Susan Fulcher has spent most of her life making dogs feel good.
For 40 years she has groomed pups, helping pets look their best. It was through the many inspiring animals she cared for, and a beloved Boxer pup of her own, that Fulcher found herself getting more involved with rescue work. What started as fostering a few dogs and cats turned into a non-profit that is dedicated to taking shelters’ hardest-to-place pups and letting them shine in a new life.
Based on a customer’s suggestion, Fulcher started Dharma Rescue, a non-profit animal rescue organization dedicated to taking disabled dogs from high-risk shelters and transforming them into amazing therapy dogs.
“With paralyzed dogs, they don’t get adopted, but I believe that every animal should live to its fullest. They live a longer life with us,” the founder tells PEOPLE.
The program started with Joey, a paralyzed pup who was ready to be euthanized. Fulcher agreed to take the dog in, just in time. Looking at that little dog’s face, she knew Joey was a great guy who could do even greater things, so she looked into therapy dog training.
First, Fulcher found a challenging obedience class for Joey, to make sure he was up for the work. Joey proved he was ready to start doing good, soaring through training and graduating at the top of his class. The next step was getting him certified by Alliance of Therapy Dogs. After a long and thorough evaluation, the little dog, who just a few months ago was on death’s doorstep, was approved to start therapy work.
Now, Dharma Rescue has several dogs who have gone through and aced this rigorous training process. This squad of adorable do-gooders spend their days visiting schools, nursing homes and providing comfort to travelers at Los Angeles International airport. It’s fulfilling work that has created a noticeably positive change not just in people, but in the dogs, too.
“Taking these dogs where their past is just the worst, in situation where they would die without this, and they come into this new world and new life, where they are loved and groomed and get to go out … It’s just in their eyes when they look at you, like they didn’t know that this is what life could be like,” Fulcher shares.
Often in wheelchairs, these therapy dogs attract extra attention when they first arrive, but Fulcher says people quickly see past the differences, stop feeling sorry for the dogs and start treating them like beloved friends.
The ultimate goal of Dharma Rescue is to find forever homes for all of the hard-working therapy pups, preferably with families who will want to continue their therapy work. Through what these dogs do, the group hopes people realize that disabled pets are just as a capable and worthy of love, and that the success of Dharma’s dogs with inspire others to give pups with health issues a chance.
Fulcher sums Dharma Rescue’s entire message up simply: “The way the world is today, people need to start giving and caring,” she says.
To learn more about Dharma Rescue and support their work, visit their website.