How a Pet Search Turned into a Mission to Help Rescue Dogs

Soon after adopting her first dog, Nina Roedeler became a dedicated volunteer for Friends with Four Paws, a nonprofit that finds home for rescue dogs.

Posted in , Jun 25, 2018

Nina poses with some of her canine friends

On a rainy Saturday morning in Queens, New York, Nina Roedeler, 39, walks to Astoria Park, carrying only a cell phone and a water bottle. It’s a drizzly, overcast day, and not many people are out. She savors the quiet. It won’t stay that way for long. A little before 10 a.m., she approaches a folding table set up on a small patch of grass.

“Morning, Jen!” Nina greets the volunteer who will handle signing people in and out. They chat for a few moments until a plain white van pulls up.

“Here we go,” Nina says, walking over to the van. “Good to see you, Doug. How was the drive?”

“Not too bad,” Doug says. “None of these guys are yappers, so it was actually an easy trip.”

Together, they head to the back of the van. Nina pulls the doors open, scanning each of the securely stacked black crates. This is the reason she’s here: the dogs.

Nina didn’t have dogs growing up. She had a rabbit for a short time, but that was all her family had room for in their small apartment in Germany. It wasn’t until she moved to New York City as an adult that the desire for a dog took root. She perused the adoption website Petfinder every day after work, looking for the right pup to welcome into her life.

Toby, a dachshund with sandy brown fur that made him look like a teddy bear, caught her eye. She arranged a meet-and-greet. “He was so cute and we got along so well that I decided to take him home immediately,” Nina says.

Then the full responsibility that she had taken on hit her. What if she couldn’t take care of him? What if he didn’t like her? She worried she had made a rash decision—until she took Toby for his first walk the next morning.

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“As soon as he got to the park his tail was wagging and he was full of curiosity,” Nina said. “I thought, If he was dumped by a family and can be happy, then I can certainly stop worrying about being a good pet owner.

Hurricane Sandy hit. Nina opened the newspaper one morning and was shocked to read that thousands of dogs had lost their homes because of the storm. “What should we do?” she asked Toby. But in her heart, she already knew. She contacted the organization mentioned in the paper and volunteered to foster. A week later Nina picked up C.C., a Jack Russell terrier, emaciated and too scared to interact with Toby or other dogs at the park. She was only supposed to look after C.C. a few weeks tops, until a permanent home could be found. But those few weeks stretched into eight months, enough time for Nina to realize she really enjoyed fostering.

After C.C. moved in with her forever family, Nina saw a posting on Facebook. A dog needed to be picked up from its foster home in Yonkers and driven to its new home in Astoria. “I just thought, Why not? I have a car and I can help,” Nina says.

The organization she did the pickup for was Friends with Four Paws, a nonprofit that rescues dogs from high-kill shelters in Oklahoma, takes care of their vaccinations and medical needs, then places them in permanent homes across the country.

Nina discovered that Friends with Four Paws desperately needed help. Soon she was spending her weekends transporting dogs and supplies all over New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. From Chihuahuas to Labs, at times Nina had as many as five dogs in her compact car. She began calling herself “the dog chauffeur” and even upgraded to a family-size car so she could fit more furry travelers.

When the adoption coordinator position for Friends with Four Paws opened up, Nina was the obvious choice. Now she arranges and coordinates the transports from Oklahoma, as well as where the dogs will be placed. She has helped the transports grow from seven dogs a month to 30 and spends most of her time interviewing potential foster families and matching dogs with possible owners. Once a month she hosts Transport Day in Astoria Park, where the families can pick up their dogs. “It’s my favorite day of the month.” Nina says. “I feel like Santa Claus!”

The van on this rainy morning was carrying 31 dogs that had just been driven 27 hours to meet their new families. Once the foster families start arriving, things get chaotic. Nina is a blur of motion. She walks dogs, hands out gift bags and chats with everyone who comes by.

“It’s hectic,” she admits. “I’m trying to make sure the dogs don’t get loose and that they’re fed and comfortable while I check that the foster families have all the supplies they need.”

A couple approaches. “We’re here for Cookie?” the woman, Erika, says. “Yes!” says Nina, hopping into the back of the van and going straight to one of the smaller crates to get Cookie, a dachshund-pug mix. “She is so sweet. You’re going to love her!”

Erika picks up Cookie and immediately feels a connection. “We expected her to be scared,” she says. “But the minute she came out of the van she was already wagging her tail. Nina was really attentive to our concerns and found the perfect dog for us to adopt.”

Also in this transport is Livy, a Rottweiler who was found with a hole in her head several months earlier. She’d been attacked by a mountain lion. Nina set her up to be adopted by a man who had recently lost his dog.

Over the next few hours the crates in the back of the van empty. Nina packs up the remaining supplies, chats with Doug about the long drive back to Oklahoma and makes sure the park is litter-free. With Lottie—a dachshund-terrier mix that she and her fiancé agreed to foster from this transport—by her side, she heads home to Toby and her other dog, Lana, a dachshund mix.

What started as a simple search for a pet turned into an unexpected mission for Nina, one that she doesn’t plan on giving up anytime soon. “In an ideal world I wouldn’t need to do this because every dog would have a home,” she says. “But as long as these vans keep arriving, I’ll be waiting.”

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