Louise Anderson Nicolosi tightened her grip on the handle of the brass bell and, like a town crier, shook it until she had everyone’s attention.
“Guess how many dogs have been adopted so far today?” yelled this woman with a British accent and a head of short, curly blonde hair.
“One hundred!” came a shout from the groups between encampments among the shiny luxury cars in the Inskip Motors showroom. Many were seated cross-legged on the floor, cuddling dogs in their laps. Others stood with dogs on leashes. This was a gathering of well-mannered dogs and people.
“Higher!” Anderson Nicolosi said.
There was the silence of disbelief.
“One twenty-five!” someone ventured.
“Higher!” Anderson Nicolosi said.
This time people were excited.
“One fifty!” came the shout, and Anderson Nicolosi ended the guessing.
With an hour still left to what was the state’s largest dog adoption day on Sunday, Anderson Nicolosi said 197 dogs had new homes. By the time it was over, more than 220 were spoken for by the end of the day.
Anderson Nicolosi is an animal physical therapist who came to this country from England. She said the documentary “One Nation Under Dog” profoundly changed her life and that of many more dogs. She described a scene in the film where dogs are forced into a steel container resembling a dumpster. She said the barking, whining and scratching of the animals was clearly audible. Her eyes well up and she breathes deeply before continuing the story. She apologizes for becoming so emotional.
She said the container is a gas chamber. Slowly, the barking diminishes until everything is silent. Then the container is lifted and the bodies of the dead dogs slide into the open end of a truck for disposal. That scene was recorded somewhere in the American South.
“I cried for five days, and I said to myself, ‘I have to do something about this,’” she said.
After attending a four-day conference in Utah this March, Anderson Nicolosi founded Always Adopt. She worked quickly, organizing the first statewide dog adoption day for May 4. A total of 130 dogs were placed on or soon after the event.
But there’s more to her crusade than placing dogs with good homes. She wants to stop the flow of unwanted dogs in the South through education, spaying and neutering and legislation to outlaw killing dogs.
But she is also a realist. She knows she can’t do it alone. On Sunday, more than 120 volunteers assisted the event that started at 10 a.m. Sixteen animal rescue groups were represented. Many of them brought dogs for adoption. In addition, 10 dog trainers, 10 veterinarian technicians and two veterinarians volunteered their time.
Rescue groups from as far away as Arkansas with dogs from southern kill shelters participated. They came with air-conditioned trailer trucks carrying nearly 150 dogs.
Before the event, Anderson Nicolosi posts photographs and descriptions of the dogs on the Always Adopt website, so many of the people come looking for a specific dog.
Nicolosi plans to have three statewide adoption days annually. The next is planned for Clark Farms in Charlestown in November. She said they enable people to meet dogs they have seen on websites and puts them in contact with organizations that will assist them with their new pet.
“We want to set them up for success,” she said.
When asked how she has managed to pull off what she’s done, Anderson Nicolosi says, “divine intervention,” and then credits so many others who have helped.
“No one says no,” she assured.
Looking around at volunteers from across the state, Anderson Nicolosi concluded, “Everybody gets a huge uplift from this.”
One of those was Bethany Hickey, president of Mutts 4 Rescue. Hickey founded the rescue operation eight years ago, after working with a group devoted to Labradors.
“I didn’t realize what it would be,” she said of her work. Most of the dogs she has for adoption come from the South.
Like Anderson Nicolosi, Hickey says it’s a different culture there.
“They’re still property, not family,” she said.
She said they are sold on the side of the road, like items in a yard sale. They are considered disposable when no longer wanted.
Veterinarian John Turco has seen an influx following Hurricane Katrina. The Internet has played a huge role as well as rescue groups that see that the unwanted dogs are gathered, vaccinated, checked for diseases and, in many cases, spayed or neutered before going up for adoption.
Locally, Turco said, animal shelters see a lot of pit bull mixes and dogs that people put up for adoption because of changed personal circumstances.
While Hickey brought dogs with her, she didn’t formalize any adoptions at the event. She took applications for adoption and, naturally, the dogs were held and cuddled by the applicants. Finalizing an adoption involves checking references and reviewing the circumstances in which the animal will be placed. Most rescue groups charge fees for adoption and depend upon fundraising efforts to cover transportation, vaccinations, food and medical treatments.
Hickey charges $425 for adult dogs and an additional $50 for puppies, which she says still doesn’t fully cover expenses. Hickey finds pros and cons in these massive adoption events.
“People come and fall in love, and it may not be a good match,” she said.
Another drawback is that multiple people may have their heart set on a single dog, as was the case with a terrier-spitz mix named “Bruiser” who didn’t live up to his name. By late afternoon, Hickey had six applications for Bruiser.
On the other hand, she sees the day as raising awareness and eventually successfully placing animals. It was a mission many shared Sunday.