Dogs' Best Friend

Sallann Jennings finds homes for mutts whose time at a shelter is almost up is running out

Spirit of Sharing

November 30, 2006|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,sun reporter

One dog. That was the plan.

Sallyann Jennings would go to the city animal shelter to rescue Jed, a retriever mix whose time was running out, and place him in a foster home until a permanent one could be found. That, after all, is what her organization, Recycled Love, is all about -- finding homes for strays and shelter dogs who, if they don't get adopted, are likely to be euthanized.

But then Jennings heard about a stray spaniel mix who had given birth to four pups in the woods near an elementary school on the north side of the city -- all of which had been taken to the shelter as well -- and, after a visit last week, she knew she couldn't let the mother, who had been dubbed Meka, linger there.

"She just talked to me," said Jennings, whose organization has rescued, provided foster care and found permanent homes for more than 300 dogs since it was formed two years ago. "She was just a beautiful little animal. I decided I had to get her out."

So, two dogs. That was the plan.

But then, the day before she was scheduled to rescue Jed and Meka, she started thinking about the puppies -- only 10 weeks old. She got on the telephone in search of someone to foster the pups, and made arrangements with a woman in Canton -- a new foster parent, who had said she'd take one. By the time Jennings was done, she'd agreed to take three.

So, five dogs -- Jed, Meka and the three female pups -- that was the plan when Jennings walked into Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter Tuesday morning.

About 90 minutes and a flurry of paperwork later, she walked out with six dogs -- including the male puppy.

That's how Jennings operates her non-profit animal rescue -- in a bite-off-more-than-you-can-chew, abandon-the-plan, stretch-a-little-further, can-I-ask-you-one-more-favor kind of way -- that sometimes -- maybe a little more than sometimes -- sees heart prevail over brain.

"It's always trouble when I come down here, because it's so hard to leave them," Jennings, a 65-year- old psychotherapist, said. "Rescuing a dog is like smoking dope or popping pills, or whatever. It's addicting. I can't stop it."

This week, even with her network of more than a dozen foster homes, Jennings found her sources were pretty much tapped out, and herself, once again, in a position of wanting to free more dogs than she had arranged homes for.

"I shouldn't even be here," she added. "We're out of money. We're out of foster parents. ... We sort of just run on crisis level all the time."

In past years, when she had more dogs than foster slots, she'd just take them home to her townhouse in Federal Hill, where she lives with four dogs of her own. But her homeowner's association recently put the kibosh on that, pointing out the small print in her contract set a two-dogs-per-resident limit. She can keep her four dogs until they live out their lives, but eventually needs to get down to two, it was decided -- and no more fosters.

With no fallback plan, Jennings spent much of Monday -- when not counseling patients in her private practice -- on the phone, and she was still on it, talking to a veterinarian's office, when she walked into the shelter Tuesday. "I'm wondering if I can bring in some puppies today ..."

Even as she pulled out of BARCS' driveway -- all four pups in her back seat, mother Meka in the front -- the lone male puppy still needed a temporary home.

Recycling love

Chaos is customary for animal rescue organizations, dozens of which are in the Baltimore area, most of which operate on a shoestring.

While the majority restrict their work to particular breeds, Recycled Love focuses on pets less likely to be adopted at shelters -- older dogs, injured dogs or, as its Web site says, "mutts that are too often overlooked and forgotten for the pedigree."

The mission of Recycled Love, the Web site says, is to "recycle the unconditional love that all animals possess and to transfer that love to a human companion who understands and appreciates this priceless gift."

Like many rescue groups, Recycled Love insists on references and requires a home visit before letting a dog be adopted, and Jennings does much of the screening herself.

"My biggest problem," Jennings said, "is people who think dogs are disposable -- that they are something you can get rid of if it's having accidents in the house or interfering with your vacation."

Jennings can't put her finger on the source of her passion for animals but says it mostly stems from the fact that "they don't have anyone to speak for them."

Jennings grew up on a farm in New Jersey, and while her parents had animals -- dogs, cows, pigs, horses and chickens -- they weren't true animal lovers, she said. She didn't always agree with the way they treated them.

"Maybe I'm repaying their bad karma," she said.

A divorced grandmother of seven, Jennings moved to the city 15 years ago from Harford County, where she raised her four children.

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