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Tanya Willis: Founder of Agape Rescue

Since its founding, Agape Rescue has helped save almost 2,000 dogs through their foster and adoption program. Their unique training program allows the community to take advantage of Agape’s resources so that all dogs can find and stay in homes. For Tanya, the best part of working at Agape is seeing the dogs get adopted. Seeing their accomplishments makes it all worth it!

What inspired you to start Agape?

I grew up being exposed to animals in need and knew I wanted to get my own dog one day, but it happened differently than I planned— the dog actually found me. I was driving and came across a tiny, 6-week old puppy in the road. When I looked beside him, 5 more lab puppies were left there. I wasn’t sure what to do with the dogs but knew I had to help. That moment changed my life. I was in school to be a special education teacher and called my mom to tell her that I knew I was supposed to be a voice for dogs. The experience of trying to get those puppies immediate veterinary care and homing them was my first dabble in animal rescue. I was stereotyped at the vet office because they assumed I was trying to abandon them there, even though all I wanted was to help. Eventually I found homes for all of them but one, the first one who caught my eye on the road, who ended up being a soulmate to me.

What kinds of programs does Agape provide?

I started Agape when I was 23 as a way to help people in the community who came across animals in the same way I did. I started networking with shelters and set up a foster program. We bring free or low-cost dog training to the community to assist people with their difficult dogs so that they don’t surrender them. We also partner with a women’s shelter to provide pet supplies, pet care, and free training. These women have fled abusive situations with their dogs and our training helps set them up for success when they leave the shelter. Our Community Canine Coaching Program offers training for our fosters and those fostering through other organizations. We want as many dogs to find homes or stay in their homes as possible, regardless of where they come from, and good behavior is a big part of that.

Where do your dogs come from?

We never euthanize due to space concerns at Agape. Some of our dogs come from local shelters to help them with capacity and maintaining their adoption rates. We’re also part of a disaster response team and get dogs from large-scale abuse situations and owner surrenders. We’re proud to say that we have less than 1% adoption return rate. We adopt fewer dogs per year than the larger rescue groups, but what we’re concerned about is keeping our dogs in those homes. Since we don’t have a shelter, we are totally reliant on our volunteer foster parents. Our fosters don’t have to spend any of their own money on the dog, unless they want to, and are just responsible for providing a nurturing home through the application process.

Are there any misconceptions about rescue dogs that you want to clear up?

A lot of people assume that all rescue dogs have been mistreated and are “bad dogs” as a result. I once met this man in a Waffle House parking lot who was living out of his truck. He was crying as he surrendered his dog to me because he loved her so much, but knew that since he was homeless he couldn’t provide for her in the way that we could. This dog had been so loved, well cared for, and was incredibly well mannered as a result. “Black dog syndrome” is also a very real thing. People are less likely to adopt solid black colored dogs because they aren’t as stereotypically “cute” as other dogs and tend to not photograph as well on adoption sites. A lot of people also think dogs like pit bulls will wreak havoc and hurt children. It’s not fair to stereotype a whole breed, especially when a lot of larger dogs are the gentler ones.


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