Would you like a doggy bag?

Dakota is restless and cannot sit still. Standing outside the Petco on Rockville Pike in suburban Maryland, the black-brown Labrador retriever mix is kept on too short of a leash for his satisfaction. He is affectionate with passers-by and wants to play with the other dogs.

Among nearly a dozen dogs and puppies, Dakota is looking for a home after being dropped off at the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation. His history is unknown. For the past three weeks he has been living with his foster mother Cynthia Young until he finds a permanent home.

The Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation is a non-profit organization run by volunteers who dedicate their time to finding homes for abandoned dogs and cats. Like Dakota, many other dogs and cats attend public adoptions in front of pet stores and community events.

The Lost Dog Cafe on 5876 Washington Blvd. in Arlington, Va. has sponsored the foundation for the past 13 years. Five percent of the restaurant’s gross net profit goes to the foundation. Co-owner Pam McAlwee and founder of the rescue foundation said the restaurant will be donating 10 percent of their money to the foundation this year.

McAlwee started the foundation after she worked for an animal shelter for abandoned pets.

“It seemed like there were so many unwanted dogs and animals out there,” McAlwee said. “They get rid of (animals) like a couch they don’t want.”

Many people buy dogs, especially purebreds, but are not necessarily good owners, she said. The most rewarding thing about setting up the foundation, McAlwee said, is the success of finding an animal a good home.

“When you make a match with someone knowing that the dog is on death row at the shelter, it makes you feel good and keeps you going,” she said.

McAlwee runs the restaurant with co-owner Ross Underwood. The restaurant bustles with activity, and there is always at least a 20-minute wait for a table. Paw prints and big paintings of dogs adorn the restaurant’s walls. Fire hydrants are painted by the toilets. A memorial picture of Razbo – one of Underwood’s original lost dogs – wearing a red bandana around his neck hangs by the entrance of the restaurant. Razbo became the cafe’s logo, and many others, like Patrick Ross, the first lost dog they rescued, and Basil, the only surviving original lost dog, make it as names of items on the canine-themed menu.

The restaurant is divided into two areas, the Gourmet Pizza Deli, which Underwood opened with McAlwee in 1985, and the cafe. Their popularity in the area soared, and they decided to buy the lot next to the deli and open the Lost Dog Cafe in 1994 to provide their customers with seating.
“We know a lot of our customers after we’ve been here for almost 18 years,” Underwood said. “We’ve had customers that have been here 18 years with us too.”

Underwood estimates the cafe offers more than 350 beers. The restaurant tries a lot of different types of beers, and buys many from wholesalers that come to visit the restaurant from microbreweries. The cafe also sells an assortment of foreign beers, coming from countries as far as Japan and as eclectic as the Czech Republic.

Underwood and McAlwee also work on the Lost Dog Ranch in Sumerduck, Va., where they keep abandoned dogs and ones the foundation has saved from the pound until they can find homes for them. He estimates the foundation has saved hundreds of dogs from being euthanized.

“Almost 450,000 dogs are put to sleep every year,” he said. “There are a lot of irresponsible people with their dogs.”

LDCRF president and volunteer Cammy Crotty makes a lot of the dog intake decisions and is responsible for the foundation’s Web site. She is also in charge of making sure the more than 100 volunteers are happy with their work.

Crotty has fostered a few dogs, but already has three dogs of her own, which makes her unable to be an active foster parent.
“I wanted to volunteer with animals,” she said. “I’ve always been an avid dog lover.”

The foundation has been able to find homes and adopt out at least 15,000 dogs in one year, Crotty said. Around 20 dogs live with foster parents, but the majority are boarded on the ranch. The animals are given the care they need until they find a suitable home.

The adoption process is not simple. The foundation makes an effort to find the best homes for the animals. There is a $195 adoption fee, which covers the medical attention and spaying/neutering of the animals before they are given away. Before the animals are adopted by a family, home checks are made by the volunteers to ensure the home the dogs and cats are being adopted into is safe and welcoming.

The LDCRF is not a no-kill rescue agency, Crotty said, and has had to put down several dogs that have been in pain or have had behavioral problems.

Crotty recalled a particular dog they once took care of that had a liver disorder. He was not in pain, but his condition was going down hill. The foster parent and the foundation kept him until it was time for him to be euthanized. His foster parent kept his ashes and they sit on the mantle, Crotty said.

Crotty remembers many success stories about dogs the foundation has saved. One of the first stories to jump to her mind was about a dog named Sainter.

“His leg was broken in three places and you could see the bone,” Crotty said.

They saved him from a shelter and took him to a special veterinarian to heal his leg. After a few months he was running around and was soon adopted.

“It’s extremely rewarding (to save dogs),” Crotty said. “I’m doing something that makes me feel good about myself.”

-For more information go to www.lostdogrescue.org.

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