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From One Camp to Another: An Interview with Camp Happy Tails Rescue

Regina is the Founder and Director of Camp Happy Tails NYC Rescue – our June 2023 Brand Partner. Regina converted her own home into the Rescue and Sanctuary of these pups’ wildest dreams, and her rescue is responsible for saving the lives of close to 400 dogs to date. We took the opportunity to ask her a few questions and learn more about this organization she has dedicated her life to, and the dogs who have made a life-long impression on her along the way:

1. When did you start Camp Happy Tails Rescue, and what inspired you to start?

Back in 2014, I was on Facebook and I read a story about how they euthanize dogs in shelters. I learned that there’s an average of 8000 dogs and cats euthanized in the USA on a weekly basis and because the shelters are understaffed and under-funded, the euthanasia isn’t done humanely. These dogs aren’t in a quiet place being held by their family as they go, they are euthanized with a “heart stick.” A syringe with a big needle. They drive the needle through the chest wall – so it’s very painful – and inject directly into the heart, which burns until the heart stops. There’s no sedation, it’s noisy and crowded and they’re afraid. Some of those dogs are pregnant momma dogs, because the last thing the shelter needs is more puppies. Once the mom is dead, her babies die one-by-one inside of her. As someone with great compassion for animals and as a mother, this had me devastated. I decided I had to do something, because if I wasn’t part of the solution, I was a part of the problem. Well first, I stayed home and cried for three days. But then I went to the gym and I ran into a trainer who I knew was an advocate for pit bulls. I asked her- what can I do? She said “start volunteering.” So I started volunteering, doing home visits and transports. But I wanted to spend more time with the dogs, so I started to foster. My first foster was this little gray, fluffy thing. For six weeks, he was mine! When I dropped him off at his adopter, I cried. Took in another foster and another – then a litter of three puppies, then a litter of five puppies, then I blinked and I had 15 dogs in my house! At one point I had 28 dogs in my house. It got to the point where my fostering was taking over my life, and some things have to change. I asked myself – how much of my home do I want to dedicate to rescue, and how much do I want to have for myself. So I redid my fencing, installed canine grass, built an enclosure for heat in the winter, and more renovations and then I officially opened Camp Happy Tails Rescue in 2018.

2. You house these dogs on your own property, right? What does that look like and how many dogs do you have right now?

Yes, all of the dogs are housed on my own property. We have upstairs dogs and downstairs dogs – typically the smaller dogs lives upstairs. Right now, we have 11 dogs who are available for adoption, plus my 3 dogs and the 5 dogs that belong to Javon Joshua, my Supervisor of Camp Operations.

3. How large is your staff?

I have a staff of 5 who rotate though out the week, plus a number of volunteers. I have 2 people per shift, each shift is 3 hours long, and there are 3 shifts a day. It generally shakes out to be: two paid staff members every morning, one paid staff + one volunteer every afternoon, and then the same in the evenings. Alessia (Camp Canine’s Back of House Manager) was a student intern who stayed on to become a staff member!

4. Do any of the dogs sleep in bed with you? 

Always my 3 personal dogs. My pack of 3 are all small Shih Tzu-Bichon mixes. The ‘upstairs dogs’ are usually our personal dogs, and any small adoptable dogs that we don’t want to integrate with the bigger guys downstairs for whatever reason. All the dogs that are downstairs get crated, the dogs that don’t do well in the crates will sleep in my office, and the rest will sleep in bed with me! I think I’ve had as many as 8 in my bed at one time. 

5. What does ‘a day in the life’ look like for you?

The alarm goes off at 7am and I get up to administer medication to the dogs who need it. Two of our long-term dogs (one has epilepsy and the other is a senior dog who gets a calming supplement) always get their medicine in the morning. By 7:40am we’re getting all the “upstairs dogs” outside. While they’re out, the morning staff is already in and feeding the downstairs dogs. At 8am, all the upstairs dogs come back in and then the downstairs dogs go out. Around this time, one staff member is expressing Eddie, cleaning him up and getting him into his wheels. Meanwhile I’m inside making the “upstairs dogs” breakfast. Once all of the dogs are walked, someone goes inside to do clean up (crates, floors, dishes, laundry) and by 11am, all the dogs come in for a 2 hour nap time. For nap time, they all have treats ready for them in their crates, which they rush to! That’s when upstairs dogs go out again. The next doors neighbor’s two dogs come around this time (they adopted them from us, so they’re always welcome back – because “once a Camper, always a Camper”!) and then the cycle starts all over again – outside playtime, indoor nap time. We start dinner prep so that everyone is fed before 7pm, then everyone’s in bed by 10pm.

6. What keeps you going when things get hard?

Lately it has been hard. The financial stress of trying to maintain, especially in the current economic climate. Last year we had a few emergency vet instances – a series of $10k+ hits. The stress and the worry always comes from the finances; but when I look outside and I see all these dogs, happy and healthy and running around and truly living their best lives while we find their forever homes … and when I think about the alternative and what could have been in store for them … I just try to focus on the gratitude for what we’ve been able to do and give. 

7. What is a really memorable rescue story that ends in a happy tails that you’d like to share with our readers?

We’ve had so many! But the one that comes to mind is Rachel. Rachel came to us from Texas; she was with us for about a month when a volunteer was walking her and another dog right after Thanksgiving. Some people leave food out for the feral cats in our neighborhood and the two dogs this staff member was walking started pulling toward this food. The staff member ended up tripping and falling, which spooked Rachel and she was able to get out of her harness. In a second, she was gone. I got the call that she had gotten loose and I came rushing home. She initially went back to the house, but a car spooked her enough that she bolted again. We start following her around the neighborhood and back into a nearby cemetery, but it’s clear that she’s in ‘fight or flight.’ She’s not recognizing anyone, she’s just bolting. Eventually, we lose her entirely. We searched for days, put up signs and hired a tracker. Three days later, someone spotted her back by the cemetery. The tracker dog smelled her bedding and he took off after her scent. We followed – into the woods and the brush. They set up a trap and motion cameras, and then we go home for the night. That night I’m making dinner and I hear scratching. I look outside to see that Rachel is outside the gate, pounding on the door with her paws. I don’t want her to spook so I come out very slowly and say “hi Rachel, you’re back!” I reached slowly from the other side of the gate and grabbed her collar – I had her, but now I’m draped over the gate, holding her collar while she’s on the other side. Luckily my neighbor across the street who was aware of Rachel missing came up behind her quietly, grabbed her, opened the gate, shoved her in and closed the gate behind her! She was finally back! Right before she went missing, someone had applied to adopt her. That day, I had to call them and say she’s missing; but luckily I got to make the call to let them know that she was back if they were still interested. She ended up being adopted and she’s now a therapy dog who lives across the street from the beach! Her parent brings her to school, dresses Rachel up, and even lets her run off-leash on the beach. It was a very happy ending.

8. What sort of help do you need most from your supporters? 

Financial. We need financial support and then of course we need help getting the dogs adopted. But without financial support, we can’t take in any more. And without space, we can’t take in anymore. The only way we make space is by getting them adopted.

You can make a monthly subscription or one-time donation to Camp Happy Tails here.

You can check out their Amazon wishlist here.

And you can follow them on Instagram here.

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