Diamonds in the Ruff is a foster and volunteer based animal rescue organization which operates mainly in Erie and Niagara counties. They were not only nominated in a previous interview by Kate Glaser, but fellow Y!B interviewee, Luke Copping also volunteers his awesome photo skills to the organization. With the addition of our love for animals, it was easy for us to find ourselves sitting down with Maria and Tammy to find out how they got started, and what it’s like to run an animal rescue organization.
“My name is Maria Sanson, I’m from Lockport, and I am the President of Diamonds in the Ruff. I work at Social Services in the Program Integrity department. I’ve been doing that for 13 years, but I have been passionate about animals ever since I was very young. I have 3 rescued dogs myself, a hound mix named Finn and 2 pitbulls – Nora and Rose (who is deaf).”
“I started volunteering at a shelter in Hornell, NY. She had tons of dogs there. I drove by one day and thought that she could use help. My husband and I have a cabin in the southern tier, and when we would go there on the weekends, I would zip over to her shelter to help her out. That’s where it started. I adopted a springer spaniel from there. I started volunteering at a local SPCA. I used to get in trouble there all the time. I wanted people to get the right dogs, and to look at the dogs even if they were going crazy in their kennel. I wanted them to see that it’s not really how they are. They had one fenced in yard for about 75 dogs. We would try to get all of the dogs out, and we’d calculate how many dogs there were, how much time we had and divide it and it meant that each dog could have 2.5 minutes with us. I contacted some people about getting some fencing donated, which we got. We set up a meeting to talk about using the fence to have two play yards for the dogs so they could have twice as much time. Tammy came to that meeting and approached me about helping out with the fence. That’s how I met Tammy and together with some other volunteers, decided to start our own rescue. Before we knew it, we had the 501 filed, we got approved and things starting moving. That was about 6 years ago.”
“My name is Tammy Hein. I’m the Vice President of Diamonds in the Ruff and I grew up in Wheatfield. I have lived in a couple other places – California and Cape Cod, but I came back here because I love it here. I have two pit bulls, Jack and Sugar (who is also deaf). I work for the bridge commission in Lewiston and I have been there for 13 years. I work there part time, so I’m a little more flexible with my time here, and can put in a little more time because this is a full time job.”
From where do you get your animals?
Maria: “We take owner surrenders, we take strays, we take from shelters from all over. We go out of state, and out of the country. We just had two come in from Korea. They were rescued from the meat trade! There’s a guy in New York City who dedicates his time to saving animals from the meat trade. They come into NYC and rescues take them from there. The poor things didn’t know how to walk, or play with toys. But, they acclimated really well. We also just got two strays from Puerto Rico.”
“We pull dogs from Kentucky as well. We have a good friend that lives there who sort of opened up a DITR Kentucky chapter. She will board and try to adopt out dogs, but generally she will send them up here. A black lab there will be tied up, chained and neglected. You bring that dog here and we’ll have people fighting for them. She texted me a picture today of a dog that will be put down on Friday. He’s a blind coonhound and he was a stray. He has been there a few weeks and nobody is looking at him. I said, it’s not his fault he’s blind, so he’s getting sprung tonight from his shelter and we’re boarding him. We don’t know if there’s a home for him, but at least he’s safe. We’ll figure it out, we always do.”
Where do you get help?
“We’ve got some very special people that bend over backwards to help us. For example, we have a volunteer that is going to South Carolina and Georgia to pick up dogs right now. She’s sending us video along the way. They look like great dogs and we already have people interested in them. As soon as we know what’s coming, we try to get a picture out there to see if we can get some interest. When they get here, they need a foster. They need all of their vaccinations, their shots, maybe spayed or neutered. We don’t adopt any dogs out unless they are spayed or neutered, and they are microchipped.”
What are your top areas of need?
“We need help with foster homes and donations. But really we need help with anything anyone can help with, even food. We have a couple of fundraisers a year which go well, but go through that pretty quickly. ”
Where can people see your animals
Tammy: “We are at a lot of adoption events like at Petsmart, Clyde’s Feed & Animal Center. Events are the best way to see our animals. We go to the Lockport Market once a month in the summer. We’re invited to a lot but sometimes we have to turn them down because we just don’t have the volunteers to take the animals. We try to get to as many as we can. We are at the pet store Grandpaws in Lewiston a lot as well.”
Tammy: “We used to have a facility that we rented where we kept our animals. They had a living room, with couches and a tv. If two dogs got along they could stay in there together. We had enough volunteers where dogs could go out three times a day. We had a huge fenced in yard, and we could keep three dogs there at any time. We also had a cat room. But, the rent got to be too much for us. We needed the money for vet bills. We gave up that space, and now are foster and kennel based, and we have found some kennels like Canine Kennels of Clarence and Amherst Boarding Kennel that help us out. Which is huge. Dogs come in at night and they open up for us and take them. They’ve don’t put any time limits on how long the dogs can stay. All of our cats are in foster care.”
Do you have any good success stories?
Tammy: “Back when we still had our facility in Lockport, it was late at night and this woman called us. She said that she was moving to Florida and needed to get rid of her dog. We had an open spot, so we said OK. She showed up with her kids in the car, the truck was packed. We get the dog out of the car, he was a red pit bull and he was scared. The girls were crying.”
Maria: “I was crying too. The poor guy was confused. I took him into the yard. A couple of our guy volunteers came to try to help and he lunged at them and tried to bite them. He did NOT like guys. We ended up paying for him to go through K9 Connection’s Boot Camp and paid to board him somewhere else and we would go visit him. He was there for eight months, and we had just re-posted him. Then I got an email saying: “My dog was taken from me and I was looking at your website and saw Dobbie. That’s my dog.” He said his wife left and got rid of his dog. We made plans to meet him at a dog park. I was there with Dobbie and the guy starts walking up. Dobbie starts barking and lunging and the guy puts his hand in and Dobbie licked his hand and rubbed against him. Then they started playing and running in the park together, and they literally walked off in the sunset together. The guy drives the Great Foodini food truck.”
Tell us something that people might not know about DITR.
“We are affiliated with A Gust of Sun Winery in Cambria. They developed a wine that has our logo on it. It’s made out of diamond grapes. Our DITR logo is on the corner of the bottle, and for every bottle that sells, we get a dollar. And it’s good! I’m not just saying that. I really like the dry. It’s in Premier, liqour stores and supermarkets.”
“When we commit, we commit all the way to the end. When we agree to take in an animal, we commit. We find out later it has cancer, we treat it. We find out it has behavioral issues, we’re going to treat it. We never give up on a dog. As long as we’re in existence, we will not give up. Sometimes we get criticized for not using our resources properly, but when we commit, we commit.”
What might you tell a younger version of yourself?
“Focus on the animals. It’s all about the animals. And, you know what, you can do it. We never would have thought that we could do this to the extent that we are doing it today. But you definitely can.“ Tammy: “I never would have thought that would be bringing in animals from out of state. I thought that we were just going to help the SPCA out and take some animals off of their hands. But it’s so much more than that. It’s never ending though.” Maria: “We feel like we never put a dent in it. It’s like the starfish story.”