When Devin Parks first decided to open a dog rescue and lounge in downtown Bellingham in May 2021, his intention was to help dogs find homes.
Now, 11 months and almost 200 dog adoptions later, Parks said that not only has the business helped dogs, but it has made an impact on Bellingham as well.
“The impact that it’s had on different people for different reasons has been absolutely fantastic,” Parks said. “It makes what I’m doing feel that much more important to me.”
Are You My Human? Dog Rescue & Lounge opened officially on May 9, 2021. Parks, 35, said that he was inspired to open the lounge to try to address one of the biggest problems in the dog rescuing process, which is the lack of available foster homes.
Parks said that a lot of rescues don’t have big enough facilities to house all of the dogs that they take in.
Parks works with two rescue organizations to funnel dogs that need homes into the lounge. One of the rescues, Because We Care, is based out of Burlington. The other, Jenni’s Rescue Ranch, is based out of Houston, TX.
Parks said the situation for rescue dogs in Texas is terrible.
Jennifer Hendricks, the founder and owner of Jenni’s Rescue Ranch, said that 75% of Texas’s population regards dogs as property, and when people get sick of that property, they just throw it out. She said there are 2 million dogs in need in Houston alone.
“There’s thousands of rescues fighting this battle, and we’re not getting anywhere,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks said that Parks reached out to her in March 2021 to try to set up a way to help the dogs from her rescue.
There are anywhere from 75-90 dogs being cared for at her rescue at any given time, she said.
Hendricks said that six adult dogs or 12 puppies can be flown up to Bellingham at one time. When the weather gets warmer and starts hitting above 85 degrees - too hot to safely transport the animals - she makes the trip to the airport at 4 A.M. to beat the heat.
The dogs that are not coming from Texas are driven up from the Burlington rescue, Because We Care, each day the lounge is open.
Parks said the lounge is only open Friday to Sunday, and the owner of Because We Care makes the trip up to Bellingham twice a day, in the morning for drop-off and in the evening to pick them back up.
Parks said that the lounge doesn’t do day-of adoptions to limit the possibility of a dog needing to be rehomed, but most of the puppies are adopted by Sunday evening each week.
Parks said that since opening the lounge, he has gotten to know a lot of members of the community who come in to visit the dogs regularly. He said that even if people aren’t looking to adopt a dog for any reason, they still like to come in to interact with the puppies and get their “puppy therapy.”
The lounge sees a lot of college students who are overwhelmed with school or homesick for their dogs, Parks said.
Sarah Houser is a first-year student at Western Washington University. She said even though she’s allergic to dogs, she and her roommates usually visit Are You My Human? twice per academic quarter.
Houser said she gets a sense of tunnel vision when working on school, and that stepping away from schoolwork to let go and play with dogs for an hour is a great way to de-stress.
“You don’t have to worry about anything other than maybe getting peed on,” Houser said.
Lindsey Witus is the Mobile Events Coordinator for Animals as Natural Therapy, an organization that provides mental and behavioral health programs for youth, families and veterans in Whatcom County.
Witus said that Animals as Natural Therapy’s mobile programs often reach out to partner with schools in Whatcom County to set up hour-long sessions for the students to interact with the dogs from the therapy in an effort to reduce stress and anxiety.
“Contact with animals has been shown to decrease cortisol levels, which is the stress hormone and lower blood pressure,” Witus said. “Just coming in contact with them is pretty therapeutic for when we’re dealing with really stressful stuff.”
Parks said that getting to know community members who come in regularly gives him the opportunity to match them with the perfect dog.
Some people come in who are hurting from the loss of their last dog, and being able to help in their healing journey is an incredible feeling, Parks said.
“I opened this with the anticipation of helping dogs find homes,” Parks said. “Never did I think that it was going to have the human impact that it’s had.”
Jordan Oliver (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in sociology with a minor in journalism. When not working or studying, she enjoys photography, bouldering, drinking overpriced coffee and watching tv shows about pirates.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.