Mindy Farber is excited about the newly renovated farmhouse in Mt. Airy, Maryland: its exercise, bathing, and laundry facilities, and its lack of cages.
Indeed, that is because Muddy Paws Farm – recently acquired by PetConnect Rescue (www.PetConnectRescue.org), a Maryland-based nonprofit dedicated to saving the lives of homeless animals, for which Farber serves as a board member – is something of a halfway house for stray dogs.
For five years, Farber, a Bethesda labor and employment law attorney, has lent both her legal and organizational skills to everything from arranging interstate transportation of shelter dogs in danger of being euthanized to onsite inspections of prospective permanent homes. She conducts much of her related work via computer, making it much easier to dovetail with a busy law practice.
Most of the dogs, Farber explains, come from rural areas ranging from West Virginia to as far south as Georgia, where poverty, natural disasters, and desperation frequently conspire to leave the animals with neither homes nor hope. The animals reach Muddy Paws’ five-acre spread via a network of local shelters and volunteers.
“We’d like to save them all, but we can’t,” laments Farber. “So we do our best – we pick out the ones we think are adoptable, that have good dispositions.” Puppies, she explains, tend to be adopted early, while it can take up to six months to find good homes for the older dogs. And placing pit bulls, she admits, has proven a bit more challenging in the wake of last year’s Tracey v. Solesky decision, in which the Court of Appeals of Maryland branded the dogs as “inherently dangerous.”
Nevertheless, she adds, PetConnect Rescue saves dogs of virtually all ages and breeds, and eventually places them all in good homes across Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia.
Farber helps coordinate a broad network of volunteers to transport the animals to foster homes; the dogs will reside there until they can be placed in permanent homes.( In a handful of cases, dogs are transported to Muddy Paws, where they are left in the charge of a full-time caregiver.)
“No dog is allowed to be adopted until we conduct a home visit,” she says. In addition to criminal background checks, “we look to see if they have fenced back yards – are the fences high enough so that they can’t jump over them? We also look at where the dog would sleep at night.” Other factors taken into consideration include protracted absences of the owner and dog-walking arrangements. She credits her legal training and years of working with clients for her relatively keen intuition in deeming a prospective home fit or not.
Farber, who also sits on the boards of various other charitable organizations, sees her animal rescue efforts as an extension of the same passion for justice that has always driven her involvement in various civil rights matters, particularly regarding women’s issues. Farber also lends her legal experience to PetConnect Rescue, from writing impassioned pleas for help to the organization’s roughly 1,000 (by Farber’s estimate) volunteers to drafting proposed legislation intended to shut down puppy mills.
“Some people can’t understand it,” she says, referring to the time, money, and other resources she puts into canine rescue. “I mean, I do so much for people, too. I make no apologies over this; it just makes you feel like you’re saving lives.”
And while she acknowledges the estimated 600 to 1,000 dogs PetConnect Rescue saves each year is “a drop in the bucket…that’s 600 that would not otherwise be saved.”
Indeed, Farber regards animal rescue as being, in a sense, “another civil rights movement.”
“It’s for living creatures that can’t speak for themselves; you have to speak for them,” she says. “We, as lawyers, have to speak for our clients. These [animals] are clients, in a way.”