Group reaching to change the lives of rescued dogs

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COLUMBIA - For rescued dogs like Gator, a recently adopted three-year-old pit-bull/boxer and border collie mix, finding a forever home can be a bit of a challenge.

Gator lived his early years isolated outside on a short chain with only a box covered in plastic for shelter.

After he was rescued by the organization Dogs Deserve Better Missouri he spent months in foster care.

When the group rescued Gator he was full of worms, extremely thin, and suffered separation anxiety along with other phobias.

Melody Whitworth, of Dogs Deserve Better Missouri, said these are all common physical and mental traits of dogs that have been neglected in this manner, which makes it increasingly difficult to find them a home.

"They have not lived in a home environment before so they need to learn basic things like potty training, not to counter surf or proper indoor behavior,"she said.

Dogs Deserve Better Missouri wants to ease the transition from outdoor to indoors for rescued dogs.

It is currently fundraising to build a rehabilitation center next spring.

The center would be laid out like a house with bedrooms, a kitchen, and living room area.

It would also have a 24/7 live-in caretaker to help with dogs who have anxiety, along with several trainers to teach the dogs proper indoor etiquette so they can be adopted more quickly.

Jennen Herbst was Gator's foster mom for seven months and a volunteer at Dogs Deserve Better.

She said she believes a stable home, where someone is there always for the dogs during the transition phase, is crucial when they come off the chain.

"Having a rehab facility would allow us to start working with the dogs immediately," Herbst said. "It gives them that comfort and that sense of love while still being able to work on their training."

The rehabilitation center would act as a prototype for other states and cities to follow.

Missouri is one of three chapters of the charity group, which has another branch in Tennessee and headquarters at the transformed Michael Vick house in Virginia.

The organization's purpose is to free dogs that are chained and penned outside so they can live a better life without confinement.

The group educates owners, and offers free services such as vetting or fencing, and re-homing of the dogs.

"Our mission statement is to bring the backyard dog that's chained, penned, isolated and alone into the home as a family pet, " Whitworth said.

Mary Withrow, who recently adopted Gator, said she has seen a big improvement in his separation anxiety and health.

"He knows we are coming back now," she said. "He's wonderful. He's excellent. "

Withrow and her husband, Rich Withrow, said they believe a facility like the rehab center is well worth it.

"There would be a lot of safe dogs, " Mary Withrow said. "A lot of dogs that want that love but never got the chance to have it."

If you wish to donate Dogs Deserve Better Missouri has more information on its website.