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Webster student founds ‘sanctuary for dogs’
Webster University freshman business major Autumn Smith has five large dogs: Leo, Maze, Sky, Scrappy, Roo and soon-to-be-returning Chance. With open arms, Smith welcomed them all into her home.
Her love for dogs started with her first dog Leo, a chocolate labrador and pit bull mix who, despite his large size, is only a year and a half old. After fostering and rescuing dogs for the past two years, she is in the process of starting her own dog rescue called A Place for Paws.
She originally wanted to get a cat, but her boyfriend Zach Forgy was allergic.
“She hated dogs,” Forgy said. “I was going to get the dog either way. It just happened to work out that she liked Leo.”
Smith is not always able to give up her foster dogs. She fell in love with Roo and Sky and couldn’t help but keep them.
“I used to not even be an animal person. They were cute and fine. They were just pets,” Smith said. “Now they are the biggest part of my life.”
Smith said she would contact rescues and ask to foster dogs if she had room and, at times, would stumble upon a dog that needed a home. Then she would foster them until she found a family for them. Her one-bedroom apartment became over-crowded. She and Forgy moved to a house with a playroom for the dogs and big back yard.
A Place For Paws
Smith has saved more than 10 dogs in six months and said she wants a free leash rescue environment. Through gofundme.com, an online fundraising site, she raised $500 to pay for the paperwork and permits to create her rescue.
“I want my rescue to be a sanctuary for dogs,” Smith said. “A place where they will have a lot of exercise and love, and it will be as close to a home life as it could be.”
Right now A Place for Paws is registered to Smith’s house, and as soon as she reaches $50,000 she will be able to purchase a location. Smith said she plans to continue fundraising and hopes to lift her business off the ground in one year.
Video by Natalie Martinez
An animal shelter is government-funded, which is why everything from vaccinations, food, and living conditions are low in cost, according to savealifepetrescue.org. A rescue is run fully on charities and donations. If an ill dog arrives at a shelter, it gets euthanized. If the ill dog arrives at a rescue, it receives medical attention.
Founder and president of St. Louis Pet Rescue Jackie Koerner said it’s important for people who are starting their own rescue to be careful about budgeting for the appropriate amount of animals.
According to the U.S. Humane Society, there are 3,500 animal shelters and six to eight million cat and dog shelters.
Smith said she tries not to get attached. She trains them, shows them affection and provides them with a home life, trying her best to keep from falling in love with them. She said she still keeps up with the dogs that get adopted. Smith said the owners would send her pictures of the dogs and their siblings to keep her involved.
“People expect dogs to be a door mat — cute, and to make you happy,” Smith said. “But they don’t understand everything that goes into having a dog.”
Smith said some dogs she fosters come with health or behavioral issues. She recently found a family for Chance, but
they returned him to her after a short period of time because of behavioral issues. Smith said Chance had separation anxiety and still needed some training. She said she will send him back to schooling in hope she can later find him a new family.
“They just let him down,” Smith said. “It just upsets me. Now I feel like I let him down by not choosing the right family.”
According to National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, the top three reasons people give up their dogs are due to moving, landlord issues and cost of pet maintenance.
The dog’s can be quite expensive, Smith said. Smith spends more than $200 a month on dog food and $150 on treats, toys, bones and blankets. Smith sells homemade doggie treats and toys at her job at Love Unleashed Doggie Daycare and Boarding. Since Smith rescued Scrappy from an animal control shelter, the shelter sponsors his expenses. Smith pays for Leo, Sky and Roo out of pocket and, at times, with donations from the dog rescue community.
Smith said she has taken in dogs at times who are strays or dogs that were mistreated or neglected by previous owners. Sky, her blue all American pit bull puppy, had parvo a deadly infectious disease. Through online donations from fellow dog rescuers, her vet expenses were paid for and she was nursed back to health.
“My family thinks I’m the crazy dog lady, but they support me,” Smith said.
She rescued Roo, her black pit bull, when he was seven weeks old. She said he was just skin and bones when she got him. She said someone abandoned him on the side of the road and nearly starved to death. She took him into her home and named him Roo because he would hop around like a kangaroo.
Smith recalled many other rescues she made after that. She saved both Scrappy and Chance before they were put to sleep by an animal control shelter. Smith said she once rescued a litter of malnourished puppies.
“I believe dogs should be treated like kids,” Smith said. “They should be part of the family. It’s a lifetime commitment.”