On a January morning with a nasty wind and temperatures in the single digits, Randy Grim was looking for dogs in the vacant buildings and old warehouses of East St. Louis, worried it was so cold that the stray and feral dogs living on the city streets wouldn’t be able to survive. Channel 5 was there to capture the local animal rights legend as he rescued a puppy in an abandoned house. “It was stuck in the furnace, so I had to pry the vent open and reach in there,” Grim explains. “Sure enough, I pulled out a little baby, about 4 weeks old. And then I rescued the mom.”

    It was a typical day’s work for Grim, who turned a passion for animals into Stray Rescue, an organization with more than 300 volunteers, two shelters, and a third one slated to open this spring in a warehouse donated by A.G. Edwards. “We’re a really unique organization,” Grim says, “Because we go out and work with both street and feral dogs.” Street dogs are those that once may have had homes, while feral dogs are completely wild, having lived their lives having little or no experience with people.

    Grim scours the streets of North and East Saint Louis, looking for dogs who have been wild all their lives, dogs who were trained to fight and dogs whose only human contact may have been abuse. They are undernourished, often missing limbs, and they often travel in packs. “If you spend any time in the tougher neighborhoods of St. Louis, the people are struggling just to live,” Grim says. “The stray dog problem and poverty go hand in hand.”

    To rescue a dog, Grim uses humane traps, snares and meat, like baloney, which he used to lure the mother dog out of the abandoned building in East St. Louis. “My car’s like a mobile deli. Everything from braunschweiger, hot dogs, baloney and cheese to beef jerky. You name it, it’s in my car. I’m like Quik Stop,” he says. “My ace in the hole is pig’s feet. I’m grossed out touching them, but they work.”

    Before founding Stray Rescue, Grim worked for TWA. “I was the world’s worst flight attendant,” he says. “I knew I was going to be fired eventually. First, because I was so shy, and second, because I was hiding strays in the bathrooms of the planes!” In every city Grim traveled to, he felt compelled to rescue street dogs.

    Grim quit his job with TWA in 1990 and opened a dog grooming business in Lafayette Square. In the gentrifying neighborhood, he often saw packs of stray dogs running down the streets, and he would call the Humane Society and Animal Control. “I always got the same response: ‘You know the dog needs to be contained or we can’t help you.’” So Grim devised creative ways to catch the dogs, including casting a fishing pole with chicken on the end to slowly reel in the animals. “Everybody thought I had the busiest grooming shop, but it was just full of stray dogs!”

    As Grim collected more and more strays, he had to find them homes. That meant pressuring everyone he knew to take in dogs that were often terrified of people or had never been house-trained. Eventually, Grim’s friends and family staged an intervention. “I walk in and I see all these people I haven’t seen in a while,” Grim recalls. “They said no one likes to be around me because all I ever do is try to pawn a dog or cat on them.” He left in tears and the next morning called an attorney friend, who suggested he start a nonprofit. Stray Rescue was born.

    Grim soon started gaining media attention. In 1995, a Riverfront Times reporter contacted him. “She said, ‘We’ve heard you’re the weird guy who goes around chasing street dogs,’” Grim jokes. The story became a book, The Man Who Talks to Dogs, published in 2002. It’s now being turned into a movie, according to Grim. The publicity was both good and bad, Grim says. “I was such a private and shy person. It was weird to have people know about me. But by the same token, it helped me be able to help so many more animals.”

    When the city pound called Grim about a dog who had survived their euthanizing attempts, Grim gained even more attention. “I pull up to the shelter and there’s a million of those live media trucks,” he recalls. “I thought, Ooh, did someone get killed or is Ed McMahon here to give me my big check?” Grim and the Basenji mix, whom he named Quentin (after San Quentin) got national media attention, appearing on The Today Show and in People magazine. Grim also wrote a book about Quentin, called Miracle Dog, which was published in 2003.

    Last spring Grim was in the news again when he won a $1 million shelter makeover in a national contest sponsored by zootoo.com, a Web site for pet owners. The money will go toward turning the warehouse donated by A.G. Edwards into a third Stray Rescue shelter. Construction on the 16,500-square-foot space at 2325 Pine St. began this month, and Grim hopes it will be completed by April. The total project will cost $3 million or more, Grim says, and he is still $1 million short. Not to mention Stray Rescue’s vet bills, which come to more than $50,000 a month even though they are discounted, according to Grim. Nearly every dog that comes in has heartworm and many have been shot, have mange or are missing limbs, he explains.

    In addition to rescuing dogs, Grim has a radio show called ‘Animal Tales’ on KLOU 103.3 FM, and he’s working on a book called Don’t Dump the Dog, which combines real letters from people who want to get rid of their dogs with his advice for practical solutions. Rescuing dogs, what friends and family once staged an intervention to stop, has now become Grim’s life, and he can’t see himself doing anything else. “I believe that all the dogs deserve a second chance, and they deserve to live,” he says. “Everybody likes to think I’m this selfless saint and I’m not. I get so much out of this. Where else can you walk into a room and get treated like a rock star? The unconditional love you get from them, no human can give you that.” 

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