Behind the Leash: A Day with Megan Wiewel

Executive director of Almost There: A Mom + Pups Rescue


Almost There Rescue was founded in 2013 by Geri Hormel, who was fostering and volunteering for various rescue organizations throughout the Valley. She saw the greatest needs were space and time for nursing moms and puppies. Geri wanted to provide this and started with one litter in her backyard, which snowballed into a few and continued to grow and operate from an old home before moving to our current building a little more than two years ago. I got involved with the rescue in 2017 as a foster and volunteer. My involvement quickly grew because I saw such a large need and wanted to do whatever I could.


We have appointments at the rescue as early as 7 a.m., so I begin my day by checking my messages to make sure the dogs are back from their foster and made it to their spay or neuter appointments before I head outside with my dog, Coco. I recently moved close to the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, and I like to hike with her. Hiking is a way to clear my head and a nice start to my day. Coco is a big part of my life, and I like giving her as much attention as possible, especially on those long days at the rescue when she is home alone. I try to get all my administrative work done from home because once I am at the rescue, it’s all hands on deck, and I focus on the pressing issues there. Animal rescue is rarely linear, and I thrive in trying to modify the puzzle when the pieces don’t fit perfectly. My position is very creative, as every day is different and full of unique challenges that require innovative solutions.


I touch base with each of the eight department heads every day, as well as our animal care specialists, to find out what is happening with the dogs in their respective areas. Since the rescue is a maternity ward for dogs, we have two animal care specialists for the two different sides of our facility — a quarantine side and the well side. All dogs go through a two-week quarantine process when they come into our care because we have a susceptible population and are careful not to spread disease.

Our management team meets on a biweekly basis, and on the alternate week, we meet with each team member individually. But every day, I connect with the team informally, talking through things a person is going through at that moment. Sometimes these conversations happen on the fly, such as while we are walking to the med room talking through a medical case or in the kennel while working on behavior with a shy dog.

10:30 A.M. >> WHAT’S IN A NAME

We regularly coordinate intakes throughout Arizona, including the county shelters and rescue organizations near reservations. Processing intake is a significant task and includes several team members, because it involves vaccinating, giving the dog a bath, conducting behavior and medical evaluations and taking cute photos. We name every dog, and it can be difficult to name 14 dogs at the same time! We pick names by a theme to stay organized. There are a million themes out there, from TV shows and flowers to sandwiches and Disney characters. We’re always accepting ideas, so if anyone knows good theme names for dogs, we’re in the market!


A big part of our work is stopping the cycle of people with dogs that have accidentally gotten pregnant. It’s overwhelming, and a lot of work for a person or family. We’re lucky to have the resources to take these dogs, help raise the puppies and get them all spayed or neutered. One of our new services is a maternity leave program that allows members of the public with an accidental litter to bring their dog to us. We take temporary ownership of the dog, give them medical care, raise the puppies until they’re weaned, get them spayed or neutered and then return the dog to the owner after it’s been spayed or neutered. Sometimes people don’t have the resources or the money to get their dogs spayed or neutered, and we want to be able to help. It feels good to stop the cycle.


I like to work from our front lobby because I can see what’s going on everywhere, and this is where most movement occurs. It is fun and rewarding to watch excited people come in, disappear into the adoption room and then leave with a new family member. It’s common for adoption appointments to take place on one day because a litter, ranging from three to 14 puppies, will become adoptable at the same time. We provide extensive counseling with potential adopters that includes a complete profile of the dog, so when adopters take them home, they understand who this dog was before they got them and can help them grow into the best dog they can be. We pride ourselves on our Puppy Preschool, a socialization and enrichment program, beginning from the time they come to us until they leave our care. We work with the puppies every day, exposing them to positive experiences — sight, sound, textures — helping them develop into well-rounded dogs that are adaptable, adoptable and fit well with their families.


My workday does not end at the shelter. I come home and spend a few hours tying up loose ends, whether answering emails, fulfilling administrative promises I’ve made to my team or helping with anything pressing for that day before I wind down for the night. One of the things I do to relax is walk with Coco and hang out with her. The rescue doesn’t close until 9 p.m., so I continue to pay attention to what is happening. My job is 24/7, and this includes making sure everything gets closed and the dogs are well at the end of the night.

One thing I’ve learned over the past five-and-a-half years is that it is easy to get caught up and feel like you’re not giving enough, because this is emotional, heart-wrenching work. We’re a small but mighty team with a passion for dogs and a desire to make a dent in the homeless dog population. We will work ourselves to the bone, so it’s important to me that my team understands that self-care is essential, and a separation is needed between work and play.

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About Julie Coleman

Julie Coleman is a contributing writer for Frontdoors Media. She is Principal of Julie Coleman Consulting, providing strategic philanthropy consulting services for individuals, families, businesses, foundations and nonprofit organizations.
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