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Rescuing Man's Best Friend


Click image to enlarge:
Darren Binder ’90 and Dave Liedman (left) sit with their rescued yellow Labrador, Cody, and a City Dogs Rescue puppy named Chloe (she was recently adopted).A canine sports a City Dogs Rescue “adopt-me” vest.
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Special Web feature mentioned in the Union College Magazine, Spring 2013

It all started when a friend, Gina Tomaselli, posted an urgent Facebook plea on behalf of Bentley. The black Labrador retriever was about to be euthanized at a high-kill animal shelter, not because he was un-adoptable, but because the Georgia facility no longer had space for him.

“This post was by no means isolated, I’d seen many before and always felt frustrated I couldn’t do more to help,” said Binder, who studied math and economics at Union. “Partly because I grew up with a black lab that will always hold a special place in my heart, I decided it was time to quit feeling powerless.”

So he, his domestic partner Dave Liedman and Tomaselli established a non-profit organization – City Dogs Rescue – in September 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Bentley was the first dog they saved.

“We were walking around D.C. and Bentley was wearing an ‘adopt-me bandana’,” Binder said. “A young woman who saw that bandana adopted him not more than two weeks after we transported him up from Georgia.”

That experience led to a popular dog-walking program, in which volunteers sign up to walk rescued animals wearing “adopt-me vests.” The exposure has precipitated a number of adoptions, but it’s a small part of the reason the organization has been able to save over 250 dogs in its brief existence.

An army of volunteers – adoption counselors, photographers, trainers, dogs walkers and foster families, who care for dogs until they’re adopted – have been indispensable.

“Thanks to our Communications Director, Meredith Raimondi, we have over 550 people on our dog-walking e-mail list,” Binder said. “And we have over 100 families that have fostered dogs for us.”

They also have supportive individual and community sponsors. Fellow Union alum, Jennifer L. Schoen ’90, for instance, has helped transport dogs to D.C., and a local animal hospital provides care for reduced prices. Liedman also boards some of the rescued dogs at his business, City Dogs Daycare, free of charge.

The support is much-appreciated since the effort takes time and resources.

“What many people do not understand is that for every animal we rescue, it costs roughly $200-$300 for vet care, shelter fees and transport before the dog even gets to Washington, D.C.,” Binder explained. “Many of our dogs come from communities where they do not have access to proper vet care. Many have been kept outside their whole lives and do not even know how to climb stairs.”

“We even had a number of dogs come to us with buckshot or bullet wounds, but despite all this, most arrive with their tails wagging,” he continued. “Since we began, we’ve spent nearly $45,000 on medical care, vaccinations and spaying/neutering.”

But the money – either donated or from adoption fees or community sponsors – is well spent.

“We predominantly work with high-kill, under-resourced shelters in rural communities in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, and we receive daily pleas from local volunteers to save animals,” Binder said. “This means we constantly make decisions about which dogs we can take, and this has been a difficult process for me.”

“Most horrifying was learning that some shelters put dogs down by gassing or heart-stick – when a syringe filled with sodium pentobarbital is plunged into the heart of an often un-sedated dog,” he added. “Thirty states allow gassing of shelter animals. We’ve made a special effort to try to rescue dogs from facilities using these methods.”

When Binder isn’t working for City Dogs Rescue during the evenings and on weekends, he’s vice president and deputy general counsel for Bon Secours Health System Inc. in Maryland.  He and Liedman also have a rescued yellow lab named Cody and two rescued cats named Jupiter and Schweppes.

Going forward, Binder hopes they will be able to raise enough funds to secure land and a facility of their own to house the rescued canines in.

“Dogs are very special because they have the capacity to offer unconditional love, and the heartbreaking part is that there are so many highly adoptable dogs we cannot help,” he said. “According to the United States Humane Society, half of the animals – 3 to 4 million – that enter a shelter never leave.

“I hope more people will consider adopting a rescue dog before going to a breeder or pet store. Lives truly are on the line.”

To learn more about City Dogs Rescue, watch this video or visit the organization on Facebook.