Atlanta’s Dog Rescue Leaders Put Empathy into Practice

Atlanta’s Dog Rescue Leaders Put Empathy into Practice

Area pet shelter executives and veterans share their experiences helping vulnerable animals find "forever homes."

Bosley, the namesake of Bosley’s Place, launched by Jennifer Siegel.
Bosley, the namesake of Bosley’s Place, launched by Jennifer Siegel.

As a child, Lara Weinblatt experienced the healing power of animals firsthand.

Now she believes it is her job to rescue them. Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 10, she recounted the story of how therapy dogs visited her at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta-Egleston Hospital to lift her spirits and keep her company during hospital stays.

Her own family pets helped her deal with anxiety and the insecurity she felt during childhood, and she never forgot how all these special creatures made her feel better. In 2014, after years of volunteering for other rescues, Weinblatt paid tribute to all the animals who had impacted her life by founding Orphan Annie Rescue, a no-kill rescue group in Atlanta that saves dogs from all over the state.

Orphan Annie Rescue’s Lara Weinblatt with her dog Nigel, a hairless terrier.

New York native and serial entrepreneur Jennifer Siegel jumped into saving puppies when she volunteered at Fulton County Animal Control and met a tiny puppy that had been found in a trash can. The mother was nowhere to be found, and the puppy needed to be nursed around the clock.

With no one available to manage his special needs, Siegel took the puppy home, quickly figured out how to bottle feed him and thus began her eight-year commitment to fostering puppies and providing for their every need. Bosley’s Place, which is named after Siegel’s first bottle-fed puppy, was officially licensed a year later, in March 2015, and is dedicated exclusively to rescuing homeless and orphaned neonatal puppies. So far, Siegel has managed to bottle- or tube-feed close to 1,300 puppies.

Lauri Frenkel with her dog, Teddy.

“We are proud that our survival rate is 87 percent,” said Siegel. “Even with all the businesses I’ve started, rescuing puppies is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”

Lauri Frenkel’s diagnosis of PTSD and severe anxiety led her to adopt her first rescue dog, Teddy, a Great Pyrenees.

It also set her on the path to launching her rescue, A Pet’s Purpose. Operating under the motto, “Rescuing People, One Dog at a Time,” Frenkel stresses how meaningful these words are to her. “The dogs I have rescued have saved me and their humans as much, if not more, than we have saved them,” she said. Her rescue focuses exclusively on saving and placing assistance animals for emotional support, therapy and service needs.

Siegel bottle-feeding a puppy at Bosley’s Place.

Weinblatt, Siegel and Frenkel all share a calling to save animals based on their own personal experiences. Collectively, all three rescues have managed to provide safe shelter for thousands of animals that would have otherwise suffered or died without their interventions. Though each rescue is decidedly different in scope, mission and focus, what they have in common is a profound commitment to saving lives, helping others and organizing resources and people.

Orphan Annie Rescue places adoptable animals into “great forever homes where they are safe for life,” said Weinblatt. “We will take back a dog for any reason at any point, though we strive for lifetime placements. We have even helped previous adopters with vet bills when needed.”

The rescue has approximately 20 volunteers, including fosters, who keep the dogs in their homes until a perfect forever home is located. Most of the dogs come from the Northeast Georgia Animal Shelter, located in Lavonia, Ga. Like many rural shelters, they have many healthy, highly adoptable dogs who need homes, but not enough adopters or rescues.

Mollie, a therapy dog adopted from A Pet’s Purpose, visits with students at the University of Georgia.

Orphan Annie hosts many healthy dogs, as well as those with medical needs such as heartworm. In addition, the rescue takes in owner- and breeder-surrendered dogs, saving approximately 200 dogs each year. “We like to partner with other rescues as well, so we can ensure more dogs are safe and find their forever homes,” Weinblatt said.

Recognized as the only rescue in the U.S. with an exclusive focus on orphaned newborns, Bosley’s Place meets a critical need in the animal welfare community.

Thank you note from an Orphan Annie adopter.

As the primary bottle feeder and caregiver of the puppies, Siegel admits she sleeps only a few hours at a time. “Most of the puppies require round-the-clock feeding, and I’ll admit the pace can be exhausting at times,” she said.

Asked about her transition from corporate America to the rescue world, Siegel says, “I am paid in puppy kisses.” With the same energy that made her a successful entrepreneur, Siegel set up Bosley’s Place with a system to ensure that placements last a lifetime.

Lara Weinblatt as a child with therapy dogs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

“All who apply for our puppies are invited to an interview. A ‘meet-and-greet’ with the whole family is then scheduled, followed by a home inspection. We talk to our adopters about positive reinforcement and ask that they have at least a couple of training sessions with one of our recommended trainers. With these parameters in place, we have less than a one percent return rate,” said Siegel.

The goal in placing Bosley’s Place puppies is to create positive, loving relationships that last a lifetime.

Many Atlantans know Bosley’s Place for its puppy parties, held at its facility on South Cobb Drive in Smyrna. Though closed throughout most of the pandemic, the rescue is slowly opening up for parties on a limited basis. For $450, guests may play with puppies to their heart’s content and participate in an art or craft project. Corporate events are also held on- or offsite. All funds raised go to the rescue.

“The puppies benefit from the socialization and the rescue benefits from the support of the community,” Siegel said. Bosley’s Place also hosts puppy yoga sessions and wine events. Bosley’s Birthday Bash, held every year in November, is attended by many in the rescue community, including volunteers, transporters, fosters, animal control officers and supporters.

Siegel got into rescuing animals after meeting a puppy named Bosley that had been found in a trash can.

A Pet’s Purpose founder Lauri Frenkel and her family live on a large farm surrounded by dogs, horses, rabbits, goats, chickens and pigs — all animals that they have saved from an uncertain or grim future. This love for animals and her own experience with her beloved Great Pyrenees, Teddy, led her to launch A Pet’s Purpose three years ago. Working with her daughter, Melanie, she identifies shelter dogs, owner-surrenders and former breeder’s dogs and puppies that have the potential to be good emotional support, therapy or service animals.

In general, according to Frenkel, the qualities they look for in the animals they place include a low to medium energy level, a calm temperament, enjoyment in engaging with people, friendliness with other dogs and a non-aggressive demeanor.

The qualities required for an emotional support dog are different than those needed for a highly trained service dog. “An emotional support dog has a high EQ and is able to readily comfort their person. A therapy dog is trained to go into public settings to bring comfort and joy to people at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, colleges and airports. And a service dog will be trained for a specific job assisting one person with a visual impairment, PTSD, seizures or allergies, among other conditions recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Frenkel explained.

Frenkel wants to be certain that each dog saved by A Pet’s Purpose will be as happy in their new home as their adopter. To meet this goal, each dog spends at least two weeks in her home or in a foster home after vetting, so they can be properly assessed for the best job and home placement.

For example, if a foster dog is prone to becoming carsick, they will not be placed as a therapy animal, which would need to be transported frequently to hospitals or other facilities. Frenkel keeps a list of people who have requested one of her assistance dogs and the type of help required. She also reaches out to other rescues to find good matches for those on her list.

A Pet’s Purpose requires that adopters employ the service of a professional trainer for all service and therapy dogs adopted. Frenkel encourages the training of the emotional support dogs, but does not require it.

To date, A Pet’s Purpose has saved more than 200 dogs. Successful placements include River, a therapy dog at Hirsch Academy, who is the school director’s dog; Cookie, a Goldendoodle now serving as a seizure-alert service dog for a former police officer and Zoe, a three-legged shepherd mix lovingly called a tripod dog, who visits with college students on campus during exams or other high-stress times.

Perhaps the most heartwarming case, according to Frenkel, was the placement of Rosie, a golden retriever mix, who was adopted by a family whose mother had metastatic breast cancer. The young mother of three wanted an emotional support dog to comfort her and her family as they went through treatment. Though the mother passed away shortly after the adoption was finalized, her husband and daughters have found continuing love and support as they raise the dog they had picked out with their mother.

Animal shelters are overcrowded again in 2022 due to COVID, increased evictions, inflation and the economy. In June, the new DeKalb County animal shelter was closed due to overcrowding. Against this backdrop, rescue leaders like Frenkel, Siegel and Weinblatt continue to save lives and provide much-needed homes for dogs. With the continued support of the community, their work can continue.

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