Several days a week, Bernie Berlin walks the kennels at one of the local animal controls in rural Tennessee and has some tough decisions to make. In her neck of the woods, euthanasia rates are high and as she decides which dogs to pull, it’s a life or death decision. Thanks to Berlin and her organization A Place to Bark thousands of animals that would never have a shot at a happy ending have been rescued and are living the good life.
“It’s really stressful because some days when I walk in, it’s euthanasia day,” says Berlin. “I’m trying to assess temperament and the dogs all know what is going on. It may be the last day for many of the dogs at that animal control. Some days the dogs are on their way to the euthanasia room and it’s just awful. It’s so hard to do a true assessment.”
Berlin lives on a farm near Nashville and when she first moved in, she had decided to take a break from the stress of rescue. Before she even unpacked, a friend talked her into going with her to a local animal control. In this part of Tennessee, many people don’t spay and neuter their pets. Animal controls with high kill rates – over 90 percent – take in litter upon litter of healthy puppies.
“I couldn’t walk away after seeing that. I didn’t even start unpacking my boxes and I ended up back in rescue,” says Berlin. “I’m not really a traditional rescue. My focus is moving the masses off death row and then moving them into programs where they will find a home. I work with around six humane societies and Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville.”
A Place to Bark
She actually does a lot more than move the masses. Through her organization – A Place to Bark – Berlin takes the dogs into her care and moves them to her farm. On many days she has around 120 dogs and puppies on the farm (and sometimes cats and kittens). On the farm, she has community play yards and the dogs get plenty of fresh air and playtime outdoors instead of a walk or two a day. About 80 percent of the dogs she rescues are puppies that never have a chance to find a home where she lives.
The fresh air and more relaxed environment enables Berlin and her team (one full time person and one part time) to properly assess they dogs. They may stay there a matter of days and a few dogs, like some she’s rescued from puppy mills, have stayed with her as long as three years while they heal and get ready for adoption.
“We’re able to learn so much about the dogs at a place to bark because they can have fun and be a dog,” says Berlin. “It’s not just temperament. We find out who is very high energy and who is more low-key. If there’s a dog that just doesn’t do well with others, we’ll let the next organization know that he or she needs to be an only dog. We aren’t just pulling them and sending them on.”
In fact, all the animals are spayed or neutered, heartworm tested and get initial vaccines before they are moved to rescue. The work is paid for by A Place to Bark and done in conjunction with a local non-profit - The Fix Foundation - that helps them keep costs down. She then loads up the transport and heads to humane societies and city shelters – The Anti-Cruelty Society and PAWS Chicago are two that she works with.
“Most of the animals find homes quickly, but sometimes a particular humane society isn’t the best place for one particular animal,” says Berlin. “I will take them back into the program and find another placement. We had a puppy mill rescue that had spent three years with me and just didn’t do well when she had to go back into a kennel. I took her back into the program and had a friend foster her and he just fell in love with this dog and she’s not going anywhere now.”
One of the relationships she is most excited about is working with Greg Gordon at Dog Patch Pet and Feed in Naperville. The store quit selling puppies two years ago to move to an all adoption model. She’s been working with Greg for a year (see full story here).
“I always had dreamed of having a pet store when I grew up but when I found out the true story about the puppies at pet stores, their puppy mill connection, I was appalled,” says Berlin. “It’s amazing what Greg has done in two years and he and the rest of the employees in his store are passionate about rescuing. They also really listen to their customers and talk to them about the dogs or puppies that would be a good fit.”
This year, Gordon has adopted out 300 dogs and is on pace to hit the 400 mark by the end of the year. Berlin and Gordon have spoken at several pet industry conventions about the humane pet store model and how to make it work. She’s also excited about another new partnership that will connect her with a veterans organization.
“I’ve just been approved to start working with K9s for Warriors. This organization matches rescue dogs that have been trained as service dogs with our veterans coming back from war,” adds Berlin. There are so many more with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and many other physical and medical problems. I will pull, assess and start the training process a then transport them after they are vetted and fixed. They will do the bulk of the rest of the training.”
It will cost K9s for Warriors around $10k per dog for training. She hopes by working with them, she’ll be saving many more dogs and veterans as well. Two of her high energy dogs are also in training to head out to Stunt Dog Productions. This great traveling show is comprised of rescue dogs that had little chance elsewhere because of their high drive and energy.
How to help
In the seven years that Berlin has been rescuing dogs from rural Tennessee, she has saved 3,000 lives As Berlin starts to gear up for another year of rescuing, she needs to raise more funds to keep her mission going. She’s started up a fundraising campaign called Operation Expenses (see video below) and hopes to raise over $26,000 to help with her efforts next year. Donations may go to YouCaring here. A Place to Bark has received a matching grant from "The Zoline Foundation" & "The Ady Gil World Foundation" to help in these efforts.
“I love what I do, but sometimes it’s really tough,” adds Berlin. “I’ve missed Thanksgiving with my family this year so I could get transports ready for delivery next week. I went to animal control on Thanksgiving to save more dogs including a bonded pair that had been split up at the facility. Getting the transports opens up space for more dogs to be saved and there are still so many puppies and adult dogs that need a second chance.”
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