book tour, euthanasia, foster dogs, fosterdogs, fostering, hard to adopt, shelters, Spay and Neuter

Look Around You, You Can Save These Dogs

The dogs and shelters are beginning to blur together.

Thank goodness for Lisa, who is traveling with me and taking copious notes, asking the questions I forget to ask, and handing me crackers with cheese as I drive the behemoth van between stops. Our days and hearts are filled to the brim.

If you knew Lisa you would be surprised and not surprised that she is traveling on this journey with me. Lisa is not a dog-person, but she is a Cara-person. When she visits my dog-filled house, the dogs will flock to her and she will inevitably say, “I don’t even like dogs, but this one is nice.” (every time)

Here’s what this trip is doing to her – she is often the last one out of the kennels as we finish our visits, lingering in front of cages, tears on her face, snapping pictures. One dog, at Anson, stole her heart – a fluffy, older white dog, not one likely to be pulled by OPH or many rescues. One likely to spend its final days there. She keeps bringing her up and yesterday said tentatively, “I would foster her.”

Jenny (2)

On Wednesday night we stayed at my friend Melanie’s Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary. Melanie and Jim have eight dogs – every single one friendly and sweet and engaging. After seeing so many dogs through chainlink kennel doors, it was wonderful to finally get our hands on some dogs.

lisa with melanies dogs
Tuesday morning we stopped at Anson County Animal Shelter, an hour outside of Charlotte, NC where we met Maureen who is single-handedly trying to save every dog she can. She has no fosters, no volunteers. No one comes to walk dogs or play with the kitties or take pictures or help Maureen with moving dogs out through rescue. This is a one woman show.

There are too many dogs at Anson, which like all the shelters we have visited is at capacity. This is Oreo, a 45 pound male boxer mix whose kennel I came back to over and over. He was starving for a human touch. If you put your hand against the kennel, he would place his face against it and stay still as long as you would stand there. He just wanted to be touched and loved.


This was a Great Dane mix we met (with Lisa). I was trying to show how large he is, but it’s impossible to do in pictures. Suffice it to say he is Great Dane size, well above my waist, with a fawn coloring and white spots. He was surrendered because he bit a 9-year -old. No one knows why and he’s been nothing but a lover since arriving at Anson. My guess would be that the 9-year-old attempted to ride him like a horse as you see in those horrible youtube videos that are meant to be funny but actually encourage kids to treat dogs badly. At any rate, no Great Dane rescue will touch him and he will likely die at Anson.

great dane

A few more faces:

Like Lenoir County, their only hope is through a rescue. Local adoptions are few and far between and even if they did go home the dogs would leave un-neutered and un-spayed because Anson doesn’t have the funds to spay/neuter and they don’t have access to a no low-cost clinic or mobile clinic. They may adopt out a cat, but that cat’s kittens could very likely make their way back to Anson shelter. This fact has haunted me ever since I left Anson. We must do something.

Maureen, through the help of family and friends, has painted the entrance walls of the shelter with bright, friendly colors and purchased Dean Russo paintings to adorn the walls. Every room is organized and tidy, clean and well-labeled. The space is small but they’ve done as much as they can with it.

A few days before our visit, a local woman came to the shelter in need of food for her cat. She said she couldn’t afford it. (Anson, like most shelters, hands out food to nearly anyone who needs it in the hopes that their animal will be cared for and not wind up in their kennels.) While the receptionist was fetching a bag of cat food, the woman stole their donation jar off the counter. The lockable container was worth $150 itself, but the thief was after the $90 inside. Maureen shook her head as she told us the story while we toured the kennel and she introduced us to dog after dog. She knew every dog, many had been there for months.

One small black dog was curled in the back of its kennel, trembling and avoiding our eyes. Maureen said, “We’re going to have to euthanize that one soon.” This is not an arbitrary decision and it doesn’t even have to do with how crowded the kennels were. He was in a large kennel, inside (many of the dogs live outside like the other shelters we’ve seen.) Still, this little dog is fading from shelter stress. Leaving this dog in a shelter indefinitely is cruel and the humane thing to do is to euthanize it.

This is real, people.

This is happening all the time.

These are the decisions that shelter directors must make.

The Anson shelter is just over an hour from Charlotte, NC – a beautiful city full of young people and professionals and fabulous restaurants and at least one awesome independent bookstore. After we left Anson, we headed to Charlotte for a book signing at Park Road Books. It was a fun evening for me – I caught up with old friends in the area and met new ones.

park road books

For the book event, we partnered with Greater Charlotte SPCA, a foster-based rescue. They brought out some adoptable dogs to meet the dog-loving book public. It was awesome that we could partner with them and help get dogs adopted.

There is also an excellent no-kill shelter in Charlotte. I saw dogs everywhere – it seems to be a dog-loving city. Which is why it was hard to believe that Anson is so close.

Every chance I got as I talked with old friends and new, I said, “Go to Anson. Go help.” I encouraged the young bookstore clerks who lived in apartments and couldn’t own dogs, to go spend an afternoon walking the dogs or take one out for a doggie-date or even for a sleepover. Getting those dogs out of the shelter, for even an hour, makes a difference. It can help prevent shelter stress. It can literally save their lives.

And that’s just it – I’m seeing again and again that every shelter needs supplies, food, equipment, but they also need volunteers, fosters, and hope even more. Obviously, what they need most of all are adopters or a freedom ride with a rescue, but until then a little community support could make all the difference.

So, if you live in a city where your shelters are blessed with resources and a supportive public, look a little further. Look past your interstate out to where the poverty level rises, the houses are fewer and further between, and the Dollar Generals are the local grocery store. That’s where the dogs are dying. That’s where you can make a difference.

Sorry if this post is a bit heavy-handed. I have seen a lot this week and still have a lot to say. I think I wanted to believe that things would be better than they are down here. I’d heard some of this, but thought—not in this day and age, it can’t possibly be that bad.

It is.

But it doesn’t have to be.

I’m going to try to break it up and not hit you over the head with everything at once. I’ll write about our visits to the shelters in South Carolina – Oconee, Greenwood, and Anderson in the coming days.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to know more, Lisa and I are posting regular updates and pictures of our book/shelter tour on the facebook group, Another Good Dog. Please join us there to see even more and find out how you can help the shelters and the dogs.

If you’d like to know more about my blogs and books, visit or subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter.

If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check out my new website,, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, event schedule, and more!

If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more regular updates of foster dogs past and present and extra puppy pictures, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.

I love hearing from readers, so please feel free to comment here on the blog, email or connect with me on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram.



Available from Pegasus Books anywhere books are sold:

Another Good Dog cover.jpg

10 thoughts on “Look Around You, You Can Save These Dogs”

  1. I hugged Hitch for a long time after reading this and thinking about what would’ve happened if he had been in a shelter for a long time. Would they have euthanized him for being so scared of people? It’s heartbreaking.

    I just took over a club at the high school where I teach that raises awareness about shelter pets. I’ll be sure to share these rural shelters with the kids in hopes we can make an impact!


  2. I hugged Hitch for a long time after reading this and thinking about what would’ve happened if he had been in a shelter for a long time. Would they have euthanized him for being so scared of people? It’s heartbreaking.

    I just took over a club at the high school where I teach that raises awareness about shelter pets. I’ll be sure to share these rural shelters with the kids in hopes we can make an impact!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

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      1. It’s too bad you can’t come out here. We have five or six rescues in our valley. Two are shelters (no kill) and three are foster based. We have a bookstore — our independent bookstore went out of business so people formed a coop to reopen it. It would be so cool if you could make a little Colorado tour. In Canon City where the penitentiary is we have a prison based rescue where prisoners train dogs and they are then adopted. One of the rescues in the San Luis Valley loads dogs up in a big van every weekend and takes them to a more populated area to find homes for them.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on I'm a Writer, Yes, I Am! and commented:
    This is a heart-rending, beautifully and passionately written post. Cara Achtenberg is on a book tour/shelter tour of the South, reading, signing and distributing donations to shelters in need. The book is wonderful, but I think this tour eclipses it. ❤


  5. Thank you so much for sharing this insight. When I moved to NC 8 years ago, I was stunned at the magnitude of homeless animals. I was involved in dog rescue and have walked through those shelter doors with the same sick feeling; wanting to save them all, but knowing I was relatively helpless. One leaves and another two come through the door. In my opinion, we all to often don’t admit the truth – that thousands of dogs in NC die monthly simply because of space. Why the state does not get involved and mandate spay neuter is beyond me. For those working in shelters that have to make those decisions is heartbreaking. For those dogs to be bred simply to die is inhumane and something humans must rectify. Again, thank you for your outreach and courage to show the good, bad and the ugly out there. Until we can admit the ugly, it’s hard to gain the momentum to fix it.


    1. I think in NC the state is not allocating enough resources so shelters are ill-equipped and dogs are housed outside in the elements, but more than that many people in NC simply do not know or perhaps they look away. Change needs to happen there. It was by far the worst that we’ve seen so far on this trip.


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