For the love of dogs

When Ashley Cunningham, Barks of Love (BOL) founder, president and CEO, moved to California for law school, she had no family or friends in the area. She was forced to leave her two dogs behind with her family back home in Arizona.

“I’ve had dogs since I was born … so being without any animals in California got really lonely,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham’s search on Craigslist for a family that needed a dog sitter lead her to discover “foster homes” for dogs and, subsequently, the founding of Barks of Love in 2008. BOL is a Fullerton-based nonprofit organization that saves dogs from being euthanized.

“I had never heard of an animal rescue before,” Cunningham said. “Thinking this sounded like a great idea, I signed up to be a foster home for a small rescue in San Clemente. For almost a year, fostering dogs came in and out of my home as they were adopted and then another was rescued. It was such a fulfilling experience, not only for myself, but, at the same time, I was responsible for saving these dogs’ lives.”

Eventually, the animal rescue Cunningham volunteered for ran out of money and was forced to close down. It was at that time, Cunningham realized that she could probably start her own rescue center. It started out small — just Cunningham and three dogs. Over time, more people wanted to volunteer and further opportunities arose.

Sylvaine Capron, owner of Dogma Pet Portraits, had a great experience with BOL and became a pet owner within days of taking in an adoptee.

“They made it very easy for us,” she said.

BOL supplied Capron with a leash, collar, food, crate and toys.

“We never want it to be a financial obligation,” said BOL Marketing Board of Directors member Kristina R. Senft. “If someone has time and the desire, we don’t want them to be put out financially. The vet expenses are covered, the food, bedding, food bowls, leashes, collars. We provide it all.”

Capron was also pleased with BOL because the organization made sure the dog was a good fit for her family.

Since Capron has a business that does pet photography, she is in position to work with the dog community and give back to the nonprofit organization. Dogma Pet Portraits has raised thousands of dollars in support Barks of Love.

“People want to help if you give them the opportunity,” Capron said.

BOL’s greatest accomplishment is saving more than 600 animal lives.

“We can only save so many with the amazing team we have,” Cunningham said.

BOL does not limit who can volunteer. Little Barkies is a new program that teaches children between the ages of 5 and 12 the importance of dog adoption.

“Educating and including our children in our rescue organization is the key to meeting our long term goal of zero kill shelters,” Senft said. “Teaching our little ones is the best shot our community has at reducing the amount of dogs being euthanized due to overpopulation. Our Little Barkies have so much passion for what they believe in … Even though their voices are small — they will resonate long after we are gone and will be the change we all dreamed of”.

The biggest hurdle for BOL is finding foster families for larger dogs. Because many apartments and homeowner associations have weight restrictions, the rescue is usually restricted to smaller dogs.

“It’s because they are easier to place; we can move the smaller dogs faster …” Senft said. “We had a St. Bernard for four-to-six months. Right now, we also have a larger dog, and he is about 50 to 60 pounds.”

According to Senft, the organization is just the tip of the iceberg.

“There are hundreds of dogs being euthanized every day. We could keep building our empire in Southern California and not even be close to filling that humongous gap,” she said.

BOL’s main goal for 2012 is to start working on grants that could sponsor a facility for the organization to work out of and facilitate more than 200 adoptions per year. They would also like to have more successful fundraisers.  

About Sheila Del Cid