Rachel Mairose’s life could be described as a little bit hectic. She and her husband Kyle are parents to 10-month old daughter Lilah (that’s the one with the two legs), a half-German shepherd puppy called Moose and a full grown havanese dog named Eddie.
There are definitely other four-legged friends in Mairose’s life. As the founder of Secondhand Hounds, a volunteer run animal rescue group based in Edina (they just recently opened a storefront on Shady Oak Road in Minnetonka), Mairose arranges foster care or pet adoptions for a wide variety of breeds, many of the “bully” variety, each week.
Recently, Mairose had two special guests at the shelter: Toby, an exuberant but gentle black lab, and Mia, a rottweiler that Mairose called “the sweetest rott I’ve ever met.” Both were staying at the Minnetonka office while waiting to be placed in foster care or adopted.
“Since we started in July 2009, we’ve rescued over 320 dogs,” she says. “I get about 200 emails every day about dogs that are going to be euthanized unless they are rescued. There is such a big need to help these dogs out. It is our mission to find them the ‘forever homes’ they deserve.”
In addition to rescuing local dogs, Secondhand Hounds receives dogs from as far away as Missouri (a place Mairose says is commonly known as “the puppy mill capital of the United States”) and Sioux City, Iowa, which has a high percentage of rescue dogs since many are found either wandering or abandoned in rural areas.
Mairose, who was born and raised in Edina, says she developed a particular fondness for the bully breeds—pit bulls, staffordshire terriers, rottweilers and others—while attending college at Washington University in St. Louis. “I started volunteering at a pit bull rescue shelter in St. Louis and I absolutely fell in love with the breed,” she says. “I learned that these dogs were originally raised to serve as nannies to children since they are such protectors. They are also very powerful, which is how the underground dog fighting rings started. I really think they can be very good family dogs.”
Mairose returned to the Twin Cities and married her husband Kyle, who is also originally from Minnesota. She began working with local rescue organizations and was soon connected with a dedicated group of volunteers also interested in helping to foster or adopt dogs in need of a home. Mairose and her friend Kayla Johnson, who is the community relations director for Secondhand Hounds, decided to launch their non-profit 501(c)(3) as a way to spread the word about rescue pets.
Many of the dogs with Secondhand Hounds are put into foster care, a program that Mairose says is a great way for prospective pet owners to see if they’ve found a permanent match or for people to do their part to offer short term help. All foster care applicants must complete a home visit by Mairose or a volunteer from Secondhand Hounds. “We always want to make sure the home is safe for an animal,” says Mairose, adding that a fenced back yard is not a requirement as long as the foster parents agree to keep the dog on a leash at all times outside their home.
Foster care providers for rescue dogs run the gamut from experienced families who have fostered pets many times in the past to young people in their 20s and early 30s who might not be ready to make a full commitment to a pet, but want to spend time with a dog.
Kate Hovde and her partner Ben Sharp live in Minneapolis and recently adopted Guillaume or “Gui” for short: part American staffordshire terrier and part vizsla. At seven months, he already weighed 55 pounds.
“We did foster care for him for about a week when he was four months old,” says Hovde. “Not long after that, he was adopted by another family, but it didn’t work out. Rachel gave us a call and asked if we’d be willing to foster him a second time, so we did.” It was after the second visit that Hovde and Sharp realized they didn’t want to let Gui go. He’s their only pet and Hovde says that having him there now proves “it was meant to be.”
“Rachel really cares about making sure that the right people are matched with the right pet,” adds Hovde. “She takes such good care of all the animals she rescues.”
Mairose says that foster/adoption exchanges do happen occasionally. “If a pet adoption doesn’t work out, we stipulate that the pet has to be returned to us,” she says.
Secondhand Hounds also goes out into the community each month: they visit a PetSmart store in Roseville on the first Saturday and the Eden Prairie PetSmart on the third Saturday. “We bring dogs to the site. Some people have no idea about the process of fostering or adopting rescue animals, so we are happy to talk to them about it. We often have enough volunteers with us that we can even do a site visit that same day to check out a home,” explains Mairose.
The organization recently hosted its first silent auction fundraiser to help underwrite the cost of food and medical bills for the rescue pets. “Some months, our vet bills can be as high as $10, 000,” she says. Most of the pets receive check-ups and medical care from Shady Oak Veterinarian Clinic, located next door to Secondhand Hounds.
Another program that Mairose and Johnson are hoping to launch in the coming months, “Secondhand Hope,” would work in conjunction with metro women’s shelters to offer free foster care for pets whose owners have to leave an abusive home situation. “Many women don’t want to leave an abusive husband with their dog because they are afraid he might do something to the animal once they are gone,” explains Mairose. “They are actually staying in those situations to save the dog.”
The program, still in the planning phase, would allow women to have a safe haven for their dogs for up to six months, which would also include the opportunity for them to visit the dogs in a secure environment. “If they can come to get the dog at that point, that’s great,” says Mairose. “If not, we would promise to find the dog a good permanent home.”
One of the most unusual challenges at Secondhand Hounds is naming the rescue dogs. Since the animals have no identification, there is no way of knowing their names, so it’s up to Mairose and the volunteers to come up with something.
“One week, we went with Presidents’ names—Lincoln, Quincy. We’ve gone the Swedish route with Sven and Ole and those kinds of names,” says Mairose with a laugh. “We know that people always love picking out names for their pets, but for us, it’s hard. You run out of names!”
For more information about adopting or fostering a pet, contact Secondhand Hounds at secondhandhounds.org. Monetary donations are always gratefully accepted, as are donations of old blankets and towels for the pets. Photos and information about rescue dogs in need of care are also listed on the site and updated regularly.