WESTPORT, Conn. Having a pet dog or cat is great at least in theory. But in reality, many people can't handle the responsibility of owning an animal or, due to the poor economy, can't afford it. The result is an alarming increase in the number of strays throughout Fairfield County.
Trying to stem that tide is Dorrie Harris and The Alliance In Limiting Strays, or TAILS. Harris was one of the founders of the group in 2001 and is nominally its president. "In a small nonprofit, titles mean nothing," she said. "It's very difficult to get volunteers for something that is very intangible." TAILS addresses the problem of strays by promoting spaying and neutering as well as supporting individuals and groups with the ultimate goal of eliminating the killing of shelter animals.
But the most visible part of their work is Puppy Palooza, a weekend event when dozens of animals are brought in from a shelter in Georgia for adoption by local families. "We didn't plan to get into the adoption business," said Harris. "But part of the reason we host it is to show people the end result of uncontrolled breeding."
The first event, in December 2009, was postponed when the East Coast was hit by a snowstorm that stranded the animals in Virginia, where a sympathetic motel manager gave them the run of his establishment. When the event was finally held, 89 out of 98 animals were adopted outright, and the rest went to foster homes before being adopted later. A second event last year proved equally successful.
"We view each one as a dog we saved from euthanasia," said Harris. "For every animal that is spayed/neutered, we save a dozen potential offspring from entering the system. The stray problem is exponential, and it's a tsunami waiting to overwhelm the state."The third Puppy Palooza is scheduled for the weekend of April 20 to 22 at Petco in Norwalk. Preparing for it is "like a second job" according to Harris. "The logistics of it are huge, and there's a steep learning curve there's no manual on how to do it."
But Harris, who works in New York City and volunteers as a member of the Westport Ambulance Corps, fits it into her busy schedule. "Ultimately, I want to speak for those who can't speak for themselves," she said. "It's a solvable problem, and when you succeed in helping, it drives you to do it again."
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