Ruff Life

Volunteer and foster mom Alison Tighe comforts elder dogs at a Muttville senior dog adoption event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress
Volunteer and foster mom Alison Tighe comforts elder dogs at a Muttville senior dog adoption event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress


By Nicole Ellis
Photos by Samantha Benedict


The name says it all, Big Dawgs Rescue. Founded in 2009, the nonprofit organization has found homes for over three thousand dogs around the bay area. The Livermore based rescue organization is run by its founder, Joanne Rivero. Rivero’s passion for dogs has made Big Dawgs Rescue a success.

“It’s been so crazy today, you have no idea,” Rivero laughs. She was able to take ten minutes out of her hectic day to share how she’s using Big Dawgs Rescue to try and save lives— dog lives that is. “I use to volunteer at a shelter and I saw what happened everyday and it broke my heart,” Rivero said from her in-home office where she runs the organization. “I thought if I could do something to make a difference I’d want to do it, so I formed my own rescue.”

Rivero’s husband provides for the family, which allows Rivero to dedicate a lot of time to saving dogs in need. The furry friends find their way to Big Dawgs Rescue many different ways. Some are saved from shelters right before they’re about to be euthanized. Others dogs are forfeited by their owners because they’re no long able to take care of them. Because of the recession, people were forced to downsize and many apartments around the Bay Area don’t allow dogs or have various size and breed requirements. Rivero receives a lot of dogs because families have to give up their beloved pets. “They contact me crying,” Rivero shared about dog owners trying to find their pups a new home, “saying, ‘you were my last hope’ and I go, ‘I should’ve been your first hope.’”

Volunteers, like Kim Mikel, are the driving force behind Big Dawgs Rescue. Spread throughout the bay, the organizations volunteers transport dogs from shelters to foster homes. As of now, the organization uses foster homes to house the adoptable pups. Mikel herself has fostered many dogs. Her newest addition, an adorable tan mix breed named Frank, is a former Big Dawgs Rescue adoptee. “Every time I am able to save a dog I feel blessed,” Mikel said. “It brings happiness to my life and seems to actually fill a hole in my heart.”

Most of the dogs Rivero and Mikel handle are young and mature mix breeds. Mix breeds, as opposed to pure breeds, are known to have less health problems. “Mix breeds kind of weed out the medical issues,” Rivero shared. “Labradors, for instance, have a lot of cancer issues and hip dysplasia. When they’re mixed it takes away a big chunk of that.” Rivero also finds dog breeders a problem. She believes they charge way too much money, usually a couple thousand dollars for a puppy, and they over breed their dogs which can lead to more health issues. “We’re not trying to make money,” Rivero said, “we’re trying to save a life.” All the donation money raised by Big Dawgs Rescue is used to pay medical bills.

Since its start almost four years ago, Big Dawgs Rescue has used its Facebook page to reach out to the public. With almost four thousand “likes,” the organization is spreading and Rivero’s using the social media site to help. “Facebook has been the most amazing networking tool for organizations,” Rivero said gratefully. She realized that sharing or liking a photo with the dog’s information in the caption on their Facebook page can help get the dog seen a hundred times faster then posting a picture and bio of the dog on they’re actual website. “It gets the word spread out a lot quicker as what dogs need to be adopted or rescued into foster care,” Rivero said. “It’s been phenomenal for me.”

As for the future, Rivero envisions a dog haven. “My main goal is to create a sanctuary; to have an environment where I can have a lot of dogs housed without having to have all fosters,” she said.


San Francisco has its fair share of start-ups and nonprofits, but it’s pretty rare to have a non-profit organization quadruple its service locations within a year and a half of its conception. City Dog Share’s mission is simple, “I will watch your dog if you can watch mine!”

The non-profit, started by Eric Husk in June of 2011, is a free dog-sitting co-op started here in San Francisco. Husk got the idea to start City Dog Share after watching his friend’s dogs. With no dog of his own, Husk was driving his pal’s pups all around town. “It was too much,” Husk said about toting the dogs to and fro.

Volunteer Gina Simi comforts elder dogs at a Muttville senior dog adoption event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress
Volunteer Gina Simi comforts elder dogs at a Muttville senior dog adoption event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress

Since starting the first City Dog Share here in the Bay, Husk has started a branch in Los Angeles, Humboldt County, the greater Portland area and Seattle Metro. Husk’s next step, expanding the organization eastward. Within the next six months, Husk will create a City Dog Share site for San Diego, Denver, Tucson and Albuquerque.

What sets City Dog Share apart from other Bay Area dog sitter organizations is two things: it’s completely free and it’s one hundred percent on Facebook. “Other organizations have their own website,” Husk said, “By doing it all on Facebook, everyone is already there.”

Husk personally oversees all four current City Dog Share locations. He’s the one managing the Facebook groups and accepts requests. Open profiles are a must. Having an open profile makes contacting and communicating other group members a lot easier. Husk chose to utilize Facebook in place of building a website because it’s “so much more developed,” Husk said.

Once part of the local City Dog Share group, a dog sitter or dog owner can post a comment on the message board. Dog owners tend to post a picture of their pup with a short bio and explanation of what they hope to find in a dog sitter. The dog sitters usually respond to the post and they either set up a day to meet up or they continue their conversations via personal messages.

“Although I don’t have a dog, I love them and I miss having my own,” said Emily Hubbard, a member of the SF City Dog Share group. Hubbard joined the group about a month ago to try and find a dog to watch. “It seems really handy for dog owners in the same area to be able to share their resources and help each other out.”

Husk believes City Dog Share is like a nationwide Craigslist for dogs. You advertise your animal hoping someone will be interested in taking it. City Dog Share doesn’t deal with adoptions, but it’s a great way to see what breed or age of dog works for people interested in adopting one of their own. Although the word share is part of its name, the organization believes the dog should have just one home. “The dog has to have a forever home,” Husk says about not sharing the pups.

People interested in City Dog Share starting a group near them can mail in a request letter. That’s how the San Diego location came about. Enough people contacted the organization wanting City Dog Share to open a group down in Southern California so Husk gave in. San Diego is part of the organizations eastward expansion. “Baby steps,” Husk said about the organization’s new upcoming locations. It’s not going to be long for people to start recognizing the name with companies like NBC pining for an interview. “In five years [City Dog Share] should be everywhere,” Husk gushes.


“It’s never too late for a new beginning.” Muttville, a San Francisco nonprofit senior dog rescue organization, has dedicated itself to rescuing dogs seven years and older. Since opening in 2007, Muttville has accumulated a handful of local awards, including the 2010 Pedigree Foundation Grant Winner.

Sherri Franklin, Muttville’s Executive Director, began volunteering at the San Francisco SPCA in 1994 where she watched the older dogs growing even older and losing faith in shelters. “[I] started taking one at a time home and getting them adopted.” Franklin shared. “I wanted to make a larger impact and help more dogs and save them from dying in the shelter.”

Muttville’s new, and first, rescue facility is located on Alabama St. It takes in an average of forty-four dogs a month. “Muttville is foster based,” Franklin said. “We have around fifty dogs in foster homes and the other, around fifteen, stay at our shelter until a foster or adopter can be found.” The new shelter is situated right next to the SF SPCA on what is known as “rescue row.”

Volunteer Laura Vogel prepares to take dogs for a walk at a Muttville senior dog adoption event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress
Volunteer Laura Vogel prepares to take dogs for a walk at a Muttville senior dog adoption event on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress

What makes Muttville so successful is its volunteers. They do everything from walking the dogs, to fundraising, and even managing the organization’s social media sites. Because Muttville is mostly foster based, the organization wouldn’t exist without the men and women who foster the matured pups. Most Saturdays and Sundays, Muttville hosts an adoption event where the foster parents bring in their dogs to meet potential adopters. Saturdays are “Meet our Mutts at Headquarters” day and Sundays switch between events like “Muttville Adoption Event at Mudpuppy’s Tub and Scrub in the Castro” and “Meet our Mutts at Pet Food Express in Walnut Creek.” “On average,” Franklin said, “a dog will get adopted about six weeks after we rescue them.”

Dogs are being brought into Muttville for various reasons. Some people have to give up their dogs because they’re moving. Other dogs lose their owners because they’re being placed in nursing homes or they pass away. When a dog is admitted to Muttville, the dog undergoes an assessment process. They make sure the dogs are micro chipped, spay or neutered, groomed, given proper dental care, and uncover any health needs. “We make them adoptable by giving them love and care,” Franklin said.

Finding homes for old dogs isn’t always easy. People like Koressa Hagy end up buying a puppy from a breeder. Hagy tried rescuing a golden retriever, but the dog her and her boyfriend found on Craigslist turned out to be aggressive. “We thought that adopting a dog would be better because there are millions of dogs out there that get dumped at a shelter,” Hagy said. “We also really wanted to rescue because we wanted an older dog at the time so we did not have to go through the rough puppy stage of potty training and chewing everything.” Once they returned the dog, they found their new Labrador puppy, Penny, from a breeder recommended by a friend. Franklin knows some people are wry about an older dog’s behavioral past. “Many people think they want a puppy or they don’t like the unknown of an older dog,” Franklin said, “but we try and answer all these questions before a dog goes to his/her new home.”

Like Big Dawgs Rescue, Mutville uses Facebook to advertise their dogs. The organization’s personal page has over eight thousand likes and posts on its own wall multiple times a day. Their Facebook page contains pictures and bios of its newest dogs, along with event information and fun shout outs to friends and volunteers. “Facebook helps us reach a wider audience,” Ellen Lazarus, a Muttville volunteer, said. “Once something’s posted, like we always put our news dogs up on Facebook, our followers, repost and then they get reposted so it goes out in to cyberspace and it reaches people we would’ve never been able to touch before.”

“Facebook has been used a lot in the recuse community and it helps dogs get saved,” Lazarus said. “It’s a really great tool. Social media in general has been really effective.”

Facebook is helping spread Muttville’s message all over the world. Franklin sees a bright future for her organization. She hopes other organizations will see Muttville as being a resource for starting their own senior dog rescues across the country. “We have created a new model of rescue and it’s working,” Franklins shared. “It’s time to share our ideas far and wide.”