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Archive for Sunday, October 14, 2007

New Web site hopes to save dogs slated for death with countdown clock

October 14, 2007

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— Sweet William, a young black Labrador retriever in Illinois, has two days to live.

Sandy, a golden female Jindo in New York, also has just two days left. Kate Hepburn, a tan female boxer in California, has 18 days to live.

On Saturday, these were some of the dogs in shelters across the country slated for death - their fate posted on a Web site that aims to save their lives by offering them for adoption.

Each is tagged with a death date set by a shelter - and a countdown clock showing the days, or hours, until the animal is destroyed.

Dogsindanger.com works with more than 120 shelters nationwide that destroy dogs. How much time the dogs get before death varies from state to state. In New York City, for instance, a stray dog must be kept a minimum of three days, while a shelter has the legal right to immediately destroy an animal that is abandoned there by its owner.

About 4 million dogs are put to death each year in the United States, by injection or gas.

In the three weeks since the site has been up, dozens of dogs have found new homes. Their photos are posted on a section of the site marked "Success Stories." The images of dogs that didn't make it adorn the site's "In Memoriam" wall.

"It's not the fault of the shelters," said Alex Aliksanyan, a pet adoption advocate who made money in the Internet travel business. "They don't like doing this, but they have to abide by the law, which requires a shelter to control its animal population."

Aliksanyan spent a half-million of his own dollars to start The Buddy Fund Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates the site and is named after his miniature American Eskimo dog.

"I've done well, and it was time to give something back," said the 50-year-old Turkish-born entrepreneur of Armenian heritage. "So I thought, let's bring the story of these animals dying quietly in these shelters to the public and say, 'Can you do something?"'

He hired a half-dozen staffers to manage and market the site. Shelters post information about each dog directly, with daily updates and information on how each shelter can be contacted. Aliksanyan ships out free digital cameras and software for the task.

A shelter can sometimes delay a dog's death date - if it has room in its kennel and few new strays coming in. A death date can get moved up, too, if the shelter becomes overcrowded.

The adoption service is free both for shelters and people looking for pets, allowing users to search by location, breed or time until death.

The in-your-face site, Aliksanyan said, "is not a place to sit with your 6-year-old and say, 'This one's going to die, that one is going to die."'

He said he is driven by the philosophy of the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, whose words are posted over the "In Memoriam" page: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."

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