community.  These projects encourage a high level of engagement in the cause and the learning process. 


Students become more concerned citizens and are more likely to stay committed to a cause after the project is completed,” says Ogden.  “Likewise, students become more active learners and are better equipped for future academic and social success.” 

Last Resort pet adoption event in NJ

More than 20 WCare members meet weekly to create digital videos of The Last Resort’s dogs and cats, aiding in their adoptions by drawing attention to their unique qualities.  With these videos, Ogden’s students make a significant contribution to the rescue.


“Unlike many of our adult volunteers, children are tech savvy,” Ogden says.  “They have the skills and the time to create persuasive videos, incorporate music to set the mood and post them on You Tube for Potential adopters to view.” 


WCare is a valuable experience for the students too.  “In addition to practicing their technical skills, students learn how to edit photos and sound to reach people with a specific message,” Ogden explains.  “They have to carefully consider purpose, audience and communication strategies.  The world is changing rapidly.  More people are watching videos than reading.  These skills are going to be invaluable to these students’ futures.” 


WCare students are also developing leadership and social skills through engagement with their community.  Students are fostering dogs with their families and assisting with adoption events.  They are coordinating fundraisers and attending community events to raise awareness for rescue, and several past members have started rescue clubs in their high schools.


“These children are becoming concerned citizens who will be a force to be reckoned with,” says Ogden.


The Haven-Friends for Life in Raeford, NC, takes a different approach to service learning with its animal rescue internship program.  The program offers people 18 or older hands-on learning in administration, photography, building and contracting, graphic design, dog grooming, writing and outdoor recreation.  Internships require a commitment of 20 hours per week with at least one eight hour weekend day. 


The Haven started its internship program in 2009 but always has welcomed people seeking an educational experience with the rescue.  When David Osgood, of Dedham, MA, was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC, the animal loving-sergeant began volunteering at The Haven.  Upon realizing the high level of need at the rescue, he decided to formalize nd promote the internship program. 


“The Haven has a real need for quality volunteers who are passionate and professional,” Osgood says.  “Volunteers work hard with no pay.  To have someone who is self-motivated do the job makes all the difference in this kind of work.  Our interns have wonderful drive and make The Haven a much stronger organization.


Osgood also recognizes the program’s benefits for the interns.  Our program gives interns a wealth of opportunities,” he says.  “They gain skills and, if they wish, credit hours while working for a good cause.  Employers today are happy if you have a degree, but what they really want to see on your resume is work experience.  If you can point to proven results – hours worked, projects completed – you will be far ahead.  This advantage is something The Haven can provide.”


Career preparation and an advantage in the work force are valuable benefits of service-learning experience at rescue organizations, especially for people interested in pursuing a shelter or veterinary career.  The Teen Track program at the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA (AAWL) in Phoenix, focuses on teaching sixth through 12th grade students about animal rescue.

AZ Animal Welfare League & SPCA during Teen Tracks training program


Teen Trackers receive in-depth training in animal body language and animal handling skills, assist with daily care of the pets, observe and shelter veterinary clinic staff members, participate in guest presentations and education field trips, and help lead shelter programs.


Students participate in a minimum six weekend shifts during the semester-long course.  As they complete training and accomplish projects and volunteer tasks, students advance through the program’s levels: caregiver, handler and curator.  With each level comes advanced training and greater responsibility. 


Program coordinator Rachael Gardner of Phoenix says most Teen Trackers participate in the program because they want to work in animal-related careers.  “The Teen Track program gives them a head start,” she says.  “Students also learn responsibility and gain public speaking, problem solving, team building and leadership skills.”


In return, Teen Trackers help to change staff members’ perceptions about teenagers’ capabilities.  “I think there are perceptions in our society that teenagers are self-absorbed and don’t care,” Gardner says.  “The Teen Track program shows they can accomplish a goal and help society.”


Service-learning collaborations offer numerous benefits to students while helping to advance animal rescue goals and create long-term animal rescue supporters. 


“I can’t think of anything more empowering than these students discovering they have the ability to change the world,” Ogden says.  “The thousands of animals I have rescued pale in comparison to the impact these students will have on the future.”






Just A Dog? You Decide

For whomever believes in God, you must also believe that those who save the loving creatures we call dogs from shelters are doing His work.  After all, we were taught, most of us, that God loves us and wants us to love our neighbor and other living creatures.  St. John wrote in the Bible of God saying, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Well now, are dogs not our best friends?  I should think so.  They have often been known to lay down their lives to protect us.  Dogs teach us the greatest lesson of unconditional love.  Unless they’ve been trained otherwise and suffered abuse in some way, dogs are the most loyal and loving creatures on earth.  I’ve even been fortunate enough to have my girls (a/k/a dogs) know their healing powers.  Nine months after the tragic death of my late husband by suicide, I rescued two dogs from a No Kill Sanctuary.  Their soulful eyes empathize when we are in pain; their playful antics lift our spirits when nothing else can, and their fierce loyalty provides the safety, security and dependability that no human can.

Dogs teach us unconditional love in a myriad of ways.  They even teach us to love ourselves again unconditionally when our four-legged friends bounce back to self-love even after being scolded for misbehaving.  They don’t carry shame and embarrassment for chasing the cat, chewing a favorite shoe or pooping in the neighbor’s yard.

And dogs don’t hold grudges when we arrive home late and offer their dinner even later, or miss a scheduled walk.  They run up to us with wagging tails, nudging us playfully for affection and give those puppy dog stares so lovingly.  No need for forgiveness there as they haven’t judged us in the first place.  And they certainly don’t care that we as humans come with our specific flaws.  They forgive us.

They serve to teach us again what we learned as children, that being the importance of amusement, fun and play.  And they taught me specifically how to forget my anger, feelings of guilt and despair.

Scientists have discovered that animals have healing powers.  When you stroke a cat or pet a dog, you experience a surge of healing hormones and chemicals that produce feelings of peace and serenity.  [Edward T. Creagan, M.D. – a Mayo Clinic oncologist.]

In a feature article on WebMD, Jeanie Lerche Davis writes that playing with a pet may elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, lower cholesterol levels and increase immune function.

It has also been found that just petting and stroking an animal can help lower blood pressure and calm the heart rate.  This is because simply petting a dog, you can lower the stress and worries of the world.  And all that dog wants in return is love.

   A short while ago, I had a bad night for some reason.  Often my tears just begin on their own and I’ve no way of stopping those waterworks.  My little baby as I call her, Casey, is deaf so she could not hear me and had been fast asleep at my feet as were my other two girls.  She rose up suddenly, I imagine sensing my drastic mood change, and stared into my eyes for the longest time and watched those tears stream down my cheeks.  Then she brought her face close to mine and began softly licking the tears.  So softly she did this as though she were dabbing with a tissue.  And she didn’t stop until I was able to stop my crying.  As abruptly as she stopped, she stared at me again for a while and then brought her face up against mine.  She knew just how I was feeling and wanted me to know, it was going to be okay.  And she was right.

Words cannot express the love, peace and joy that my three girls have brought to my life.  In losing my husband tragically, I was given precious blessings in the form of three little white dogs who have been instrumental in decreasing my depression and PTSD.

If you’re suffering from depression or PTSD or other emotional problem, I urge you to give it a try.  Granted it’s an important responsibility and I suggest beginning with one dog.  (I have three dogs for reasons I’ll explain another time.)  You get love, affection, companionship, as well as a sense of worth and purpose, all wrapped up in a sweet furry little package.  What more could you ask for?

We Are Family – My Dogs and Me!


Dogs invite us into their world, and through that, our lives are deeply enriched.  My two beautiful white boxers, Miley and Casey, have brought me such happiness, love and calm after a terrible tragedy befell me.  They are a God-send.  I post this in order to celebrate our love and devotion for dogs, which in turn is reciprocated many times over by their love and devotion for us.

There is so much we can truly learn from dogs.  They teach us how to go with the flow of life.  And they are the kindest, most caring and devoted animals known to humankind. 
Dogs have become a part of our family and a part of our personal history. They live in the house with us; they sit and sleep together with us. They have brought something unique and fulfilling to our lives. They have loved us unconditionally and have taught us important lessons for better living — how to embrace life, how to enjoy the moment, how to let go when it’s time to let go, even when it seems way too soon.

While we struggle to figure out why we were put here on Earth, all a dog wants is to love and be loved — a powerful lesson for us all.



Furry Shrink

I’d double her life if I could —
we share a history.
When friends turn false, my dog stays true,
her head upon my knee.

She can erase my loneliness —
my pain melts in her eyes.
My dog lies close — she understands
what I cannot disguise.


I came across a couple of poems written about our love for dogs.

I think you’ll agree with their sentiments below.


 The Greeting

I open the door.
You are already
bounding to the door
with a wagging tail,
flashing teeth,
and four prancing paws.
Your healing power dissolves
the most difficult day
from memory.
A cold nose
and warm kisses
trigger a child’s laughter
from my heart.
I am a better human
for having you
in my life.

— Joan Noëldechen




Puppy Days

Bless this frisky puppy
Who’s into everything
His playful fresh behavior
Is like a day in spring

Remind me to be patient
When he’s chewed another book
Or races through the living room
With a newly laundered sock

He loves without condition
Gives me kisses every day
And greets me with a wagging tail
After I have been away

Like any other baby
He needs a lot of rest
When he falls asleep curled next to me
I know that I am blessed

— Louise Webster





If I greeted everyone happily
Instead of eyeing with distrust
If I didn’t pass judgment
But accepted all
If I listened intently
With understanding in my eyes
If I brought comfort
All the time, no matter what
If I loved unconditionally
Without reservation
If I lived life more simply
Instead of worrying so much
If I played tirelessly
And didn’t work so hard
If I made people smile
Just by my presence in the room
If I experienced true joy
At the little things in life
Then I’d be the perfect friend
Just like my dog. 



Can You Find Happiness At The Beach?


Sometimes so much can happen as the days blend into one another like chocolate syrup in melting ice cream that I forget to post.   Because I’ve remembered one of my heart-healing days with my girls (remember those two white boxers I adopted?), I’m posting to impose much smiling on my part, and perhaps your part as well. 

The girls and I jaunted to Ft DeSoto Beach on Wednesday to an area where we could see the Sunshine Skyway in the background.  I didn’t let them play in the water – per signage you’re really not supposed to anyway.  But they played and walked on the grassy area and in the sand and we walked a good length of the beach.  Was a gorgeous day for it.  At first, there was lots of fog as we drove across the toll booth but as we neared Ft DeSoto it was clearing up.  I figured it was a sign!   Martin, late husband, and I had spread my late sister Judy’s ashes there and I think she was smiling and laughing along with us this day.  She absolutely LOVED dogs – and these 2 are such lovers.  Judy would’ve been in pup heaven! 


And there were quite a few dogs at the beach.  We even met a regular (a mix of brown, black and white versus all white) boxer named Roxanne.  She was adorable and quite friendly.  Without hesitation, she came right up to the girls snifing and kissing them.  Very sweet.  And my girls never even growled or barked.  Very friendly … So the girls are socializing now … hot damn! 

I think they were pooped ‘cuz on the way home, Miley laid on the back seat with her eyes drooping almost closed.  Perhaps she was day-dreaming of her day on the beach and new-found friend.  Casey laid her little head on my shoulder with her little touching mine all the way home.   Made me smile – big time! 

We’ll go again – and soon the water won’t be so cold either. 

 They had a dogster treat once we arrived home – that was like the cherry atop the sundae for them!   And mom (that would be me!) had a Skinny Cow French Vanilla treat (yumbo).  Just a little while ago they had dinner.   Now they’re at my feet, curled up asleep.  

And great fun was had by all.

Another heart-healing day …

Death Is A Challenge – So Is Love!


After losing my husband, Martin, a few months ago I have been grieving and processing and healing.  It’s a long process – suicide survivors have such a difficult journey to travel. 

Leo Buscaglia said, “Death is a challenge.  It tells us not to waste time…It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.” 

After nine months I knew it was time.  I rescued two dogs, white Boxers.  They’re sisters.  Casey is deaf and looks to Miley all the time.  But don’t think that Casey is needy.  Not her – she is definitely a lot of action, fun and love all jumbled into a beautiful girl.   These girls tell me every day that they love me unconditionally  just by their actions.  They want to always be near me, and look for me even while they’re playing.  They want to kiss me endlessly (okay so it’s licking – but it’s what dogs do!) and they’re so forgiving.

We just celebrated their 3rd birthday on Sunday, January 30th.  It was gorgeous weather in the 70’s and bright sunshine.  We played outside running around with dog toys, and chasing a tennis ball.  They ran around the yard and the pool like it was their own personal doggy park!  They looked a lot like gazelles!

What love we are given, we’ll have forever.  What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity. — Leo Buscaglia


We went for a short walk also, which they love to do.  And then they celebrated their “Birthday” with their  special treat:  Doggie Ice Cream Treats.  They absolutely adored these non-milk items.  I opted for my personal Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich – human style!

For the first time in nine months, I felt the love, unconditionally, and laughed and smiled endlessly.  Then I cried – happy tears for them, sad tears for losing Martin – and they came over and sat beside me knowingly, quiet and staring up at me.  As I dried my eyes they rested their chins on my lap and watched me with deep brown fixed eyes.  I could only smile as they reached up kissed my cheek – more like licking really.  But I knew what in dog terms they were saying.  We now are family!  We share a bond of unconditional love knowing whatever we do, we’re forgiven.  Why?  Because we love each other.  What a lovely lesson to learn isn’t it?

I have two magnets in the shape of dog paws on my refrigerator.  They say:  

And they both express the real meaning of love don’t they.  Not only with pets but also humans.  Think of this next time you need to scold your child – or even admonish your spouse!  No matter what, always, always tell them and show them you love them.  Time is too short for grudges.  Time is too short not to feel the love.