Charlie, our cover dog, was found locked in an abandoned garage in California. The young boxer was in bad shape when animal control got him. He was so emaciated that all of his ribs stuck out. Luckily, he found his way into the home of Angela Pittenger, the Star’s visual team assistant. “He is happy, healthy and never misses a meal,” she reports.

A box on a counter asking for change. A percentage of a day's sales. A gala attended by hundreds.

These are some of the ways restaurant owners are helping to alleviate Tucson's overwhelming homeless pet population.

Tapping into dog culture is a win-win for the restaurants, which earn community goodwill with offers and events that also tend to bring in new customers.

And many restaurant owners, as it turns out, simply love animals.

"It's just something I'm passionate about," said Matt Quick, who turned the grand opening for his Papa Johns franchise on East Sunrise Drive into a fundraiser for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. He also donates 10 percent of Wednesday sales to the nonprofit, which adds up to $400 a month.

"Growing up, we adopted dogs from the Humane Society. I adopted two dogs myself from the Humane Society," he explained, referring to his 9-year-old Australian shepherd and a three-legged terrier mix.

He's started pushing the promotion with fliers: "We're trying to get the word out and trying to get other restaurants to get involved."

Cocktails for Canines is Janos Wilder's first event in his new Downtown Kitchen and Cocktails at 135 S. Sixth Ave. A benefit for the Humane Society, tonight's dinner includes live music and art in addition to a three-course meal, cocktail, wine and the chance to get an early look at the restaurant for $75.

"It seemed like a natural thing to do," said the James Beard award winner.

Wilder is also part of the Tucson Originals, a restaurant group that provides the food for Puttin' on the Dog, the Humane Society's largest annual fundraiser. Last year's event at Tucson Country Club drew 1,400 people, including many who brought their dogs. The Humane Society pays Tucson Originals for marketing, but the restaurants donate their time and food to the event, said Meredith Moore-Bode, HSSA's special events and development coordinator.

In addition, about 25 percent of the silent auction items are certificates donated by a variety of area restaurants, she said.

"The Humane Society of Southern Arizona is lucky to have a number of local restaurants continually support our organization both monetarily and by adopting shelter animals," she said, noting that they help them "keep our doors open." As of Monday, the shelter was at capacity with some 500 animals.

Shooter's Steakhouse, for instance, holds a golf tournament every June that raises about $3,000 for the organization. And a recent benefit concert by beach-folk musician Scott Kirby packed the place.

Pastiche Modern Eatery, 3025 N. Campbell Ave., did a wine tasting at the recent grand opening for Pawsh, the nonprofit's new adoption center at La Encantada. HSSA is also a popular pick when Pastiche holds Philanthropy with Phlavor events every October and June, where diners can designate 5 percent of their bill to the charity of their choice. Moore-Bode noted that owner Pat Connors also has a full house of rescued cats and dogs.

Restaurants also provide valuable exposure.

"There are so many people out there that still don't know that we are even here," said Susan Scherl, Hope Animal Shelter's executive director. "This is another way for us to get the publicity."

The no-kill shelter, which finds homes for about 400 to 500 dogs and cats a year, has benefited from promotions by Sweet Tomatoes, Mimi's Cafe and Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill as well as the locally owned Lovin' Spoonfuls on North Campbell Avenue. The exposure can help an organization expand its all-important donor base. "It's all in the networking," she said.

Restaurants have a reputation for supporting charitable causes in general.

"Being involved in your community always makes good sense," said Jane McCollum, the general manager of the Marshall Foundation, which owns and manages Main Gate Square next to the University of Arizona.

"Every restaurant seems to have their own cause that's important to them," McCollum said. "I'm passionate about dogs because I have a dog," she said, but noted that Main Gate Square - with its outdoor patios and inviting open areas, draws dog owners.

"People want to go places with their pets," McCollum said, citing statistics that show half of American households have some sort of pet.

Main Gate Square often offers dog-centric events. Next up is an El Tour De Tucson-related fundraiser for the Humane Society and Ben's Bell. In February, a Valentine's Dog Social will benefit Gabriel's Angels Pet Therapy Program in Tucson

Yvonne Foucher, who owns CataVinos Wine Shop & Tasting Room, 3063 N. Alvernon Way, hosts benefits for a wide range of causes, including ARF (Animal Rescue Foundation), Casa de Los Gatos and greyhound rescue.

"My original intention in opening the shop was to develop a sense of community," said Foucher, who recently adopted a chow mix puppy found wandering as a stray. "Cuvee has turned into the shop dog. she's the official greeter," she said. "Half the people come in here to see her."

By the numbers


Dogs that came to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona in 2009/2010 fiscal year.


Dogs that went to Pima Animal Care Center that year.


Increase in dogs from the previous year.

Source: Humane Society of Southern Arizona