Story by Guest Contributor Taylor Stensrud. Photos by Jan Osborn.
Addiction strips away everything. One by one, all those who love us have no choice but to leave. But there is often one who stays with us unconditionally. One who loves us when we can’t love ourselves; one we can’t— and won’t—leave behind. Our beloved dogs.
Alcoholics and addicts seeking in-patient treatment have had very limited options regarding the care of their dogs. In many cases they either place them in an unhealthy environment or surrender them to a shelter.
Dogs Matter, a Dallas-based nonprofit founded in 2014, offers a different choice. They are the only non-profit organization to provide temporary dog foster care placement and supportive services specifically for addicts and alcoholics in recovery. Dogs Matter understands the great need that exists for their services in the local recovery community, not just here in Dallas but all over the country, for those willing to seek treatment for substance use disorder.
Stephen Knight, Founding Executive Director, says, “I cannot tell you how many times we hear people tell us they wish they’d known about us sooner because they or a friend/family member desperately needed to go to treatment but refused to abandon their dog. They ended up not going treatment which can be detrimental to them and their dog’s quality of life.”
The choice to hand over a dog, even if temporary, is often the single biggest objection a dog owner has who is facing an extended in-patient treatment program for alcohol or substance use disorder. Over 90% of pet owners consider their pet part of the family. So, knowing their dog will be cared for in a safe and loving foster home eases any added stress allowing the owners to focus all their energy on healing. They also know they have the most incredible reunion waiting at home for them on the outside when ready. “I’m a therapist, a substance abuse counselor, and I’ve worked with many people that have had a second chance,” Stephen says. “It is hard getting through the first year making new relationships work. We have found that the ones that have a dog, and can be part of their recovery, are staying clean and sober longer.”
Upon successful treatment, Dogs Matter provides a 12-month Aftercare Program ensuring the owners maintain a healthy environment for their dog while staying clean and sober. Dogs are amazing companions not only because they love us unconditionally, but because they’re an incredible source of comfort in our darkest days. For people like Chas J. who entered a nine-month residential recovery program, knowing that his dog, Porkchop, would have a loving temporary home relieved his biggest concern.
Several research studies have been conducted showing evidence of how a companion animal or pet can help a person manage their mental health, which goes hand in hand with addiction. Animals have been proven to treat and even prevent various mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. Dogs specifically can help to reduce loneliness, create social opportunities, lower blood pressure, and provide a sense of purpose in a seemingly hopeless situation.
Reuniting owners with their dogs is of utmost importance for Dogs Matter. In 2019, 82% of their clients were reunited with their dogs after treatment, and not a single dog had to be surrendered to a shelter through their program. “Dogs Matter serves anywhere from 60 to 80 dogs, a year. Unfortunately, we have to turn away probably at least that because of the lack of foster families,” say Stephen. “Foster families are the core of our program. It’s so hard to say no, or to see somebody have to stay in the streets and not be able to get their dog to us because we have no room.”
Dogs Matter receives an average of four new dog surrender applications every week on its website and from direct phone calls or emails. The demand can be overwhelming for the team, constantly searching to partner with enough foster families to handle all the requests.
Dogs Matter has a continuous need for more amazing foster families, so they are always looking for new applicants. You can apply to become a foster via their online fostering application. The typical foster period is about 90 days.
Dogs Matter is fully supported by donations. They participate in several educational and fundraising events each year including LifeWalk, North Texas Giving Day, Dine Out for the Dog, and various recovery-related vendor exhibitions to help raise awareness. They also will have their first annual major fundraising event planned for early Fall 2020 with Texas Dog Magazine.
Plans are in the works to expand to other major cities in the very near future if certain fundraising goals are met this year. Dogs Matter is making a huge difference in the lives of people and animals every day.
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