Saving Man's Best Friend
A Calling So Sweet
Stray or abandoned dogs are a common sight among the streets and neighborhoods of Alabama. Foraging through trashcans for food, roaming from backdoor to backdoor, and even wandering idly alongside streets and highways, it is understandable why people consider them a nuisance. However, Cynthia Sweet, owner and founder of Sweet Paws Rescue, brings attention to this hard truth: if dogs are homeless it is because we have abandoned them. And if you have ever seen a box full of unwanted puppies left beside a dumpster or had a severely malnourished stray dog rummage through your garbage, you know the volume of truth behind that statement.
Growing up in the suburbs of Massachusetts, Sweet was never exposed to the abundance of homeless dogs that can be found in nearly every city in Alabama. It wasn’t until she reached out to help in Alexandria, Louisiana during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that she began to realize there are hundreds of dogs that fight to survive on their own each day. This realization triggered something in her heart that called her to action. She began a small nonprofit organization called Project Starfish, which allowed her to team up with locals and rescue hundreds of dogs in Louisiana that were left stranded in the turmoil the hurricane created.
After being exposed to the shocking amount of helpless dogs, Sweet began to understand that stray dogs weren’t all that uncommon in the southern region of the United States. Sweet says, “Homeless dogs in the south are about as common as squirrels – there are just so many of them. We didn’t domesticate squirrels, but we did domesticate dogs. It is our job to take care of them.” After a month of rescue missions in Louisiana with Project Starfish, Sweet returned home to Massachusetts. However, her heart continued to stir for the hundreds of homeless dogs she knew were still suffering.
In 2010, Sweet teamed up with a member of Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legisla ture, Rhonda Parker, who had been involved with independent rescue missions in Birmingham and surrounding areas. Wanting to retire from rescuing and focus more on lawmaking, Parker connected Sweet with Brenda Lafontaine, a Birmingham local with a huge heart for fostering and rescuing dogs. Sweet began working with Lafontaine right away, not knowing the huge impact she would have in the establishment of Sweet Paws Rescue in Alabama. Word of Sweet Paws Rescue quickly spread throughout the Birmingham area, and their team of rescuers began to take shape. Saving dozens of dogs a week in Alabama cities, their good works certainly didn’t go unnoticed; soon their missions and transports expanded over the state line into the suburbs of Mississippi. United and determined, the women of Sweet Paws began finding and saving hundreds of homeless dogs from the streets of Alabama and Mississippi and transporting them to Massachusetts, where they will be adopted into their forever homes and can finally live the happy and healthy lives they deserve.
The rescue process is an unpredictable one, as each dog has a different story and its own set of specific needs. Often injured or severely malnourished, the dogs are taken out of their poor living conditions and immediately seen by a Veterinarian. After being examined and treated at the animal hospital for any general health issues, they are then transported to their temporary foster home in Birmingham. All vet fees are generously paid out of the pockets of Cynthia Sweet and the Sweet Paws team members.
“Being a nonprofit organization, we are completely powered by volunteers and donations,” Sweet says, extending her gratitude for the people of Birmingham and surrounding cities that have joined the Sweet Paws team to help in any way they can. Once the dogs are settled into their fotter home, they are nursed back to health, treated for any existing illnesses or ailments they may have, and socialized within the household.
When they are healthy and ready to move on to the next phase of the adoption process, the dogs are then loaded into the transport van and driven over a thousand miles to the place Sweet Paws originates from: Boston, Massachusetts. Once the dogs arrive in Massachusetts, there is another volunteer foster home waiting to take them in until they can be moved into their forever home. The adoption process then becomes a personal one, as Sweet’s policy for adopting is rather strict. “We send a volunteer to go check out the potential adopter’s home to be sure it is suitable for the dog. We like to really get to know the people before we allow the dogs to go home with them,” Sweet says. Because of the intimate nature of their adoption process, Sweet Paws develops real relationships with the dogs and their adopters, making their return rate notably low. Sweet says, “The family atmosphere Sweet Paws creates with the dogs and their new adopted families is what makes the whole process worth while.”
Primarily powered by incredible women who give their hearts and volunteered time every day of the week, Sweet Paws Rescue is changing the lives of these neglected dogs and puppies one vanload at a time. When asked why she does work in Alabama and Mississippi from Massachusetts, Sweet says, “If homeless dogs are a national epidemic and we are a dog loving country, why would we not reach out and help where it is needed?”
Cynthia Sweet is simply a woman with a soft spot for these less fortunate animals, and has answered her calling to help where she can. Saving the lives of 50-100 dogs a month from the streets of Alabama and Mississippi and relocating them to a loving home over a thousand miles away - I would say the women of Sweet Paws Rescue are doing a doggone good job.