Spirits soared on a Saturday morning as single-eyed Belle was loaded into the PetSmart van. Week after week the 4-year-old lab/shepherd mix waited patiently to meet her forever family. Finally, it was happening. A family was waiting at the Short Pump pet supply store to take her home.
And then there’s Simon, a young Pomeranian mix, who was rescued after being hit by a car and suffering severe leg injuries. His foster family nurtured him through weeks of medication and treatment, and finally, a leg amputation after vets were unable to save it. Simon has since been adopted and is living the good life with Lynda and John Wilgus in New Kent.
Founded by Bob and Denise Tillack, Bandit’s Adoption and Rescue of K-9s, or BARK, has been rescuing orphaned or abandoned dogs like Belle and Simon from animal shelters in the greater Richmond area since 2003. Once with BARK, these dogs receive appropriate medical care, attention and affection—often for the first time in their lives. The Tillacks’ rescue efforts began in 1987 when they watched a neighbor’s dog, a young husky mix, deteriorate after weeks of neglect. “We approached the owners about buying the dog [Bandit] so we could help him, and finally they gave him up,” Tillack said.
Fourteen years later, the family’s loyal companion died, but Bandit’s legacy lived on in BARK. The Tillacks were inspired to create the non-profit and convert their Ashland farm into a safe-haven for rescued dogs. In addition to the farm kennel, BARK’s foster parent program places dogs and puppies in temporary homes until permanent homes can be found. By showcasing available dogs on Petfinder, the BARK website, and at adoption stands staged weekly at PetSmart locations in Short Pump and Fredericksburg, BARK finds homes for about seven hundred dogs each year.
Tillack said when the dogs are settled and content in their new homes, some even give back to the community. “Sparky is a cattle dog who was adopted last year, and started therapy dog training soon after. He was slated to work at a hospital when his training was complete.”
Today, there are over eighty BARK volunteers who perform essential weekly tasks like kennel care, canine intake, medical review, application review and research, and foster care.
Throughout the Richmond community, Girl Scouts, Eagle Scouts, families and kids (12 and up), and even corporations like Capital One donate time, resources, and money to help care for the animals.
BARK volunteer Linda Lane said Capital One employees recently spent time at the BARK farm, cleaning, walking, and playing with the dogs. “They were so organized and prepared. They worked in groups so that every dog received the best possible care and all got out to exercise. It was such a nice treat for the dogs.” Lane said. “It’s difficult to say who enjoys this kind of service time more, the volunteers or the dogs.”