One dog at a time. That’s how it all started for Monika Biernacki, founder and CEO of Monika’s Doggie Rescue, who began her foray into the rescue world by saving and rehoming dogs here and there in her spare time. A geologist and mineral economist by trade in Sydney, Australia, she never had any intention of making companion animals her sole focus in life. But when the lifelong animal lover started a pet-sitting service to bring in extra income, her destiny took a different turn.
“I was running my Mouse, Moggie & Mutt Minding business, and I rescued a couple of dogs from the local vet who were handed in after someone died,” Monika explains. “I found a home for them in my local area. Then I got to know our local council ranger, who is a great animal lover and [who] wrote a pet-of-the-week article in the local paper. He would bring me dogs from the pound to find homes for. So it just grew from there.”
But it wasn’t until she walked into Sydney’s largest high-kill animal shelter and witnessed the enormity of her city’s homeless pet problem that Monika realized she would need to take her rescue efforts to the next level.
“I couldn’t turn my back on what I had seen at Renbury pound – I needed to do something,” she says. “I could not stand the senseless waste of life just because a dog had an irresponsible owner who didn’t care. So on a small scale, I started rescuing some dogs. I spent time calling vets to ask if any would take a small dog or pup and adopt it from their clinic in the hope that they would end up with new clients. This was in the beginning, when I had no facility to house the dogs. These were the days when pounds were full of contagious diseases like parvovirus and distemper.”
She continues, “A little while later, I came across another lady who was getting dogs out of Blacktown pound, the second largest pound in Sydney. Dogs never came out of there alive unless they were reclaimed. She was my contact, and I worked hard to take on as many dogs as I could.”
Nineteen years, one permanent facility, several hundred volunteers, and 11,427 dogs later, Monika’s Doggie Rescue has earned bragging rights as Sydney’s largest private dog rescue. Founded in 2001, its mission is to save “last chance” dogs from high-kill shelters and find them loving forever homes.
“We pick up dogs every week from the pound, just before they are to be destroyed — we focus on the most urgent,” says Monika. “We get litters of newborn pups, pregnant females, purebreds, much-loved pets (whose owners may have passed away), and sadly abused or neglected characters. All are health checked, vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and microchipped by our vet before they either go to a foster home or come to our Doggiewood shelter.”
Located in Ingleside, a suburb of northern Sydney, the 100-dog capacity shelter is where Monika’s rescue dogs are cleaned up, dewormed, named, photographed, temperament tested, and housed before being matched with suitable adoptive families. Unlike typical shelters, where dogs are often confined by themselves or with another dog or two in a concrete-and-wire pen, Doggiewood dogs spend their daytime hours romping outdoors in playgroups and then tucked into comfy, air-conditioned indoor runs at night.
Meanwhile, an additional 100 dogs are cared for by Doggie Rescue’s close-knit volunteer foster network. While some dogs find their forever families fairly quickly, others can take much longer to place, Monika admits.
“We have had some terribly abused dogs who have found forever homes with people willing to work further with them, but this can take many months, sometimes years,” she says. “Not every welfare agency would have that patience. It can only be done through a volunteer organization, otherwise the costs would be prohibitive. We don’t discriminate in what we take from the pound – we take doggies who have no future. And we could not do this without committed volunteers who share in our philosophy that life is precious and should not be wasted.”
While many of the canines the rescue takes in tend to be small dogs and puppies, it also saves as many medium and large dogs as it can find space for or foster families to house them. Besides being a no-kill organization that always takes its dogs back if necessary, Doggie Rescue also adheres to strict adoption policies and procedures in an effort to make sure its dogs don’t just find new homes, but also perfect homes.
“The thing that sets us apart from other rescues here is we try to match families with the dogs,” Monika explains. “We go through an interview process, so we don’t give [just] anybody a dog. Another policy we have is all family members need to meet the dog prior to adoption to ensure the dog’s favorable response to everyone in the family, as we have no history on our dogs. We also have an indoor-only sleeping policy, so we look for families that are like-minded.”
Like the U.S., Australia is an animal-loving nation that is also plagued with a serious pet homeless crisis, a problem perpetuated by backyard breeding, irresponsible pet ownership, and puppy mills. While Doggie Rescue prefers to focus its energies on saving as many innocent lives as possible rather than getting involved in animal welfare issues, it does support local animal groups and stands behind education as a powerful tool for creating change.
“In Australia, we have an overpopulation of dogs and an even worse situation with cats,” she says. “This is largely fueled by puppy mills pumping out ‘cute’ pups to the largely ignorant public, who see [them] in pet shop windows and on the Internet. Slowly the wheels are changing, with lobby groups showing video footage of the inside of some of these [mills] and the TV and print media sharing these stories further.”
She continues, “We wholeheartedly and publicly support these groups, but we are primarily [focused on] treating and caring for dogs who nobody wants and turning them into happy, adoptable boys and girls. By reaching the younger generation through educational events, a magazine, social events, and social media sites like Facebook, we try to influence the way they think by demonstrating our actions and care.”
Along with the 500 dogs Doggie Rescue delivers from death row every year, the organization has also started rescuing cats and kittens, with more than 200 saved in the last two years. As part of its future plans, Doggie Rescue is working to develop a foster cat care network as well as build a cattery.
“We are currently leasing an acreage property where we have been for eight years, and I hope in the future we will be in a position to purchase this property, [but] this requires a huge financial investment,” Monika says. “I also want to ensure that Doggie Rescue lives on after I die, which means many of the volunteer positions will need to be paid to ensure they continue. Regular ongoing financial support is what will ensure us continuing into the future.”
Meanwhile, keeping Doggie Rescue the well-oiled machine it is comes down to the determination and dedication of one seemingly tireless CEO, who works six-and-a-half days a week with a laundry list of responsibilities vying for her attention. From running dog adoptions, caring for elderly and infant dogs, and handling facility repairs to carrying out specialist vet visits, overseeing fundraising events and social media, and interfacing with the rescue’s veterinary hospital — not to mention caring for her eight senior dogs — Monika’s plate is certainly full, if not overflowing.
“It’s a lot of work and a sacrifice,” she says. “My husband is a workaholic, as well, and as chairman of Doggie Rescue he brings a lot of business experience to the board. He is very supportive, especially when the emotional issues I need to deal with are overwhelming. I may have very little time with my family, no holidays, no time to shop or even to eat some days, but I am passionate about this. People who love animals understand it. Other people think I’m crazy.”
To learn more about Monika’s Doggie Rescue, check out this adorable YouTube video:
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About the author: Lisa Plummer Savas is a freelance writer, journalist, devoted dog mom, and animal activist. In an effort to help make the world a more compassionate place for non-human species, Lisa uses her writing to spread awareness about animal welfare and cruelty issues. She lives in Atlanta with two spoiled German Shepherds, one very entitled Pug, and a very patient, understanding husband. Read more of her work by visiting her blog and website. You can also follow her on Twitter.