Each year, nearly 1.5 million pets in animal shelters are euthanized, according to the ASPCA. With the pet overpopulation crisis severely impacting animal rescue groups across the country, one local organization has formed to help combat this issue — while bringing adoptable dogs to the Milwaukee area.
When Ryan Olson first founded Rescue Gang in 2014 at the age of 23, he wasn’t planning on creating a large-scale operation — the focus was simple: just save some dogs. With the help of a small but committed crew, Rescue Gang was formed as a non-profit organization in Olson’s two-bedroom apartment. The initial intake was a small group: only 17 dogs. But as the organization grew thanks to the assistance of volunteers and foster homes, over 250 dogs have since been saved from overcrowded, “high-kill” shelters across the United States. Rescue Gang focuses its efforts primarily in the Southern portion of the country, where a lack of resources and education prevents many pet owners from spaying or neutering their animals.
“We go to shelters and sometimes the dogs there have days or even just hours before they are euthanized and we take them,” Olson said. “We have spent days calling around the entire United States and then we get a feel for who needs help the most.”
With the help of the organization’s eight board members and nearly 120 volunteers, Olson was able to move Rescue Gang into a permanent facility located at 4634 W. State St. While this location is generally not open to the public (though Olson noted it is possible that adoption events could be scheduled there in the future), it serves as an intake facility for the dogs arriving from out of state, as well as a centralized location for the organization’s members and — if necessary — a place to temporarily kennel a small number of dogs.
The Milwaukee metro area has a number of animal rescue groups, but Rescue Gang’s fast rise in visibility has made many residents take notice of the organization. Olson attributes this, in part, to the dedication of the staff and volunteers — along with community assistance.
“We don’t receive any big funding whatsoever. Sometimes it’s a struggle and sometimes it isn’t,” Olson said. “There are no paid staff. We’re all volunteers. And when we take in dogs, we’re at our facility for like four straight days. We’re up there until midnight doing paperwork and then up again at 6 a.m. walking the dogs.”
Once the dogs complete the intake process, which includes a behavioral assessment, they are placed in foster homes. The length of time that a dog remains in its foster can vary due to the needs of that specific animal, along with finding its ideal home. Rescue Gang is extremely active on social media with promoting dogs available for adoption, which has helped several adopters find their perfect dog.
Earlier this year, Milwaukee resident Katie Shorer found herself searching for a second dog to add to her household. Shorer and her boyfriend already had a young Border Collie named Piper but they began noticing their dog was displaying severe anxiety. After discussing the issue with friends, they decided that adopting a second dog was an option worth exploring to possibly help Piper.
Shorer began an intensive search of dogs available at numerous animal rescue groups in the area but had difficulty finding “the one.” It was a stroke of fate when she noticed a dog named Ellie featured on Rescue Gang’s social media.
“I had been following Rescue Gang on Facebook and I saw a video that Ryan had posted of him cuddling and playing with Ellie,” Shorer said. “A lot of her mannerisms reminded me so much of Piper and I was just like ‘I think that’s our dog.’”
After filling out the adoption application, a meeting was immediately set up between Shorer, her boyfriend, his son, Piper and Ellie. It was clear from the start that Ellie was meant to join their family as the two dogs immediately began playing together.
Making Ellie’s adoption extra special was the level of care Ellie received while being fostered by Olson. While Rescue Gang does not typically take in owner surrenders, Ellie was a special case as she was diagnosed with severe mange (a painful skin condition causing itching and irritation) due to the neglect of her previous owners. Ellie arrived at Rescue Gang with a fear of men, no knowledge of house-training and serious medical needs, but she slowly began to prosper under the care of the group.
Olson continues to stay in touch with Shorer and receives regular updates on Ellie. Shorer is also overjoyed to note that Piper’s anxiety issues have disappeared since Ellie’s adoption. She has become a vocal supporter of the organization.
“I like that they are independence, they’re smaller and they’re kind of the ‘rag tag’ adoption crew,” Shorer said. “They seem to really know each dog and say specifically what they’re working on with that dog, and who they’d think the dog would be great with versus not, and I really like that. It was just very no-frills.”
Both Shorer and Olson note that any prospective dog owner should be prepared to participate in some training with their pet. Olson does operate a dog training business in addition to his work with Rescue Gang and serves as a resource to dog owners seeking assistance. Shorer found herself working with him to help Ellie continue to overcome her fear of men, which did take some effort but she insists was worth the commitment.
“Ellie got comfortable with us, we got comfortable with her and she is an integral part of our family now,” Shorer said. “It’s not all sunshine and rainbows — it is work too — but when you put in the work with your dog, you get this fabulous relationship. And they will love [you] forever and ever.”