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Backstory: Giving every dog its day

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 6, 2006


It's the thought of their fear that troubles him most. Homeless dogs are Randy Grim's passion. Whether caged in shelters or running wild on the street, the dogs consume most of his waking hours. At night, he says, he often can't sleep because "their faces haunt me." They're afraid almost all the time, Mr. Grim says. "And when I look at them, I see me."

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Grim, founder of St. Louis-based Stray Rescue, is a most unlikely crusader. "I'd actually rather be a recluse," he cracks.

A self-described "poster boy for panic disorder." Grim is made anxious by new faces, public spaces, elevators, and driving. He worries about germs on doorknobs and is subject to panic attacks in crowded stores.

But when it comes to dogs, fear has no sway. Grim cruises regularly through the kind of urban blight armed police officers prefer to avoid. When necessary, he tosses harsh words at street toughs. And several times daily, he kneels among packs of stray street dogs - dogs with gunshot wounds, dogs missing limbs, dogs bleeding from open wounds. He offers them bits of hot dogs, cubes of cheese, and - to any who will allow it - gentle caresses of love.

He has been bitten, but not often. It's harder to get close to most of these frightened strays than to be bitten by them, he insists. And even the aggressive ones, he believes, are remarkably responsive to a kind and fearless approach.

Grim says he can't pinpoint an exact moment when rescuing dogs became his life's work. He began saving stray dogs and cats as a child and, in a way, it's just always been with him. He worked for a time as a flight attendant, then quit to open his own dog-grooming shop. But, distracted by the sight and thought of stray dogs, he couldn't keep his mind on business. Soon, it became his cause. He discovered where they lived, and learned to watch them, woo them, and, when necessary, trap them.

By 1998, Grim was working full time for Stray Rescue, his own nonprofit organization and shelter. Insisting he has no organizational skills, Grim says, "I have no idea how I did it."

But despite his plea of incapacity he now heads up a network of two no-kill shelters, 200 volunteers, and five employees. He appears on TV, has been the subject of a book - "The Man Who Talks to Dogs" by Melinda Roth - and has written one of his own, "Miracle Dog."

Much of this has been excruciating, he says, for a man who detests hearing himself praised and who mostly yearns for a place to hide. But, he reminds himself, public exposure and the support it has brought have been key to his ability to rescue more than 5,000 stray dogs since 1991.

In August 2003, a friendly but homeless young basenji mix with pointy ears and melting eyes was given a lethal dose of gas at St. Louis's city animal shelter. For reasons that no one understands, the dog survived - although the other dogs in the gas chamber with him perished.

Stunned shelter workers offered the dog to Grim, who named him Quentin. The next morning, Quentin appeared on the Today Show. Adoption offers poured in from as far away as London and Tokyo. But Grim decided Quentin would stay with him and become a "spokesdog" for his unwanted brethren.

And so he has. Photogenic and poised, Quentin is a celebrity attracting broad audiences to whom Grim can recite facts he longs to make better known: In the US between 5 million and 12 million dogs and cats are euthanized yearly. Fewer than 1 in 3 animals in shelters find a new home. Adoption, spaying, and neutering of pets are the answer, say animal rights supporters.

Yet as grateful as Grim is for the wave of compassion that made Quentin a star, it's hard for him not to be bitter that almost none of Quentin's 700 would-be adopters were interested in other dogs - and Grim has plenty to offer.