By ErinMarie McKinney
The matts were so large they dangled from the eyes and mouth of the apricot-colored poodle, obscuring his vision and making it difficult for him to eat and drink.
The memory of the little dog shuddering in the back of a cage haunted the social worker. The man saw the dog at the Fairfield County Humane Society shelter while looking for the pets of a family he had been working with. The family had left the area and the man thought they may have left their pets behind He was relieved to find his hunch was right and made arrangements to have the pets taken from the shelter and placed in a home. But it was the little apricot-colored poodle that continued to pull at his heartstrings after he left the shelter. He called Kellie DiFrischia, co-founder of Columbus Dog Connection, a local dog rescue organization, and told her about the dog.
The organization rescued the dog and it was placed with DiFrischia while it waited to be adopted.
Photos of the dog taken shortly after he was rescued from the shelter said it all. "It was one of the saddest, most horrifying things I had ever seen," DiFrischia said of the dog's appearance. The dog, who DiFrischia named Frankie, was taken to a veterinarian where his coat was shaved to remove the matts and he was given routine vaccinations.
"He was a broken little spirit waiting for something harsh to happen to him," DiFrischia said of the then two-year-old dog. "He had been extremely abused and neglected."
Columbus Dog Connection was formed in 1998 by DiFrischia and Mirna Bowman. The all-volunteer group takes in stray dogs, as well as those found in humane societies, abuse and neglect situations and when a dog's owner dies. The dogs are temporarily placed in foster homes until they are adopted. Since the organization was founded, more than 500 dogs have found homes.
All who have met Frankie, including his new owners, Jonie and Rex Birkinbine, of Gahanna, believe his rescue was meant to be. DiFrischia said Frankie symbolizes what her organization is trying to do. "He's truly a rags to riches story," she said. "He went from a horrible situation into a very warm and loving home."
Last February, Mrs. Birkinbine was passing some time at Easton while waiting to pick up her daughter and she heard dogs barking. It was adoption day at Petsmart. "I stopped to see them and fell in love with several," Mrs. Birkinbine said. One of the dogs she fell in love with happened to be DiFrischia's poodle which was not up for adoption. But when DiFrischia heard Mrs. Birkinbine was interested in a poodle she told her another adoption fair would be held the following day at the Petsmart on Sawmill Road and there would be poodles there.
When DiFrischia arrived at Petsmart the next day to prepare for the fair she brought Frankie. The Birkinbine's and their two children, Jill, 13, and Erik, 9, were already there. "As soon as I saw him I fell in love with him," Mrs. Birkinbine said. "All of us did. He was so scared. As soon as I held him he calmed down. He needed a good home and he knew we could give him that."
DiFrischia said Columbus Dog Connection requires prospective owners to fill out a detailed application and background checks are made with an applicant's veterinarian.
The group then has applicants visit the foster home to see if they and the dog are a good match, DiFrischia said. Group members then visit the applicant's home with the dog to make sure it would feel comfortable there and fit in well with the family, she said.
The Birkinbines passed everything with flying colors and on March 1 the family went to DiFrischia's Worthington home to pick up Frankie. DiFrischia and Pam Dickey, also a member of Columbus Dog Connection, had put together a care package of Frankie's favorite toys and a blanket to help make his transition to a new home easier.
After the two women gave the family information about what Frankie did and didn't like, and ways to calm the timid dog's fears, the Birkinbines prepared to leave. Holding Frankie in her arms, Mrs. Birkinbine thanked DiFrischia for the little dog who had brought such happiness in such a short period of time. As Frankie and the Birkinbines left, DiFrischia's and Dickey's eyes filled with tears. "It was pretty emotional," DiFrischia said recently. "The shy and scared ones are always hard to let go because you're so afraid for them. I knew he was going to a wonderful home but I was worried how his first hours would be in a new place. I had gotten pretty attached to him because he'd had such a rough life.''
Eight months later, Frankie is thriving in his new home. "Everyone who has been around him loves him,'' Mrs.Birkinbine said. "He's really developed a personality and I never thought he would. He had been so scarred. But he has come a long way. He's brought so much joy to our family. He appreciates every ounce of love and he gives it back.''
Mrs. Birkinbine said she is impressed with Columbus Dog Connection and their mission. "They are so careful about who they place their dogs with," she said. "What they do is so wonderful and we are so thankful to them for Frankie."
DiFrischia said, "This is why we do what we do. It's incredibly rewarding and we know we are making a difference."
Some dogs rescued by Columbus Dog Connection remain with a foster parent indefinitely. "We don't set out to keep the dogs but if one isn't adopted we'll make a home for them,'' said Joyce Rice, a volunteer who has had Sabrina, a 10-year-old collie-mix, for 15 months. "She's a senior citizen and they are the hardest to place." The elderly man who owned Sabrina had to be placed in a nursing home after developing a brain tumor. "It's sad but true that the smaller, younger dogs are adopted first," said Rice, of the North Side. "Sabrina is a wonderful dog and I'd love to find her a home with an older person who has one dog. She would like that."
One of Columbus Dog Connection's foremost missions is to get out the message for early spaying and neutering. "Too many unwanted dogs are being born and it's unnecessary," DiFrischia said. She said all of the dogs adopted from Columbus Dog Connection have been sterilized. "It's a small step,but it's a beginning," DiFrischia said. "We know it's going to be a long journey to solve all of the problems of abused, neglected and abandoned animals but we're willing to take it one step at a time."
More information about Columbus Dog Connection can be found on their website.
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