Dolores Doherty runs a small dog shelter out of her home in Oakville. She has saved 271 canine lives.
Honey runs in wide circles at full speed around the Trinity Bellwoods Park dog bowl, oblivious to the other dogs and pet owners clustered around the picnic benches. Her tongue hanging out, there is only one word to describe her in this moment: free. But Honey, a beagle-chow chow mix her owners call “the perfect dog” wasn’t always quite so free. In fact, she’s lucky to be alive. She—along with many other dogs living in Toronto—has Dolores Doherty, a warm and friendly Oakville woman, to thank for her happy new home.
“Edmund Burke once said ‘No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little,’” Doherty writes on her website. “I was determined I could do a little; I could help rescue dogs by starting my own little rescue.”
Over the past two years, Doherty has done just that: she has turned her small Oakville home into a temporary safe place for dogs—particularly beagles, her specialty—in danger of being put down in the United States. Dubbed “A Dog’s Dream,” her rescue is constantly taking in canine guests until suitable foster or permanent homes can be found for them. These dogs are mostly sourced from overcrowded high-kill shelters in Kentucky, where their lives are often in danger after only a short stay.
Often, as in Honey’s case, shelter employees will reach out to Dolores to save an animal. Honey was brought to a shelter after she and many other dogs were found in the home of a hoarder. While the trial unfolded, Honey and the other dogs were housed in one of the most run-down shelters in Kentucky until the trial ended. All of the dogs were put up for adoption. One by one, the dogs were taken to new homes, but Honey and four others were never adopted, perhaps because of their beagle lineage, which is practically a death sentence in Kentucky. (There, the breed is prized for its hunting ability, and dogs that don’t perform well are sometimes abandoned.) Luckily, a shelter employee saw potential in Honey and sent Dolores a photo. Although Dolores’s small home shelter is almost always too full, she agreed to rescue the dog, and Honey began her long journey to Canada. Sadly, not all dogs can make it to A Dog’s Dream. “I really rely on fosters,” says Doherty, growing teary, “and every time I don’t have room it breaks my heart. Many times I don’t have room and I have to say no and the dog is euthanized.”
The dogs Dolores does take in are brought from America on a sort of canine underground railroad, passed from cargo van to cargo van across the United States until they reach the border. Dogs can’t enter the country until they are updated on shots, fixed, and checked for health problems. Dolores and other small shelter operators pay out of their own pockets, relying on donations and adoption fees to save more dogs. Some dogs need medical attention, like a pocket beagle named Betty Lou who was used as a breeder until her back was broken and she was paralyzed. Thanks to Dolores, the dog’s back has been mended and she’s now starting to walk again.
When the dogs are finally given the okay and brought into Canada, Dolores picks them up and brings them to her Oakville home for observation. The dogs meet her cats and the other dogs and are given varied amounts of time to settle before being listed for adoption on Petfinder, a website that matches rescues with hopeful adopters. “Dogs are adopted everywhere from London and Windsor, to Barrie and Sudbury,” says Doherty. “But the largest percent are adopted to downtown Toronto owners. These dogs shouldn’t be judged just because they come from a bad background. Many went from hiding in the corner of my kitchen to out walking in High Park.”
A dog lover since she was a child growing up with her first beagle, Tippy, Dolores is doing everything she can to help with her small resources. “We’re all volunteers,” she said, referring to herself and other operators of small Canadian shelters who take in dogs from the United States. “No one is making this into a business, we’re just doing it for the love of dogs and saving as many as we can.” In two years, she’s rescued and successfully adopted 271 dogs to loving permanent homes. The numbers continue to grow every week.
In Honey’s case, a couple applied to foster her and found her so well-behaved that they adopted her within a week. A dog Dolores once told them had the saddest face she had ever seen is now seldom without a smile, especially when she’s bouncing around Trinity Bellwoods, making friends with everyone she comes across. In Doherty’s experience however, the dogs aren’t the only ones who change.
“I hear from so many people about how a dog has changed their life,” she said. “Families who let the dog bring them together. Retired people who now have a reason to get up and do something. People who are so depressed and the dog brings them out to meet friends. Children who learn to be gentle and kind with an animal. In every case a dog makes a difference in the household.”
Donate, foster, or adopt here.
Photos by Alyssa Garrison.