Event aims to save dogs in danger of being put down

Lorin Liesenfelt of Essex, founder/director of Dog Days, sits with two dogs she adopted, Bridget, center, 9, a female lab/schnauzer mix from East Haddam, and Alan Jones, 7, a male bulldog/mastiff mix from New Haven, at her home.
Lorin Liesenfelt of Essex, founder/director of Dog Days, sits with two dogs she adopted, Bridget, center, 9, a female lab/schnauzer mix from East Haddam, and Alan Jones, 7, a male bulldog/mastiff mix from New Haven, at her home.

Just in time for August, Dog Days arrive this weekend in Ledyard - but this has nothing to do with roasting in heat and humidity.

Instead, Dog Days is a not-for-profit organization from Essex that puts on adoption events, in respective communities, boasting a variety of small and large dogs of all kinds and ages that need homes. Part of the idea is that each town gets involved in the event through the participation of volunteers and merchants.

The Ledyard Dog Days takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Mystic Valley Hunt Club.

What also sets Dog Days apart from other noble adoption efforts, though, is not just the scope of the projects - available animals at Dog Days weekends come from all over Connecticut and beyond - but the significant fact that each dog has been rescued from a shelter or pound where it would have been destroyed.

"Over 5,000,000 dogs are put down in kill shelters or pounds each year, and I've never been able to logically answer why," says Lorin Liesenfelt, who founded Dog Days. "There are many more millions of households in America who love dogs, and it becomes a question of logistics. There are people out there who will adopt a dog, but the reason a dog is executed at a particular time is because no one is there at the shelter at that moment to adopt the dog. To me, the purpose of a shelter is to save the animal."

This weekend's Dog Days is the third such event since Liesenfelt founded the outfit. Before Dog Days, she worked in the corporate sector with her own promotions/marketing company. Now, including Liesenfelt, eight people do the core work for Dog Days - none are paid - and more than 200 volunteers have helped out with events thus far.

The first took place a year ago in Essex, and more than 80 dogs were adopted. The sophomore effort was in Guilford last October; the outfit found homes for more than 160 dogs.

Liesenfelt describes Dog Days as not just a labor of love, but one of desperation - as long as dogs are being destroyed.

"I've been working in animal welfare for 40 years, and I've had a lot of time to think about it," she says. She describes growing up in rural areas of Illinois and Minnesota when small towns might not have formal shelters or pounds. She would accompany her grandparents, who would drive around and provide supplies to folks who rescued animals. Later, in down time while she recovered from an illness, Liesenfelt came up with the idea for Dog Days.

She says she'd like to stage many more Dog Days events, but it's hardly a casual undertaking. In her effort to ensure a maximum success rate, she put a lot of thought into what Dog Days would stand for and how it could most effectively be structured.

Essentially, Dog Days reaches out to veterinarians and rescue groups who have saved dogs from kill shelters and serve as foster homes. Once their credibility has been established, Dog Days alerts them when they've been able to schedule an event - allowing time to coordinate travel and to ensure the animals have been neutered, have had their shots, and are healthy and in good shape.

"I've worked so many rescue events over the years that I've met committed veterinarians from all over," she says. "Not only did I make good contacts, but I saw how they work and how they brought the dogs into adoption events - how to be the most effective bridge between the animals and folks who might want to adopt."

Meanwhile, Liesenfelt goes into the host community and starts to put the event together. She reaches out to the local animal control officer for clearance and guidance, then works the town for volunteers.

"Every town has a different set of rules for something like this," Liesenfelt explains. "You want to talk to the right person so you don't show up and find out there was maybe someone else you also should have talked to - but didn't know that."

Liesenfelt says she has encounters some folks who complain that the scope of Dogs Days - that dogs are brought in from all over the state and beyond - might hurt the efforts of local shelters to save dogs. But she says that her priority is to save dogs in danger of being put down, and as such welcomes legitimate rescuers, vets and shelters from anywhere. She also says that, for the most part, the towns who have hosted Dog Days events have been wonderful.

Community volunteers might contribute in a variety of areas including publicity, fundraising, food, site set-up, and working with the dogs. There are also Rescue Rangers, who are trained prior to the event by Dog Days personnel in shelter dog behavior, medical issues, crowd control and interacting with attendees.

The Rangers will each shepherd four or five dogs for each event. They'll wash the dogs before the event, introduce the animals to the public and even follow up after the event to network with potential foster homes or help out with adopters.

Liesenfelt says merchants are often happy to help the cause, too.

"In Essex, there were dog bowls with the Dog Days logo positioned outside storefronts for the days leading up to the event," she says. "So many volunteers and business people have come together, which is so gratifying because a lot of what we're doing is word of mouth."

On Event Days, the various rescue outfits bring the dogs to a check-in where vets look over the animals once more. All paper work is verified, and the dogs are handed off to a ranger to be walked, watered and comforted. The animals are fed and in their kennels by a half-hour before opening. There's a blessing of the animals - and then it's show time.

One inside, dog lovers encounter - in addition to plenty of excellent dogs - folks to answer questions about the dogs, an officer area for adoption paperwork. In addition, it's good to know that potential adopters have references and agree to allow rescuers a home visit within two weeks to ensure the animal is getting a good family.

After each Dog Days event, Liesenfelt says there are sessions to explore how it could have gone better. They continually solicit money, rebuilt the web site and develop brochures and communications material.

"On the one hand, I think, maybe we shouldn't do an event 'til we have this all down perfectly. As it is, we need six to nine months just to put one of these on. But we operate with a sense of emergency. They don't hold off killing dogs in shelters just because we need a little more time to get better organized."

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Dog Days - An Adoption Event for Shelter Dogs

WHEN: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Sunday

WHERE: Mystic Valley Hunt Club, 645 Long Cove Road, Gales Ferry

FOR MORE INFORMATION: (800) 653-3134, godogdays.org.

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