By Mecca Ray-Rouse

Approximately 3.3 million dogs enter U.S. shelters each year. Sadly, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 670,000 of those dogs never make it out.

Fortunately, advocates like Liesl Wilhardt are doing their part to bring those numbers down.

Wilhardt started Luvable Dog Rescue in 1999 by fostering pit bulls out of her home. These dogs came from the local community, either from 1st Avenue Shelter (formerly LCARA) or from individuals who could no longer care for their pit bull. After a few years of paying for spays, neuters, and medical expenses out of her own pocket, Wilhardt reached out to David Atkin, a nonprofit attorney, to help set up Luvable as the first nonprofit dog rescue organization in Eugene.

As other dog rescue groups began to form in Eugene, Wilhardt turned her attention to rescuing dogs outside of Oregon. She began working especially with rescues in California, primarily in Southern California due to the overpopulation of dogs in that area. She focused her attention on rescuing dogs that were on death row and had no other options.

Over the years, Luvable has grown into a 55-acre no-kill sanctuary for pit bulls and little dogs. Luvable also rescues pregnant dogs and has a dedicated “puppy staff.” Every dog Luvable rescues gets a lifetime commitment: If the adoption doesn’t work out, Luvable will take the dog back.

“We really don’t want any of our dogs to wind up unwanted in a shelter system again, ever, which is why we put so much time and emphasis on placing them in the first place,” Wilhardt says. Her group also offers a week-long “sleepover period,” where families can see if the dog is a good fit. This type of trial period has since been adopted by several other animal rescues.

“During that time, we are available to [help walk] them through the transitional phase—lending supplies, giving dog training and behavioral advice, etc.—while we all feel out if it is indeed the right home for that dog,” says Ashley Olson, Luvable’s manager and director of adoptions.

Luvable prides itself on not looking like a shelter. With dogs living in communal cottages, they are able to “have a more home-like experience while they are waiting for their forever homes,” Wilhardt says. And with walking trails in the woods on the property, the pit bulls get structured daily walks by experienced staff while approved volunteers are able to walk the little dogs.

Along with offering a new life to dogs who were once on death row, Luvable also helps people in the community who need help getting their dog spayed or neutered. Luvable donates money to Willamette Animal Guild (WAG), Pro-Bone-O, and Stop Pet Overpopulation Today (SPOT).

Moving forward, “Luvable would really like to focus on spay and neuter services and work more with local groups to make that an option for everyone in our community that needs it,” Wilhardt says.

Luvable has become a role model for its high-quality care of rescue dogs.

“We want to provide our community with wonderful dogs,” Wilhardt says, “and provide advice, guidance, and dog training to the families and the dogs.”