There’s no doubt about it: Holly Springs loves its animals. I spoke with Dave Walters of Pawfect Match Rescue and Rehabilitation just as he had celebrated the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization’s ninth birthday. In those nine years Pawfect Match has placed over 2,100 dogs. If there’s anyone who has a heart for animals, it’s this guy. In addition to their own personal dogs, Dave and his wife, Aida, also have two permanent foster dogs, one who has severe brain damage and another who is deathly afraid of all humans outside of the family. Like the saying goes, a dog is a man’s best friend. And it goes both ways with Dave.
It all started a decade ago. Dave and Aida had been doing volunteer work for other rescue organizations for several years, including being on the board of directors for one of them. They found themselves frustrated with the approaches of some of these organizations. It seemed like a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation: some rescues would give any dog to just about anyone—which resulted in disaster on more than one occasion— and then there would be other rescues that made it too difficult to adopt. The dogs weren’t moving at a reasonable pace to Dave and Aida, so Dave says that after about the fifth time his wife came home in tears he said to her, “Look, we’ve done a 501(c)(3) before, maybe we should think about starting our own rescue.” He then left on a weeklong business trip and upon his return Aida had the tax letter, logo, mission statement, and positions all written up and ready to go. They hit the ground running.
The focus of the organization is to find each dog his or her perfect match. That’s why on their website you can find a list of “singles,” just as you might on an online dating site. That attitude helps empower the pups; they’re not sad, desperate creatures, they are each the perfect catch, for the right person, of course. Just like you and me. And that’s where Pawfect Match shines. Each dog stays with Dave and Aida for a period of time so that they can really get to know the personality and what it is the dog needs in a human companion, if you will. Applicants must provide 3-4 references and volunteers call all of these references so that each potential adopter is properly vetted.
“It’s about striking a balance between brain and heart,” Dave explains. A lot of people do rescue work because they have huge hearts. A small percentage ends up in the news, in animal hoarding situations, as we saw recently in Holly Springs, unfortunately. On Pawfect Match’s board sits a certified positive reinforcement trainer, a manager of a doggie daycare facility, and a former animal control officer. Dave himself is a program manager and business analyst; his wife is an accounting manager, and their daughter, Maia, is a small business owner (Open Arts Studio in Morrisville). There is not only a lot of compassion on the board, but also a lot of business sense. The truth is, Dave says, “You can’t save every single dog. We can’t even save a significant fraction of the dogs who need us. But if you do things wisely you can make a big impact.” I’d say saving over 2,000 lives qualifies as just that.
Another important detail that sets Pawfect Match apart from other rescues is that they also provide rehabilitation. They have a working partnership with a number of veterinarians in the area who are willing to give them great discounts for doing a host of different types of surgeries. The average person walking into a shelter isn’t going to gravitate towards the dog with three legs or the one who was shot with a shotgun, but Pawfect Match will take these dogs in and work with vets to get them rehabilitated, socialized, and ready for adoption. A lot of people are willing to adopt a dog who is missing an eyeball or part of an ear if they do it through a rescue organization. Similarly, there are foster parents who have a lot of experience with blind and deaf dogs, so they know how to screen the people who would be appropriate for a dog like that, and to work with them so the dog gets the best leg up, so to speak, for the rest of their lives.
Logistically, Pawfect Match consists of 12-14 foster homes and 2-3 dozen volunteers. They don’t have a physical place. Pawfect Match is a network of people, and it’s into the loving arms of people that these lucky dogs fall. Foster homes are places the dogs live as companion animals. Some foster families are very skilled with puppies, so they are one of the few organizations that will take a pregnant dog and will whelp the puppies. Plus they will take in very young babies who haven’t been weaned yet (with or without the mother) and will get them adopted out, the mother dried up and spayed. Foster mom Susan Beasley usually takes on orphaned puppies or pregnant females, and spends quite a bit of time socializing the pups. She’s keenly aware of the arithmetic of rescue work: for every dog she lets go, another dog can be saved from a high kill shelter. So when people ask her how she can bear to let her fosters go, she enlightens them to the big picture. She even took her 11-year-old son with her to a shelter so he could see what’s at stake. She tells me, “When a foster arrives that has totally shut down and given up on life and you take the time and put in the love and energy to turn them around, it is the best.” Day-by-day, she witnesses their transformation, their personality shining through. They learn to relax, learn how to play. “Some show up scared of human touch, have never seen a toy or a warm bed. Watching these dogs experience life and learn and grow is very rewarding.”
Elaine Schneider is one of many who have adopted from Pawfect Match. She met their dog, Riley, and was struck by how his foster mom, Jodi, cared for the dog and his siblings just like they were her own kids. “She got to know us as a family and matched Riley to our household,” Elaine says. “She followed up several times after he came home and we still send pictures of him to her from time to time.” The devotion that these foster parents have to dogs is inspiring.
New Leash on Life
The North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh is participating in a nationwide program called New Leash on Life, in which carefully selected inmates work with a highly skilled master trainer and training assistants to teach them to become trainers themselves. Pawfect Match provides six dogs and the women learn how to train by training these dogs. It’s almost as if the dogs, who were rescued by volunteers, become volunteers themselves. The prison has dedicated a wing of one of their buildings to the program, containing six rooms on one side that are setup like kennels, complete with beds, crates, food, water, toys, etc., and then across the hall is a room with two bunk beds for the two inmates assigned to that dog. After six weeks of training, the dogs graduate and they all go out to be adopted so that, you guessed it, Pawfect Match can send in six more. The women acquire useful skills that they can take with them when they’re released. The idea is that the trainers who have become certified in the program will eventually train the new cohort. There’s a beautiful cycle to all of this.
Interested in becoming involved? There are three things you can do.
Like them on Facebook
New dogs are posted on the Facebook page first, then the website. If you’re thinking of adopting a dog, especially the smaller ones (think: Miniature Poodles, Yorkies, Shih Tzus), you definitely want to be watching their Facebook page so you don’t fall in love with someone who gets snatched up.
Become a foster parent
If a foster dog gets adopted, Pawfect Match is working that very day to get another dog into that foster home. In fact, as is true for most rescue organizations, they usually have an overflow. If you become a foster family for a dog, you are literally saving a life.
Donate your time or money
They spend several tens of thousands a year in vet costs beyond what they can cover by adoption fees. Dave is actively looking for someone with a skill and enthusiasm for fundraising. That is an area they could really use some help. If that’s not your thing, you can always make a tax-deductible donation. They even have an Amazon Wish List, as well as an Amazon Smile account, which means you can donate to them with no cost to you. Search for “Paw-fect” to locate the Wish List or organization.
What’s on the Horizon
Keep your eyes peeled for Smooches for Pooches, an auction that takes place in the Marriott Hotel at Brier Creek every late spring-early summer. There are tons of great prizes up for auction, including a weekend at a beach house, cornhole set, bucket of one hundred exotic beers, passes to a 3-day wine and music festival, and more.