In St. Louis, Stray Rescue is making the most unlikely rags-to-riches stories come true. The nonprofit recently received a call about a dog who was on his last legs. “The dog was essentially curled up to die near a maintenance shed at a park in North City,” recalls director of marketing and development Jason Schipkowski. “His body was so cold that he wasn’t even registering a temperature, and he was extremely malnourished and dehydrated.” Stray Rescue volunteers brought him in, and after extensive emergency medical treatment, the dog went on to be adopted by John Davidson, president of the St. Louis Blues, and his wife, Diana. “He went from being hours away from death to living in the lap of luxury!” Schipkowski says.

    Founded in 1998 by Randy Grim, Stray Rescue is now the only no-kill shelter in St. Louis City, and is dedicated to searching out and rescuing stray dogs. “We will never abandon the strays of the city,” Schipkowski says, adding that the organization’s 900 volunteers and supporters such as the St. Louis Blues are critical to making it all happen. “Some people have the assumption that we have a contract with the city and we’re paid by them, but that’s not the case,” Schipkowski notes. “We raise our own money, and it comes from individual donors and nonstop fundraising. We’re happy to do it, because we have the opportunity to impact the stray problem so much more.”

    Since taking custody of the dogs from the city’s now-closed pound on Gasconade Street last year, Stray Rescue has been growing by leaps and bounds. The new Pine Street shelter is being revamped to provide an education room and more community areas, while respected professionals are being added as key staffers. Among them are Dr. Tracy Reis, a veterinarian from Los Angeles with extensive trauma experience who will head up the shelter clinic, as well as John Garcia and his wife, McKenzie. John is best known for his work on the National Geographic show DogTown, and McKenzie is a trainer and behavioralist.

    Among the many programs Stray Rescue offers is Shelter in Place, which gives financial help to families who have shown a commitment to keeping a pet but don’t have the means. The individual owner or family is screened, and the pet is provided with spay or neutering, as well as a microchip, veterinarian care, supplies and food. “We help the obviously caring family hold onto their pet, who is loved, and they don’t end up in our shelter. We also get advocates for responsible pet guardianship,” Schipkowski says. Another program, known as Abandoned Not Forgotten, provides a hotline to a network of firefighters, police officers and real estate agents. If they come across a dog who was abandoned, they call Stray Rescue, who sends someone to rescue the dog. The nonprofit also offers the Panda Program, which is a hospice, providing love and care for terminally ill dogs. “It’s a special program, and it takes a special foster parent to do that.” Of the stray dogs who are rescued from the streets, almost 100 percent are eventually rehabilitated, Schipkowski adds. “Some are at the shelter longer than others, but we work diligently to rehabilitate all of them.” He adds that while caring for the dogs always comes first, community outreach is one of the nonprofit’s most important tasks. “We want to make Stray Rescue a beacon of hope for lasting change, and open the doors even more to the community.”  LN