Heartwarming, cinema-worthy story of the Dalhart Animal Wellness Group & Sanctuary


Diane Trull, with Meredith Wargo

DAWGS: A True Story of Lost Animals and the Kids Who Rescued Them

Citadel Press

Paperback (also available in library binding, audio, audio CD, and e-book formats), 978-0-8065-4034-4, 272 pgs., $15.99

March 31, 2020


At a time when inspiring true stories are sorely needed, DAWGS delivers frequent moments of heartwarming and tail-wagging joy.


This well-written book recounts how a group of elementary school students and their fourth-grade teacher, Diane Trull, founded a private animal shelter in Dalhart, Texas, in 2003 to stop lost and stray dogs from being put to death in their town.


The shelter’s idealistic young founders and their teacher soon ran into harsh realities while getting the Dalhart Animal Wellness Group and Sanctuary (DAWGS) off the ground. People firmly opposed to animal rights or to animal shelters in urban areas quickly emerged. The children also learned that public officials in municipal and county government sometimes are unmoved by the plight of homeless dogs, cats, and other creatures. Protests, break-ins, and other problems eventually lessened once the animal shelter found a new site outside the city.


Seventeen years after its founding, the shelter continues to have elementary students and other volunteers, including veterinary school undergraduates, at the heart of its operations. DAWGS now has given more than twenty thousand potentially doomed animals a second chance at life in adopted homes. The organization even ferries some dogs to animal care facilities in other states where adoptable pets are in short supply. DAWGS also is the first recipient of the Distinguished Youth Guardian Award from In Defense of Animals, an international animal-rights-and-rescue group based in California.


At the time of the shelter’s founding, Diane Trull recalls: “Stray dogs roaming the streets were an all-too-common sight, to which the standard response was ‘that’s not my dog, so it’s not my problem.’ Litters of puppies were frequently born in overgrown fields or abandoned buildings, with little chance of survival. Spaying and neutering were virtually unheard-of practices by most of the locals.”


She contends that West Texas’s long involvement with cattle ranching has played a role in many people’s attitude “that animals have no rights and are only important for the monetary value they bring at market.”


(A note of caution: certain protest incidents, examples of cruelty, and animal injuries described in DAWGS may be upsetting to some readers.)


The book’s photographs help illustrate the Dalhart shelter’s success strategy. The front and back covers offer enticing pictures of smiling children holding happy dogs. At the book’s center, more than thirty color photographs spotlight the facilities and volunteers, as well as more rescued dogs in human embraces. The book’s chapters, meanwhile, employ a similar opening strategy: a photo of a rescued dog or cat, with a short account of their recovery and happiness at a new home.


The focus of each chapter then moves to key stages in the shelter’s battles for survival or to its successes and moments of fame, such as the time when actress Bernadette Peters traveled to Dalhart from New York to adopt a dog that had been rescued from the jaws of a garbage truck compactor.


Grownups and schoolchildren alike may be left with a big, unanswered question after encountering this inspiring work of nonfiction: when will it be made into a movie?


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