To say that husband and wife Brandi and Stephen Terry are dog people would be an understatement.
When they met at a dog park three years ago, each had a dog care business, taking the pets of busy Orange County professionals on outings while their owners were at work. Stephen was out with a client's English springer spaniel and Brandi had a Pomeranian in tow.
When they married, they merged their businesses into one and called it Desperate Paws of Orange County Dog Club after one of Brandi's favorite shows, "Desperate Housewives."
So it's only natural that the couple is now heading up an effort they've dubbed the Paw It Forward campaign to help dogs less fortunate than their own two Labradors by raising money for local no-kill dog shelters.
"With the recession and the economy, we started seeing that things were getting cut everywhere. So dog shelters were closing; rescues didn't have any room," Stephen said.
Animal shelters and rescue facilities in the county have varying assessments of whether and how badly the recession has affected them. Orange County Animal Care reported that its 2009 intake numbers were below 2007 levels after a substantial spike in 2008.
But Sue Walshe, president of the Pet Project Foundation, a volunteer organization that supports the San Clemente- Dana Point Animal Shelter, said that just within the last six months, the shelter has seen about a 30% increase in intakes while donations have been declining.
"People are dropping off animals right and left because of the economy," she said. "We're fuller than we've ever been on a regular basis."
Paw It Forward grew out of a social meet-up group for Orange County dog owners the Terrys started in January. The idea was simple: to get people and their pets out of the house and give both species a chance to socialize. They've held beach trips, meet-ups at dog-friendly restaurants and even a doggy Easter egg hunt. Owners of all ages attended with pooches of all sizes and breeds.
Within a few months, the Desperate Paws of Orange County Dog Club had ballooned to more than 300 members.
When the Terrys saw how popular the club was becoming, they decided to harness the power for a good cause, Brandi said. They were inspired by a newspaper story about an 8-year-old girl in Irvine who raised $1,300 for animal cancer research by selling bracelets.
The Terrys came up with the idea of raising money through their club and donating it at the end of the year to local no-kill dog shelters.
They began holding raffles and collecting donations at their outings. They put in hours on the Internet to find businesses willing to donate raffle prizes, including passes for Knott's Berry Farm and tickets to an Angels baseball game. Local restaurants Sharky's Mexican Woodfired Grill and the Lazy Dog Cafe agreed to donate 10% of the sales from the club's meet-ups at their businesses.
To date, the club has raised $768. According to cost estimates from various shelters, that amount can fund between 17 and 51 days of care for one dog.
At the end of the year, club members will vote for two shelters that will split the funds.
For some club members, the Paw It Forward message — based on the "pay it forward" concept of getting repaid for a good deed by having it passed on to others — is personal.
Lynne Holley of Laguna Woods and her longhaired Chihuahua Emmie Lou, the newest of her three rescue dogs, were among the 25 dog-and-owner pairs that gathered to chat and eat last week on the outdoor patio of the new, canine-friendly Lazy Dog Cafe in Irvine.
Holley adopted Emmie Lou in January after someone found the Chihuahua rooting around in the trash in a Murrieta commercial district. The dog was in bad shape and appeared to have been nursing recently, but there were neither puppies nor houses anywhere in the vicinity, suggesting that she had been dumped.
Now Emmie Lou lives a pampered life: She arrived at the meet-up in a baby stroller decked out in roses and butterflies that Holley decorated for a parade in the spring.
"She's the greatest dog in the world, and I'm always telling people it's trash to treasure," Holley said.
For more information on the club and the Paw It Forward campaign, see http://www.desperatepawsofocdogclub.org/