- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - At the Mat-Su Borough Animal Care Facility on Sunday morning, Rachel Reese set up two portable lights, unzipped a canvas bag crammed with animal-sized cowboy hats, bow-ties and a cardboard sign that read “Free Hugs.” Then she readied herself for her rambunctious, leashed clients: the dogs of the animal shelter.

These are the dogs she hopes to put on the fast-track to adoption by posting their photographs on her Facebook page: Alaskan Shelter Dogs. You might call her a dog publicist.

“It’s probably the most rewarding thing in the world,” Reese, 35, said. “Hearing the stories about how someone saw the dog on the page and they go and meet the dog and the dog has helped them and made their family whole.”

Cute animal pictures have become a viral phenomenon online (see BuzzFeed), and Reese has tapped into that unending fascination to forward her cause. Alaskan Shelter Dogs has grown into an organic networking site with nearly 8,400 fans. Reese uses the platform to share her photographs, as well as advertisements for shelter dogs from all over the state. She’s made lots of successful matches.

Reese said she just needs that one right person to come across her online page, so the dogs can find their “forever homes.” Once, Reese shared a photograph of a dog up for adoption in Houston, a man from Girdwood saw it and drove 95 miles north.

“It’s just interesting how this networking thing works,” she said. “I’m only a small part.”

Reese first started volunteering at the animal shelter three years ago. In the modest Palmer building, tucked between a landfill and a recycling center, she ran with the dogs in the shelter’s fenced-in backyard. Reese had just lost her own dog, an Alaskan Malamute named Ingrid to leukemia.

“When you love somebody that much, you don’t just stop loving them, but you have all that love and that love has to go somewhere,” she said. “Instead of just internalizing it all, I thought I’m going to put this love into other dogs who need help and who need attention.”

On Sunday, she brought out a 4-year-old Akita/ pit bull terrier mix, Bullwinkle. Bullwinkle raced around the shelter’s grassy patch, tongue-out and tireless.

“Come on, bro. Hey, bro,” Reese cheered, as she clapped her hands at the animal abandoned back in February.

She tries to take more photographs of the dogs who have been at the shelter for longer. The Humane Society of the United States published countrywide shelter and adoption estimates for 2012-13, reporting that there are about 3,500 animal shelters in the United States. Each year, between 6 and 8 million cats and dogs enter shelters and about 2.7 million are euthanized.

Reese tossed Bullwinkle treats and crouched around the yard, clicking away on her camera, an upgraded one she spent about six months paying off. Reese has also invested in photography books and spends hours sorting through and editing photographs when she’s not volunteering or working as a massage therapist.

Reese can’t help not bringing her work home. She shares a house with her fiance and six dogs. There’s Tank, Lucy, Sage, Johnny, Shiloh and Shadow, five Alaskan huskies and one Malamute-mix.(backslash)

Bullwinkle’ pranced around the confines of Reese’s makeshift studio while she guarded the lighting, sneaking a few photographs. She hopes someone will see the brown-faced dog on Facebook and take him home.

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Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.adn.com

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