Barrio Dogs: Helping Rescue Dogs Through Outreach and Education

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The holidays are a time of parties and joy, and also of dubious charities beating down your door to get to your pocketbook. So Hair Balls wants to cut through the chaos and recommend you check at Barrio Dogs, a nonprofit working to fight animal cruelty and neglect in low-income neighborhoods.

One of the key ingredients is the organization's Youth and Paws (YAP) program, which involves presentations on spaying and neutering, as well as the overall humane treatment of pets. Some of the presentations include visits from dogs the group has helped, and these dogs also work as "Rescue Education Ambassador Dogs" (READ -- Barrio Dogs is big on acronyms) for one-on-one reading sessions, as a way for kids to increase their reading comprehension.

The "Tales to Tails Reading Program" is designed especially for kids in schools in low-income communities who have a tough time reading. As the Barrio Dogs website states, "the presence of rescued dogs enhances the children's fluency in reading as the animal reduced their self-consciousness and distracts them from the fear of being 'judged' by people." Hey, sounds good to us.

Barrio Dogs volunteers also bring rescue dogs to nursing homes and children's homeless shelters, with an aim to "bring comfort, distraction and hope" to patients, and foster long-lasting positive associations for kids who've never had a pet.

The group's Better Communities program helps provide donated food and shelter/fencing materials; the "Freedom Fence" initiative hones in on owners who chain their dogs because they don't have a fence. (Barrio Dogs volunteers are careful to conduct follow-up visits to make sure everything's legit. We sorta wish there was a way to chain the owners to a tree, but we'll have to find another non-profit that provides that particular service).

Gloria Medina Zenteno started Barrio Dogs in March 2010, a few years after returning to the East End from a sojourn in the suburbs. Horrified by the glut of stray and abused dogs in her neighborhood, she started Barrio Dogs as a way to raise money and awareness to fight the problem in the community. Since then, her volunteers have visited schools throughout the city -- the word has spread, it seems, but not the donations.

"I got involved with a lot of great rescue groups," Zenteno tells Hair Balls, "but I just felt like with the rescuing, it was neverending, so I started Barrio Dogs." Because she didn't have the resources of the established rescue groups who can take in hundreds of animals, she decided to focus on education and community outreach.

"My plan was more just kind of a community-type group," she says. "I took on my street, my surrounding blocks....[then[ it just took off."

Although the group doesn't operate a shelter, they use donations to cover vet and boarding expenses on whatever dogs they are able to help; this doesn't leave much for the group's main mission of education and community outreach. That's where you and your big heart come in. Please check out the Barrio Dogs website and look at the work they're doing. (By the way, they can always use fosters or adopters, as well).

Zenteno will thank you, and the dogs will lick your face. Or maybe it's the other way around, we're not sure. Either way, your donation will be greatly appreciated.

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