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Hometown Heroes: A Place to Bark Animal Rescue in Tennessee

Each year, Bernie Berlin's rescue group saves, fosters, and transports hundreds of pets, finding them homes through partnerships with shelters across the country

"Hometown Heroes" highlights local shelters and grassroots rescue groups who help animals in need around the country

  • Puppy mill survivors show their gratitude to Bernie Berlin of A Place to Bark Animal Rescue. The rescue gets called in on many puppy mill raids and in Tennessee. All images from A Place to Bark Animal Rescue except where otherwise noted.

  • Bernie Berlin gets a kiss from Lilly, who came to A Place to Bark from a seizure of dogs from a pitbull fighting operation.

  • Bernie with some of the hundreds of pets her rescue fosters. The animals get veterinary care, rehabilitation, and socialization before they are taken to partnering shelters for adoption.

  • Wagging his tail at the sheriff who found him (after this hound-mix had been shot in the leg) saved Bullet's life. The sheriff took Bullet to a vet, and Tennessee state director for The HSUS, Leighann McCollum, brought him to Bernie Berlin.

  • After several surgeries to repair the injury to his leg from a gunshot, Bullet can run again. "The spirit of that dog is unstoppable," says Bernie Berlin.

  • Bernie Berlin taking dogs from her local animal control shelter in Tennessee to foster at A Place to Bark. The dogs she was unable to take that day were euthanized. Joe Frazz Photography

  • Bernie Berlin enjoys a lighter moment with one of her charges at A Place to Bark. The rescue is a partnering shelter with The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA. 

  • Bernie Berlin with staff at the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago, a partnering shelter that places dogs from her rescue. Anti-Cruelty Society

The hands-on work of local shelters and rescue groups, and the efforts of The HSUS, complement each other. Both are essential to building a strong animal welfare movement—and a society where humane treatment of all animals is valued.

For the third installment of our Hometown Heroes series, we interviewed Bernie Berlin, who founded A Place to Bark Animal Rescue in 2001. The foster-and-adoption rescue is based in Portland, Tenn., a rural community of about 10,000 people located 35 miles north of Nashville. Berlin mainly works with animal control agencies, taking dogs and cats from crowded shelters, fostering them in her facility, and then placing the pets for adoption through various humane societies. A Place to Bark partners with both The HSUS and the ASPCA, and Berlin is often called in to take animals seized from cruelty cases, puppy mill raids, and hoarding situations. All of the rescue’s funds, food, and other supplies come from private donors. 

All photos above provided by A Place to Bark. This series is reported by Animal Sheltering magazine staff writer Jim Baker.

HSUS: What is your biggest challenge? 

Bernie Berlin: Funding. We’re a shelter-to-shelter program, so we don’t get the adoption fee and have to rely solely on private donations. Every day is a challenge to keep our doors open.

HSUS: What’s your greatest resource?

BB: Social networking. Reaching out to animal lovers in other parts of the country, and receiving help when it’s needed most, has made it possible to continue saving as many animals in need as possible.

HSUS: Tell us about your most rewarding adoption or rescue story.

BB: Saving these helpless animals, and doing whatever it takes to get them into loving homes—that’s the reward. They save me as much as I save them, teaching me lessons in life, gratitude and forgiveness.

HSUS: What are your goals for this year?

BB: I hope to save and place more than 700 animals this year, and to further raise awareness. 

HSUS: How does The HSUS affect your work?

BB: HSUS has always been an ally! I have a great working relationship with Leighann McCollum (Tennessee state director for The HSUS), and she’s always there if I have questions or concerns. Over the years, I have grown to know many of the (HSUS) Emergency Services responders, and I am glad to call them friends. 

HSUS: Tell us about your most popular program or your proudest accomplishment.

BB: I’m very proud that, being as small as we are, we’re able to place hundreds of dogs yearly by partnering with large humane societies.

HSUS: What’s the hardest part of your job? 

BB: Finding balance. Not letting my heart get in front of my head. Knowing and learning my limitations.

HSUS: What advice would you give to others in your shoes?

BB: Checking in with yourself, and knowing you can't help the animals if we don't take the best possible care of ourselves.

Learn more: Visit A Place to Bark Animal Rescue»

Did You Know?

The HSUS publishes a magazine for shelter professionals and volunteers, offering resources on shelter management and animal care. Learn more in Animal Sheltering magazine»

The Shelter Pet Project is a serious but light-hearted campaign to promote pet adoption. Learn more»

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