Almost every typical Saturday morning, a crowd surrounds the storefront of Pet Food Express at the Charleston Shopping Center in Palo Alto. Families eagerly peer into pens holding dogs of various breeds, captivated by their lovable faces, and a line to walk the dogs snakes around the building. In some pens, volunteers hold smaller dogs in their arms, giving kids a chance to pet them.
Twice a month, Doggie Protective Services, a non-profit organization that rescues dogs and cats across California, hosts weekend adoption events. Earlier this month, DPS arranged for the adoption of over 57 stray dogs and cats during a single weekend.
DPS Executive Director Tera McCurry said the organization has several moving parts and wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the volunteers, most of whom are highschoolers, who help run events. Between cleaning up after puppies, interviewing interested families and managing a crowd of on-lookers, there is always something for volunteers to do.
“In the morning, our dogs from fosters in Southern California arrive in a van and the volunteers walk them and get them into the right pens for the day,” said junior Annelies Verbist, DPS’s Volunteer Coordinator.
According to Verbist, the adoption process is the most lengthy aspect of some volunteers’ day. Families who are looking to adopt a pet have to fill out an application form and complete an interview with a volunteer to ensure that the pet is a good fit for their family. DPS’s process is time-consuming, but according to McCurry, the lengthy efforts are beneficial on several levels.
DPS most directly affects the lives of the animals, such as cats or dog it takes under its wing. Verbist said the organization’s resources and partnerships with other rescue groups around the world allow it to help animals who come from more difficult situations.
“We can help animals who need more (complicated) types of surgery, as well as animals from shelters and the Korean meat markets,” Verbist said.
McCurry said that after staying with DPS for three months, a dog who suffered a traumatic injury was recently adopted by a loving family.
“Somebody purposely broke the dog’s leg,” McCurry said. “We got a call (from a local shelter) two hours before he was euthanized because they didn’t have the money to take care of him.”
In every case, McCurry said that DPS supports and cares for each animal and provides them with a temporary family until they are adopted, regardless of how long it takes. Its unique system of utilizing foster families instead of having a physical animal shelter allows DPS to avoid the tragedy of putting down a dog due to a lack of resources.
“(Shelters) are killing animals because there’s too many — that’s a tragedy,” McCurry said. “I think we as a society have a responsibility to help them.”
Since its establishment in 2001, DPS has rescued over 12,000 dogs and cats. McCurry said she knows it is impossible for DPS alone to find a home for the millions of animals that pass through animal shelters each year, but she said she will always continue to make an effort to do her part.
“It will make a difference for the thousands that come through DPS, and I’m OK with that,” McCurry said. “I’m not here to change the world.”
The organization not only makes an impact on the lives of the animals that come through, but also the lives of their owners and other people they meet.
Sophomore Aidan Choi adopted a dog named Ollie from DPS last April who he said dramatically changed his perspective on life. Ollie, who Choi said was originally named Crash after he survived a car accident, was supposed to be put down because of a broken leg until DPS saved his life.
“There’s this sort of fighting spirit in shelter dogs that you can see through their personality and behavior,” Choi said. “I think it reflects how a lot of people have to go through life.”
Despite Ollie’s fear of cars as a result of his traumatic experience, Choi said that Ollie has grown tremendously over the past few months, as has his other rescue dog, Buzz, who was homeless for six years before Choi adopted him through DPS.
“It gives me hope, because I can see how they have both been in really difficult situations,” Choi said.
One of McCurry’s favorite aspects of her job is playing a small part in changing people’s lives through the adoption of a rescue animal.
“I have known so many people who were dealing with depression, anxiety … even the death of a child, and a dog changed their life,” McCurry said. “It is a privilege to be one part of that.”
Besides impacting rescued animals and their owners, DPS affects the lives of many of their volunteers. Verbist, who has been with DPS for three years, said she values the community and the many inspiring people she has gotten the chance to meet through the organization.
“I get to work with a lot of different people who are passionate about the same things that I am, and that part is really fun,” Verbist said.
Additionally, Verbist said that her mentors and close friends at DPS have shaped her to be the person she is today.
“They have taught me to always try to be better … and to be brave enough to try new things,” Verbist said.
Between giving animals a new, safer home, transforming the lives of adopters and giving volunteers a sense of belonging, McCurry said DPS will continue to pursue its mission for years to come.
“(DPS) will change the lives of adopters, it will change the lives of volunteers and it has changed my life,” McCurry said. “You find a part of your soul helping a creature that can do nothing for you except give love back.”