Jennifer Bird has always been fond of animals, so much so, she volunteered at the Animal Rescue League for several years and fostered several animals until they found permanent homes.
A bartender from Bethel Park, Ms. Bird, 31, got even more deeply involved with animals, especially dogs, when she got an email from a fellow dog lover telling her of a pit bull named Dozer, scheduled to be euthanized in a shelter in Warren, Ohio.
"When I drove there to rescue him, I was shocked by the conditions at the shelter and the way they gassed the dogs, which can be a very lengthy process," she said.
Dozer was saved when he came to live with Ms. Bird until he was adopted several months later. More significantly, saving Dozer persuaded Ms. Bird to launch Furkid Rescue in 2008. Since then, the animal-rescue operation has saved the lives of about 100 dogs a year.
"Furkid Rescue is my full-time passion, one in which I'm involved 365 days a year," said Ms. Bird, who gave the organization its esoteric name because she thinks of dogs as "furry kids." "I wouldn't call it a job because no one gets paid."
Ms. Bird said she is constantly caring for her charges, cleaning up after them and taking them to a vet. New arrivals are fully vaccinated and usually spayed or neutered. Currently, there are 15 dogs living in her home awaiting adoption.
Dozer, the pit bull that started it all, was adopted by Kim Zuzek of Canonsburg, along with Nico, another pit bull once owned by Richard Poplawski, who shot and killed three Pittsburgh policemen in 2009. She also took in a three-legged Boston terrier named Margo.
"Margo had mange, was malnourished and had fleas," Mrs. Zuzek said. "While waiting for her to get a prosthetic leg, I nursed her back to health and discovered she was pregnant."
Because Margo had been treated with chemicals to cure her skin problem, four of her five puppies were born with cleft palates, one so severe it had to be put to sleep immediately. Mrs. Zuzek kept two of the most afflicted puppies alive by tube feeding them every three hours for nearly four months.
"It cost $1,000 just to give Margo a C-section," she said.
Eventually, all four of the remaining puppies were adopted. Margo stayed with Mrs. Zuzek for nine months until she was adopted.
"It was very hard for me to give her up," she said. "I plan on going to Philadelphia soon to see one of her adopted pups. Jennifer did the screening, and she's very particular about who gets to make a foster home for one of the dogs."
Furkid Rescue takes in a lot of special needs dogs that other shelters won't accept, such as injured dogs or those that have cancer. "We like to help dogs that don't have a chance anywhere else," Ms. Bird said.
Two months ago, she added another component to her rescue efforts. While on a vacation to Miami, she drove through the Everglades and noticed hundreds of abandoned dogs, which are easy prey for alligators. She began flying them to Pittsburgh for foster home placement. Eventually, she'd like to find enough volunteers who will drive them north.
Currently, Furkid Rescue has about 20 dogs awaiting adoption. These can be viewed online at furkidrescue.org under the "Current Adoptables" link.
The organization also rescues cats (about 15 were saved in 2012), but last year Furkid Rescue also added potbellied pigs to its life-saving agenda.
"Right now pigs are a huge trend," Ms. Bird said. "They're hypoallergenic and extremely smart, but require as much care as a dog. They are indoor pets, house-trained, walk on leashes, get along with cats and dogs and sleep on the couch. People think they remain small, but they can grow as much as 200 pounds, which is why they're often let go.
"We do have a great group of supporters and Facebook fans as well as adoptive families," Ms. Bird said. "We try to give our animals the best foster experience possible, not only for their comfort, but to implement training and make sure they are getting the best care imaginable."
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.