When triathlete Christy Holliger started running with some of the high-energy dogs at Pima Animal Care Center, she noticed a transformation. The stronger, feistier pups — often longtimers at the county shelter — learned leash skills and how to socialize with other animals and people. And then they found forever homes.
This gave birth to the Tucson Ruff Runners, a two-month old group that pairs energetic people with canine counterparts for a run or walk around Christopher Columbus Park on Tuesday evenings and Friday mornings. Some of the volunteers are Tucson Tri Girls or Southern Arizona Roadrunners.
It’s one of a growing number of creative ways Tucsonans are reaching out and volunteering their time to help Pima County’s homeless animals. Others turn to social media like Facebook and Pinterest to make people aware that area shelters are filled with great animals in need of a home. Many also open their homes to foster animals, then devote hours helping them find forever families.
Jewelry makers, runners, social media hounds and rock stars all have a place in serving the community’s homeless animals. Here a few discuss how they’ve chosen to make a difference.
Furry friends organizations: Tucson Ruff Runners and Pima Animal Care Center
Volunteering time: Holliger started Tucson Ruff Runners about two months ago, and has volunteered with PACC for about two years.
The rest of the time: Holliger works in software development full time and runs triathlons with Tucson Tri Girls.
Household: Three rescue dogs — Neza, an 8-year-old German shepherd/border collie mix, Roxi, a 3-year-old border collie mix, and Kayla, a 10-year-old Rottweiler — live with Holliger. Kayla and Roxi are both “foster fails.” Holliger began fostering Roxi as an “urgent, last day” dog at PACC, and a friend found Neza running through an intersection in South Tucson.
Favorite way to volunteer: Holliger started Tucson Ruff Runners after seeing how stronger, high-energy dogs at PACC benefited from runs. She began inviting other runners from Tucson Tri Girls and the Southern Arizona Roadrunners.
Balancing work and volunteering: “I walk my three dogs at 5 a.m., and then I drop the old one off and I run the other two, and then I do some yardwork. Mornings are my time to spend with my dogs. Yesterday, I went to the shelter at lunch to make a list of dogs that would go running … I may or may not take a dog to work with me. I have one sitting here with me right now … Yesterday at the end of the day, we did a group run at PACC. Then I eat dinner, walk my dogs and crash. I do (triathlon) training every day and take one day off. I run in the morning and bike ride during weeks and swim (at lunch). Weekends is a long ride on Saturday and a long run on Sunday.”
Up next for Tucson Ruff Runners: In May, the University of Arizona Medcats invited PACC and its runners to take the dogs to the Pura Vida 5K Run/Walk at the UA Mall. Holliger would like to see more events like that in the future, along with retail partnerships to provide incentives for regular dog runners.
Get involved: To run or walk a dog with Tucson Ruff Runners, check Facebook.com/TucsonRuffRunners for timely information. In general, runs begin at 6:30 a.m. Fridays and 5:30 or 6 p.m. Tuesdays. Runners meet at Pima Animal Care Center, 4000 N. Silverbell Road.
Age: “That’s a really tough question. Let’s say I’m in the over-40 category.”
Furry friends organization: Pima Paws for Life, a private adoption shelter that takes in dogs from PACC — especially those with medical needs.
Volunteering time: Savage got involved in the beginning stages of Pima Paws for Life about one year ago. Her country rock band, LeeAnne Savage & Her Curveball Cowboys, played at the shelter’s public opening on Feb. 22. The band of animal lovers often plays at rescue fundraisers such as the art auction for Hope Animal Shelter last week.
The rest of the time: Savage works full time as a realtor for Tierra Antigua Realty, and performs with her band in Tucson and around the country. Her last album, “To the N9nes,” came out in 2012. She hopes to release a new album by the end of the year.
Household: Three rescue dogs live with Savage and her boyfriend, Calvin Case. Charley, a 3-and-a-half-year-old Texas heeler, Ruby, an 11- or 12-year-old sheltie mix, and Kiana, a 13-year-old blue heeler, luckily love her boyfriend: “He’s not quite the same dog lover I am, but the dogs worship him.” Years ago, when Savage could not own dogs, she improvised: “The next thing you know, I’m like the cat lady with four cats.”
Favorite way to volunteer: “I personally love the one-on-one connection with an animal. I get attached to far too many dogs as it is, but every once in a while there is a really special connection that is made, and it’s bittersweet to see that animal get adopted. One such animal was a beautiful little flat-coated retriever at Pima Paws for Life. Her name was Hawaii. I do this whole thing where I’m like, ‘I’m not going to get too attached, but you’re so cute — but we’re not going to go there.’ And then the next thing I know, I’ve got her in my car, we’re going to Armitage, we’re eating brunch on Sundays, and I’ve got her little pink bandana that says, ‘Adopt me.’ And when she got adopted later that day, I got to tell you, I cried for two days straight because I got so invested in this dog.”
Balancing work and volunteering: “At this point, I’m trying to get to Pima Paws for Life two days a week. When I get up every morning, my first focus is to get my animals walked. The dogs have to get out because it’s so hot, we’re trying to get them out at 6 a.m. ... Then I get started with real estate by hopefully 9 a.m. and keep that going until music takes over, and that’s usually about 5 p.m. Last night, I got home at 10:30, because after I had a rehearsal until 9:30, I had to meet a real-estate client. So they are long days.”
Up next for Pima Paws for Life: The rescue is waiting to officially receive nonprofit status, and is recruiting and training volunteers.
Get involved: Pima Paws for Life, 2509-2 W. Zinnia Ave., is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Volunteers can walk dogs between 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 867-1193. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit pimapawsforlife.org for more information.
Mary de Ranitz
Furry friends organization: De Ranitz is an original organizer of the not-yet-official Bridge Rescue for Dogs that will foster and adopt dogs and bridge collaboration between other rescues and the community. She also works with sol.DOG, a rescue group that provides training, with a focus on bully and Molosser breeds.
Volunteering time: Since January.
The rest of the time: De Ranitz is a University of Arizona attorney.
Household: De Ranitz lives with her husband, a cat and three rescue dogs: Wyley, a 6-year-old shepherd mix, Hayden, a 3-year-old boxer mix, and Pippi, a 4-year-old terrier mix. Her 19-year-old cat, Gracie, followed De Ranitz home as a kitten in 1996. At this point, she has a full house, no room for new foster animals: “My husband is so afraid I’m going to turn this house into a shelter, and that’s not fair to my permanent dogs.”
Favorite way to volunteer: “My favorite way is to reach out and talk to people who are prospective fosters. ... That has the ripple effect, and you can see the benefits of what you’ve done. ... You can save two lives if you foster, because you’re pulling a dog out of PACC and creating a space for another dog.”
Balancing work and volunteering — and fitting in the rescue of a stray: “We walk the dogs before work, and after work I’ll be driving down to where this little dog is (a stray found hiding under cars) and meeting with my colleagues and just trying to get her to trust us. These days have been long, and I’ll be pleased when we catch (the stray), and so will my husband and resident dogs, because they miss me.”
Up next for Bridge Rescue for Dogs: De Ranitz and other group organizers are reaching out to interested volunteers and fosters as they file as a nonprofit corporation with the Arizona Corporation Commission to seek federal tax-exempt status.
Get involved: For anyone interested in Bridge Rescue for Dogs as a volunteer or foster, email email@example.com
Furry friends organization: No Kill Pima County, an advocacy group that started about 18 months ago to work with the county and key groups to increase nonlethal solutions, such as spay and neuter programs, to address the county’s chronic homeless animal population.
Volunteering time: Since January.
The rest of the time: Saunders owns Tucson Personal Trainer. He also ballroom dances.
Household: Saunders calls Jake, a 13-year-old pug, and Valerie, a 5-year-old French bulldog, “half-rescues” who came with him after a divorce.
Favorite way to volunteer: “I like fundraising and marketing and spreading the word. With No Kill Pima County, I’ve been promoting events throughout the year. ... I’m more of a face-to-face person, so even though I do social media, in person I can show people and talk to them about numbers.”
Balancing work and volunteering: “I’ve learned what’s going on. I have a particular (personal training) client of mine who had a dog that had a litter, and they didn’t know what to do with them. They had the litter unplanned, and so they were going to give them away and put them on Craigslist. And basically I knew that the Humane Society of Southern Arizona would take a whole litter of puppies ... and they all got adopted out.”
Up next for No Kill Pima County: The nonprofit is establishing a board of directors. Volunteer opportunities include manning a desk outside PACC to suggest alternatives to leaving animals at the shelter. The group is also looking to organize a fall 5K.
Get involved: To volunteer, foster through or donate to No Kill Pima County, call 477-7401 or visit nokillpimacounty.org .
Furry friends organization: Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption, the Beading Divas to the Rescue and others.
Volunteering time: Two or three years with the Southern Arizona Greyhound Adoption, 10 years in greyhound rescue, and about five years with Beading Divas.
The rest of the time: Zoldan is “semi-retired” but still freelances, writing newsletters, blogs and website content. Until Zoldan started writing the Tucson Tails blog for the Tucson Citizen, most of her efforts centered around greyhounds.
Favorite way to volunteer: Zoldan makes $20 bracelets for Beading Divas, a group that sells the handmade bracelets for a different animal charity each month: “I love to be creative, and I love the sisterhood of it. It pushes all my buttons in a good way.”
Up next for the Beading Divas: For the month of June, the Beading Divas will sponsor ChiLuvBug Small Dog Rescue.