“What am I doing with my life?” Lynne Bengston asked herself as she walked to the downtown Target.
At the time, she was making bank as a concert promoter. Bill Cosby was in town. The comedian’s contract specified that all his accommodations be stocked with Charmin toilet paper. No exceptions.
Bengston was dispatched to appease the fickle comedian’s sensibilities. “As I was walking to get Bill Cosby Charmin toilet paper, I knew this can’t be my life anymore.”
Bengston’s real passion was dogs. She’d been among a band of people who headed south after Hurricane Katrina. The volunteers rescued dogs by the dozens from the deluged streets. They placed them with foster families, then helped to match the forsaken with permanent adoptive homes.
The experience convinced Bengston she could do one better. She wanted fewer dogs to go into shelters in the first place.
So she carpet-bombed the inboxes of animal shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups nationwide. She was proposing a partnership.
“We said we’d help them with spay and neuter, and we’d transport the dogs out of there and try to do some education within the local community,” says Bengston. “The goal was within five years, we could bring the [dog population of the] local area into balance.”
It would take 10.
Safe Hands Rescue began in 2006 with an email. It came from a shelter in Harlan County, Kentucky, where 98 percent of the dogs were euthanized. The message contained a photo of a dog named Goldberg, a shepherd at the shelter. Bengston couldn’t shake the sadness she saw in Goldberg’s eyes.
“The shelter said if you can figure out a way to get him there, you can have him,” she says. “Which started the thinking: If we were going to Kentucky for one dog, why not get a van and get as many as possible?”
Goldberg, plus 31 other canines, arrived in Minneapolis on that first trip. The white van has been rolling back and forth from the South ever since.
Bengston’s nonprofit makes three to four rescue trips to shelters in Kentucky every year. Every two weeks in the intervening months, Safe Hands contracts with a service to drive halfway to a drop off point, where even more dogs are handed off for the trip north. Bengston’s Minneapolis duplex serves as the rescue’s intake facility.
Vets examine each new arrival that’s soon matched with a foster. Safe Hands regularly hosts people and dog meet-and-greets. Wannabe owners within a 60-mile radius of the Twin Cities are screened and vetted before they’re allowed to adopt.
Last year, 723 Kentucky dogs found homes through Safe Hands. That brings the total number of adoptees to 5,000-plus. And at the two Kentucky shelters that provide the dogs, the euthanization rates have dropped to about 10 percent.