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One Dog at a Time, by Jeff Nichols

I am one of those single, childless people who exhaust all their maternal or paternal instincts on their dogs. Scratch that, they are not even my dogs.

I can explain, but first: Sugar is a kind, 65-pound brown dog who is perpetually smiling and looks like she is wearing mascara. I like to think she is a chow-golden mix, but she is probably “just a mutt,” as a random woman at the Springs Dog Park once insensitively pronounced in clear hearing range of Sugar, who, like most rescues, can be self-conscious to begin with. 

Sugar belongs to my old landlord. Penny, a 2-year-old boxer mix with nice white socks, is owned by my old landlord’s neighbor. They are both loved and well-cared-for dogs. The owners are appreciative of the added exercise the dogs get when I come by for our constitutional, but we all know they’re doing me a favor, as the dogs are complete antidepressants. Seeing them run around in the great resource that is the Springs Dog Park gives me unmitigated joy every time we go. 

And we go: I have been taking Sugar to the dog park, rain, snow, or shine, often twice a day, for four years now, and Penny for close to two years. I am lazy by nature and would not do it if it were an inconvenience.

I am not alone. East Hampton loves its rescues. The Springs Dog Park is full of happy people whose lives have been augmented by dogs, a lot of them mutts. It appears to me that a majority of the dogs there are rescues, and many seem to have barely escaped kill shelters, so it is a mutual appreciation, dogs and owners alike happy for the new lease on life.

The dogs are from all over, but most seem to come from down South. They don’t just appear, as we know, most of them come from established rescue organizations like the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons and the Southampton Animal Shelter, where staff members work tirelessly to vet them, get them meds and shots, and find them good homes.

When I was walking one morning I found out that there is another worthy rescue organization out here run by locals. It has been flying under the radar and now needs help. 

Save a Dog a Day was started in December 2007 when Colleen Fennell, an almost ridiculously likable woman who worked in the East Hampton School District for 25 years (and graduated from East Hampton High School in 1971), became aware of the disturbing realities of animal shelters in the South. In the United States as a whole, she learned, more than four million healthy animals are killed each year. Other than lethal injection (which is the most humane method used to euthanize them), many shelters continue to gas them or administer a heart stick, which is not only extremely painful but also illegal.

Part of Colleen’s challenge is to eradicate these cruel practices while maintaining a working relationship with the shelters. Using the internet, she began to share information about dogs that were within days of being euthanized, trying to find people willing either to temporarily care for them or permanently adopt them as their own. Colleen teamed up with like-minded individuals and started rescuing dogs, with a goal of saving at least a dog a day. She soon had more than 50 volunteers and became an official 501(c)(3) tax-deductible charity.

Colleen wants to raise awareness about shelter issues and the grotesque euthanasia of so many discarded dogs. Volunteers donate their time, energy, money, and homes to this cause and spend endless hours rescuing at-risk dogs and aiding in their removal from shelters. They advertise dogs on the internet and in newspapers and put up posters. Many volunteers have been known to nurse dogs back to health, bathe and groom them, and even buy and deliver dog food to families that adopt them.

“Our volunteers will jump in the car at a moment’s notice to rescue a dog that only has one day to live,” Colleen said. “We arrange for free transportation, moving the dogs from shelters to homes and adoptive families. As a last resort, when volunteer transports are not available, we utilize commercial animal transport services. However, 95 percent of our transportation is donated. It requires volunteers to drive or fly hundreds of miles uncompensated in what resembles an Underground Railroad for rescued animals.”

They also use Pilots ’n’ Paws, an organization of pilots who donate their time and planes.

Serendipitously, I occasionally produce small comedy shows for nonprofit organizations. I know a comic named Joey Kola (he used to be Martha Stewart’s sidekick), who, among a lot of other material, does a ton of dog and cat jokes, and so I asked Colleen if she wanted to try to do a show. I called Joey, who lives in Suffolk, and we’re on for April 15 at 8 p.m. at 230 Elm Street in Southampton, all the proceeds going to keeping Colleen and friends doing what they do: getting sweet, healthy dogs out here to better our lives.

Jeff Nichols lives in Montauk. His latest book is “My Life (Direct to DVD): How to Sell Your Self-Published Book to Hollywood, and Other Disaster Stories.”

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