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A love for saving creatures

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I figured it would be easy to spot Louise Nicolosi, even among the hundreds of people who filled the Balise Toyota garage and wandered through the dealership Sunday. She would be wearing a lime green t-shirt, as were all the Always Adopt Day volunteers, and she would be everywhere. But I didn’t look for green shirts. Rather, I focused on hair. Louise has curly hair that is as springy as her personality.

Louise is the mastermind of Always Adopt, a single-day push to get as many dogs adopted as possible. She came up with the plan after viewing a documentary about kill shelters, where dogs were crowded into a chamber, gassed, and their bodies carried off in a front-end loader for burial. What broke her heart was the loss of life and the whines and scratching of the animals during their final moments.

Louise rallied animal rescue groups. The concept was a super rescue day where people could meet the dogs and, most important of all, take them home. Her initial effort was a success and she has built on that ever since. An estimated 4,000 people turned out to greet, cuddle and pat more than 320 dogs for adoption. Most dogs had come from kill shelters in the south, some arriving in the state as recently as last week.

Fifteen adoption agencies participated in Sunday’s event. Each not only brings dogs they have up for adoption but also volunteers who care for the dogs. All the dogs for adoption had red “adopt me” bandanas around their necks and, as has been the custom, when a dog is adopted a bell is rung to let everyone know another dog is going to a home. When she started Always Adopt, Louise used to ring the bell announcing the total of dogs adopted up to that point.

I guessed she would be doing that again, and it would only be a matter of time before I heard a bell and then caught up with her. On Sunday, a lot of bells were ringing, although Louise wasn’t playing the role of the town crier. As it turned out, each of the agencies had bells, which explained some of the clanking going on.

Dogs can do strange things to people. I found one man letting a pit bull mixed breed lick his face as we wore an expression of total contentment. People of all ages were on their knees or sitting on the floor to be closer to the dogs, and in more than one instance people were lying on the garage floor, which really was very clean, and encouraging dogs to sit on top of them.

In my search for Louise, I found Kim Kalunian and her mother Karen, both longtime volunteers at the East Greenwich Animal Protection League, where we adopted Ollie. Kim, who used to report at the Beacon and now reports and is on air at WPRO Radio, had seen Louise but couldn’t spot her at the moment. I asked Kim what inspired her to invest so much time volunteering to help dogs.

“You have to love dogs more than the average person,” she said. “At the end of the day, you’re saving lives for this effort.”

Yes, she pointed out, the dog is being saved, but she observed the work is also saving human lives. She said dogs bring happiness to people and they are healthier for that.

Kim said some volunteers are in every day working on different aspects of the program, from traveling to the south to save dogs from the gas chamber to caring for the animals, which involves cleaning, feeding, exercising and even some training.

Working with groups in the south that identify shelters where dogs are close to running out of time, volunteers will drive down to make pickups or, as is the case sometimes, be there to get animals flown here.

Predictably, when I caught up with Louise, she was in the midst of addressing some problem. As “top dog,” words that are on her t-shirt, many people gravitate to her for answers.

Louise said the event was running smoother than on previous occasions, which she attributed to “two waves” of people. The first was at about 10 a.m. when people pre-approved for adoption were given the “pick of the pups.” The second wave came at noon when everyone else could meet and adopt the dogs. Dividing the groups reduced traffic and allowed many people to get more one-on-one time with a dog they were considering for adoption.

As Louise like to points out, “there are no cages, no barking, and isn’t that amazing?”

She was right. For all the people and animals, it wasn’t out of control.

Louise likes going fast. She has raced cars, skied hard and paid the price with torn ligaments and knees that are giving out. She is also a people person, which she recognizes.

“I’m connected to people as much as I am to dogs,” she says.

She is also good at motivating others, covering all the bases and understanding what people are looking for. On Sunday, eight trainers and three veterinarians were present. Twenty-eight people did the screening of those signed up early to get adopting approval.

The intent of the Always Adopt Day is to give people the opportunity to bring the family and for them to see first-hand what a possible addition to the family could be like.

Louise said her reward comes in watching faces. Seeing people respond so lovingly to dogs is what it’s all about for her.

It counters those horrors of the gas chamber and its haunting sound of whines and scratching and reaffirms a love of creatures and life.

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