A Dog's Best Friend

Grants Pass woman's nonprofit helps care for pets living among the homeless
Rai Rai and Ronald Carrier sit with their dogs, from left, Psychotic, Mallatto and Smokey, on the Bear Creek Greenway recently in Central Point.Julia Moore

One Southern Oregon woman is hoping to improve the lives of dogs belonging to the homeless.

Maria Modica has spent the last 18 months seeking out homeless dog owners, providing them dog food, collars and leashes and transporting pooches to and from veterinarians as part of her nonprofit, Tail Waggers Rescue.

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Information about Tail Waggers can be found on its website,

www.tailwaggersrescue.org.

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"These people have nowhere to turn," said Modica, who lives in Grants Pass. "Vets will turn them away."

Modica moved to the area from California in the fall of 2012 with plans to work for an animal rescue facility, but when she noticed the large number of dogs belonging to homeless people, she shifted her focus.

"I understand the need," said Modica. "It's great being able to help a dog when the owners can't."

Modica gives supplies or rides to the vet for dogs from Grants Pass to Ashland, expanding her organization primarily through word of mouth.

She funds the operation with the small donations she receives and her own out-of-pocket contributions.

Modica said that while more and more dogs need her help, she doesn't have the funding to keep up.

Each month, Modica spends at least $1,100 on dog food, $800 to $1,500 for veterinarian care and another $750 on gas. She has helped homeless people get their dogs fixed, provided heartworm tests and preventive medication and funded some special surgeries.

With only about $700 donated each month, Tail Waggers is in dire need of more donations to keep the operation afloat, Modica said.

While she has a couple of volunteers, Modica said, the bulk of the Tail Waggers operation is run by her.

"I'm doing 99.9 percent of everything," she said.

Modica met Thursday afternoon with three Central Point homeless people whose dogs she helps.

"If it wasn't for Maria, these guys wouldn't be as healthy as they are," said Rai Rai, who helps take care of three dogs, a pit bull named Psychotic and mixed-breed brothers Smokey and Mallatto. "Maria, you've made my life so nice."

Tail Waggers paid for Smokey and Mallatto to get neutered and brought Psychotic to a veterinarian, who identified a breathing condition the dog has. She also provided each dog with a cooling collar, which is activated with water and used to cool off the dogs during hot summer days.

During the winter, Modica has provided blankets, tents, sleeping bags and other items to homeless people with dogs.

Tail Waggers has also offered a $400 donation to help one homeless man, Ryan Kramer, find his dog, a red-nosed pitbull that went missing in Medford this spring. Modica said that even though homeless people sometimes own dogs that may be threatening or aggressive, feeding and caring for the animals is important.

"They still deserve to have care and be provided for," she said. "There are always circumstances to consider; even if the dog has been threatening, the dog always deserves to be cared for."

Modica said her next goal with the organization is to acquire land or a building to use as a temporary rescue, housing animals in extreme weather or during birth.

On several occasions since beginning Tail Waggers, Modica has rented hotel rooms for homeless people and their dogs during extreme hot or cold weather and during last summer's forest fires, when smoke was thick in the air.

"Our ultimate goal is to get land," said Modica. "I want to have a facility where homeless people can put their dogs during extreme weather, to get their dogs off the street."

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.


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