By Robin Fillmore
Since 2011, Kim Hawkins has been fulfilling a deeply held mission to save as many of the abandoned, neglected and broken dogs as she is able. So far, that would be more than 725 dogs, and counting.
It was that same year when she saw on a friends’ Facebook page the photo of a puppy that was facing euthanization at a shelter in North Carolina. By the time she got access to the puppy, she had committed to taking the entire litter, plus the mother, out of the high-kill shelter. With that simple act of compassion, the seeds of Rural Dog Rescue were sewn.
Today, Rural Dog Rescue mainly pulls dogs from shelters in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, but just recently started working with a shelter in West Virginia, as well. The scope of problem—unwanted dogs—is immense. According to Hawkins, the majority of these shelters with whom she works has a euthanasia rate of 75 to 80 percent of all animals within 72 hours. One of the shelters processes (either through adoption or euthanasia) about 6,500 dogs and cats per year.
Hawkins runs Rural Dog Rescue from the second floor of the natural pet store she opened in February 2012, Howl to the Chief, located across from the Navy Yard on Capitol Hill. She had long been interested in animal nutrition to deal with diseases and cancer and left her job as an engineer to devote more time to supporting the animals she loves.
Each weekend, adoption events at Howl to the Chief are held for prospective owners and pet lovers to see and interact with the dogs, (and cats, on Sundays) that are looking for their forever homes. Of late, adoption events are also held at Wylie Wagg and Dogma in Arlington.
More than 200 volunteers and seven board members contribute to the work of Rural Dog Rescue. The first team to be involved assesses the dogs, takes care of their vet services (spay or neuter, getting all their shots and microchipped) and fosters the dogs for a matter of weeks until they are cleared medically. Then the transportation crew handles the trip up to the D.C. area. One particular volunteer has a bi-weekly run from her home in Front Royal, beginning at 4 a.m. and ends when the dogs are safely delivered to waiting foster parents on this end.
It is a group effort, so there are volunteers who help with the placement of the rescued dogs, by conducting background checks, in-home assessments and phone interviews. This is one of the most important steps in the process of finding each rescued dog’s forever home. They are very particular about matching the right dog with the right home and because of the great care taken, their return rate is less than 1 percent.
Hawkins always is looking for more foster families and has even a weekend program where the family can pick up “their” dog on Friday night and return it on Sunday night or Monday morning. Thus far, the program has been a great success and has given dog-lovers throughout the city a chance to spend some time with a furry friend on the weekend.
The organization is funded through adoption fees and fund raisers. In the spring, they host Dirty Dogs Done Dirt Cheap, where volunteers provide doggie baths and grooming for a donation. Also in the warmer months, Rural Dog Rescue hosts Hike A Hound events to raise fund and awareness. During the winter holidays, they offer pet photos with Santa, which helps to defray the costs of the initial vet services and emergency treatment that is needed. Hawkins admits that she has a hard time not accepting the “broken” dogs, who have come into the rescue with broken legs, cancer and many other maladies. But, she notes, they generally are the most loyal pets.
The work of Hawkins has not gone unnoticed throughout the city. Howl to the Chief was named “Best Pet Shop” in the Best of DC City Paper for both 2013 and 2014—and they are up for that title, along with Best Pet Spa as well as Best Non-Profit for the Rural Dog Rescue. They were also named the 2014 Capitol Hill Nonprofit of The Year at the Hilly Awards.
Location: 733 8th Street SE, Washington, D.C.
To learn more about Rural Dog Rescue, Howl to the Chief and the work if Kim Hawkins and her team, visit RuralDogRescue.org or HowlToTheChief.com.