Updated Dec. 24
I waited outside Bangkok Thai for my takeout order. A cream-colored chihuahua with long silky hair sat at my ankles. He was tied to a post, and his bulging eyes were fixated on the front door. I crouched down to greet him. A hesitant tail wag turned into a full-fledged butt wiggle, and my new best friend tried to hop on my lap. Minutes later, a woman, his owner, stepped outside, crescendoing the dog’s already maxed-out excitement.
“This dog is amazing,” I had to tell her.
“Oh, isn’t he the best?” she replied.
We exchanged the usual — What’s his name? How old is he? And my personal favorite, Where’d he come from?
“A shelter on-Island,” she said. “Do you know Ashley Medeiros?”
Yes, I knew Ashley Medeiros. And if you’ve ever rescued or expressed interest in rescuing an animal on Martha’s Vineyard, you probably do, too.
Medeiros is sort of a dog God around here. She volunteers hours of her day matching animals in need of a home with the perfect person or family.
“I feel like the Hitch for dogs,” Medeiros said, referencing the popular Will Smith rom-com. “It’s like matchmaking. It’s pretty funny.”
Medeiros has always been an animal person. “I don’t think I’ve ever not had a cat or a dog,” she said. She’s got a pack of them now — English bulldogs, a Frenchie, a mix, “and I always leave space for one more.”
That’s because Medeiros is constantly taking in foster dogs, rehabbing them, and connecting them to their “furever” homes. “I like to take in the more difficult ones,” she said.
When some of those dogs end up in shelters, there’s usually a reason. “It could be aggression,” Medeiros said. “Or it could be that they’re scared because they’ve been abused. So long-term foster care is about taking the time. Helping them gain weight and gain trust. Getting them potty-trained, and helping them learn how to walk on a leash.”
In addition to rehab and fostering, Medeiros helps organize transports. Many dogs come from places like Florida, where strays are common. They make their way up the coast via a well-oiled assembly line.
“They can go from Florida to New Jersey, to Connecticut, to here,” Medeiros said. “There could be as many as 26 people involved in that transport. I’m finding all these people, getting contact information, and setting up stops in each place. A lot goes into micromanaging that.”
Medeiros does a majority of her work from behind a computer. Networking is a critical component in today’s rescue world. If you’re friends with Medeiros on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen her tempting and adorable “looking for a home” posts.
“Social media is so huge with the connections you can make,” Medeiros said. “Since my social network has grown so huge to reach rescues all over the country, if I see a dog that needs a home, I share it, my followers share it, and it spreads. You’re connected to all kinds of different people that make rehoming animals easier.”
On average, Medeiros said, she dedicates about four to five hours a day to rescue work. “It can be straining, especially relationship-wise, because you’re always on the phone. I’m always sneaking texts about dogs. Sometimes it’s hard to find a balance,” Medeiros said. “It’s ridiculous, but I love it.”
Massachusetts makes her work even harder. Rescue laws are stricter here than in any other state.
“If a dog comes to Massachusetts from an out-of-state shelter, it has to go through a 48-hour quarantine,” Medeiros said. “The state Department of Agriculture feels that the stress level of travel may bring out any symptoms of illness, so that’s why they have them enter isolation. Massachusetts makes it harder, but for good reasons. New England loves their pets.”
Medeiros first got her feet wet in the rescue world about three years ago. The Island native was spending winters in Palm Beach, Fla.
“I started seeing how awful it was,” she said of the stray dogs and cats she’d see everywhere. “Which led to learning about the people doing something about it.”
She learned about TNR — trap, neuter, release — which reduces the growing population of feral cats and dogs. She started volunteering in shelters. In addition to rehabbing animals, she’d organize transports to adopters and other rescues. When she came back to Martha’s Vineyard, she continued the same work with local shelters.
This past May, Medeiros decided to start her own nonprofit, Sandy Paws Rescue.
“It focuses on helping low-income families that need [vet assistance], or if the family’s need is greater than what we can provide, we will assist in rehoming the animal,” Medeiros said. “I’m working on getting a shelter location here. Hopefully that’ll be set up in 2019.”
This fall Medeiros was appointed assistant animal control officer in Oak Bluffs. She reports to Animal Control Officer Patty Grant, and works on call Saturdays through Tuesdays.
If a rescue needs a home check, Medeiros does that too.
“I’ll go in and check out the family,” she said. “Do you have a kid? Do you have a fence? I’ll do that here on-Island. If it’s on the Cape, I’ll find a volunteer in that area to go do it.”
What’s the hardest aspect of Medeiros’ work?
“It’s more the people,” she said. “It’s more emotionally draining than anything else explaining to people why a dog would or wouldn’t be a good fit. People ask, ‘Why can’t we just try this dog with my cat or with my 2-year-old?’ Because it’s a liability. It’s a risk.”
What’s most rewarding?
“Seeing the dogs get such a great home,” Medeiros said. “Just yesterday I had someone come hug me and thank me. That feels good.”
Over the years, Medeiros estimates she’s matched a total of 50 dogs.
“Does that include Beans?” I asked, who’s one of The Times’ office dogs.
“Oh yeah,” Medeiros said. “He’s one of my Florida kids.”
Medeiros is hoping to keep her shelter on a smaller scale, but will be looking for volunteers.
“I’ll need help feeding, definitely foster homes, and maybe some social media volunteers,” she said.
For now, the rescue utilizes a designated isolation facility on the Cape. Medeiros is hoping to eventually open a facility with a quarantine space here on-Island.
Updated to clarify context of a quote.