With the holidays upon us, everyone is busy seeking out the perfect gifts to give, decorating the house to fill it with Christmas or Hanukkah cheer, baking, attending parties, and accomplishing the myriad of activities that make the holidays into “the most wonderful time of the year.” Why not pause for a moment and take the time to catch your breath, count your blessings, and give a little to those who are waiting for a holiday miracle to bring them the thing they need the most: a warm, safe, loving home?

It’s Ruff Without a Roof, a local non-profit dog rescue that aims to connect people with loving canine companions by bringing dogs from shelters in the south to Northeast PA, can help to make that miracle happen. The organization is a small, all-volunteer rescue based out of Union Dale, PA.  Its aim is to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome dogs from high-kill shelters in the rural south.

The group’s website explains, “At It's Ruff Without a Roof, we are committed to saving the lives of dogs in southern kill-shelters who didn't stand a chance.  All of our dogs were on the ‘emergency list’ and scheduled for euthanization.  However, we could see in their eyes that they deserved a chance at life - a chance at a great life with a loving owner.”  

It’s Ruff Without a Roof was founded in 2016 by Carbondale resident Lisa Criscera-Conarton and one of her clients, the owner of Eva’s Play Pups Countryside Dog Camp. The dogs are boarded free of charge on the 56 fenced-in acres near Pleasant Mount where the dog camp is located. For many, this may be their first taste of being able to run and play in a safe, healthy environment.

“We are a rescue. What that means is we actually pull dogs from high-kill shelters in the south where they practice euthanization at a rate significantly higher than what you see here,” explained Lisa. “Those shelters are all outdoors shelters and are usually located next to places like water treatment plants and garbage dumps. They do maybe one adoption a month at most.”

Rescue partners who reside in the south pull dogs from shelters on behalf of It’s Ruff Without a Roof, and sometimes places will reach out to the group for help. Lisa and other volunteers have traveled to the states where the dogs are held to transport them back, though they often rely on volunteers or, if necessary, on paid animal transport, to bring the rescued dogs north.

Many of the dogs, which range in age from puppies to seniors, are in poor condition. Fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, open wounds, and heartworm are compounded by malnutrition and, unfortunately, even deliberate abuse. Potential adopters need not fear they will be receiving pets with numerous health issues though.

“All our adoptable dogs are spayed or neutered, current on flea and tick treatments, up-to-date on vaccinations, current on heartworm preventatives, and microchipped,” said Lisa. “If we have a dog with behavioral issues, we enlist the services of a professional trainer and even ‘board and train’ services because our mission is not just to rehome them, but to rehabilitate them. We want them to have a happy and healthy life both physically and mentally.”

This level of care, as well as the cost of food and other daily needs, does not come cheap. “We incur a lot of expenses. We’re a non-profit, so we’re funded solely through donations and adoption fees. All of that goes towards food, vetting, transportation, collars and leashes. The adoption fee is $300, which is a modest fee in my opinion, because the dogs are fully vetted.”

In fact, Lisa revealed, the adoption fee often does not cover what is spent on medically treating and boarding the dog. And in cases where extra care is needed, it does not even come close to covering the organization’s expenses. With over 150 dogs rescued, Lisa takes pride in the fact that none have ever had to be put down. However, some, like Hurricane Irma survivor Dale, have stretched the organization’s budget to the limit with his veterinary expenses.

“Sweet Dale survived Hurricane Irma and survived being in the shelter, and he is very sweet and loving. He has heartworm and ended up having emergency surgery, then needed the ICU and an oxygen cage. He had to receive surgery in Manhattan’s Animal Medical Center to keep him alive,” Lisa explained.

All of this care added up to more than $5,000 in expenses, a big amount for a small non-profit to cover. A GoFundMe page to help pay for Dale’s expenses has been set up at www.gofundme.com/help-us-save-sweet-dale, and all donations are appreciated. Despite the financial strain on the organization, Lisa is certain they made the right choice by helping Dale stay alive. “He had trouble breathing and needed surgery, so how do you look at a dog in your care and say ‘You’re going to die’ to him?” asked Lisa.

In addition to assisting with Dale’s medical bills, people interested in helping It’s Ruff Without a Roof continue to rescue and rehome dogs otherwise destined for euthanization can make direct donations on the group’s website at www.itsruffwithoutaroof.com. At the present time, the rescue’s biggest need for donated items is for leashes and collars in all sizes. For a more hands-on experience, volunteers are always needed at adoption events, where the number of dogs at the event is dependent upon the number of volunteers. Events are generally held once a month.

The biggest need, though, is for folks willing to foster a dog until it can be adopted. “This is so important because we only have so much space at our boarding camp, and we have to open up spaces if we’re going to be able to save more dogs from the shelters. It’s not easy, but it’s very rewarding,” Lisa remarked.

“People fostering bear no financial responsibility. We provide food, training, and medical care. We need their time, their patience, and their home. We ask them to foster the dog until the time of adoption, so it could be days, weeks, or months,” offered Lisa, whose own mother is a “foster fail” who ended up deciding to adopt her foster dog after just 48 hours.

Another way to help the rescue is by telling others about their mission. Lisa asks that people like and follow them on Instagram and Facebook and to help spread the word to family and friends who want to add a furry companion to the household. For more information, including instructions for how to adopt, foster, or donate, visit www.itsruffwithoutaroof.com.