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On July 31, 2009, exactly 1 year from the date Foster Mum picked me up from the airport, the Contra Costa Times celebrated by putting our picture on the front page of the local newspapers, Antioch News and Brentwood News. That's my kind of present!

Antioch Woman Walks the Bark with Rescue Dogs
By Tammy Hansen

It's easy to wonder why Judy Nguyen would work so hard to save the severely injured or traumatized dogs others might have put down, or worse, thrown away.

At 33, the Antioch woman could be spending her time and money on travel or designer clothes. Instead, she spends it on turning around the dogs nobody wants through her nonprofit Walkin' the Bark Rescue. It started with Iris, a bundle of butterscotch fur so fearful she spent most of her time hiding. Nguyen worked with her and finally found her a family. She ran away, twice. Eventually Nguyen found a place the timid pup could call her "forever home."

What has followed in the past two years was a string of about 150 dogs with a laundry list of issues. There was Laura, a mixed breed born with a twisted ankle ($4,000 to repair). There was Marlee, the epileptic Corgi mix. There was Pa Pi, an elderly Chihuahua and dachshund mix that was left behind when his elderly owners passed away.

And then there is Popeye. A paraplegic, hind-leg amputee Formosan Mountain Dog mix with a serious case of allergies. At $10,000 for everything from a puppy chiropractor to a specialized doggy wheelchair, Popeye represents Nguyen's most expensive endeavor yet. Don't tell Popeye though. One gander at the video of him racing around on two wheels and two paws to keep up at the dog park proves there's a lot of spirit in the tiny, short-haired hound.

Watching him or perusing his photos on www.PopeyeTheDog.com creates an understanding for Nguyen's passion for such dogs. Popeye and his compatriots seem unaware they might not be first choice at the shelter.

"He pushes that wheelchair to its limits," Nguyen says of her current ward. "The first word for him is definitely spunky. He's not all sweetness. He's got a lot of spice in him. He doesn't realize there's anything wrong with him. He has such amazing potential."

Nguyen counts on carefully screened families to foster her rescue dogs. The goal is to socialize them and heal any physical issues before looking for a perfect adoption family and what she calls a forever home. It can take months. She's had Popeye a year. Foster families (usually less than 10 are active at any given time) pay for food only. Bills are paid via donations and a few small grants, and occasionally from Nguyen's pocket. She took a second job to cover Popeye's medical bills.

She's not just a starry-eyed pet lover, though. Nguyen brings a keen sense of marketing to Popeye's Web site, with humorous text that reflects the dog's personality. There's also bluntness to her approach. One video is a how-to instruction for hand "expressing" Popeye's urine and feces; something his new owner will have to do because he is incontinent.

Although most of the dogs aren't as high-maintenance, Nguyen isn't afraid to gently tell a family they aren't ready for one of Walkin' the Bark's unique wards, says friend and fosterer Robin Lara of Sacramento. She currently has Pa Pi, her seventh foster dog.

Word is beginning to spread of Nguyen's unique combination of soft heart, promotional savvy and care when choosing a family, Lara says.

"She'll get e-mails from shelters that are desperate pleas," adding that Nguyen fills an important niche in animal rescue. "There are a lot of resources and a lot of people out there equipped to handle the cute little puppies and the dogs without problems."

Nguyen gained her first understanding and training in caring for the other kind of dogs with her own severely ill dog Jasper, who died of lymphoma. Now, she concentrates on helping dogs from shy Iris to spunky Popeye find a way and a place in the world.

"I get so much satisfaction watching these kinds of dogs over time," she says.

Walkin' the Bark Rescue
  • WHAT: Animal rescue group
  • INFO: fosterdogblog.blogspot.com
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    An excellently written story! Next time though, more about me and less about the human, please.

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