An overcrowding crisis has gripped animal shelters in Los Angeles County. Many shelters are understaffed and struggle to provide care. That’s why volunteers like Rita Earl Blackwell play a critical role. Blackwell’s hugely popular Instagram page is giving many shelter dogs the second chance they might never have gotten otherwise.

“I fit into this puzzle of getting the dogs from there to here to here by getting them seen. I want people to come to the shelter,” Blackwell said. “Maybe people see dogs at the shelter as defective, or there’s something wrong with them. Why are they at the shelter? I just want to show that there are so many great dogs at the shelter that just need a second chance.” 

There are more than 250 dogs in the Lancaster animal shelter. Blackwell said it’s important to get the word out about the dogs, since the shelter is so far from the city of LA. Eunice Bland, a rescue liaison at Lancaster Animal Care, shared how important Blackwell’s work can be for a dog.  

“When we get dogs coming in, the first thing I do is I look for Rita,” said Bland. “I will look at the other rescues, but I know that she has social media. She pushes it, she gets over here, she comes in and she helps us out. I love the way she comes in with no hesitation filming a dog and trying to get them out of here as fast as possible.”

“The reality is that some dogs are not going to make it out,” said Blackwell.” We are in a location where there just isn’t the adopter pool. Being far from the city, rescues don’t frequent out there. So dogs are being euthanized simply for space.”

Blackwell has been volunteering at shelters for nearly 20 years, photographing dogs to help get them adopted. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she started recording videos of the dogs for social media. Catie Voglio, who works at Annenberg Pet Space, talked about how integral Blackwell’s work has been. 

“Rita’s contribution is really valuable to us and to so many rescues,” she said. “We’re not open intake, so we’re actively transferring animals in from these facilities as space allows. When you’re going to look at so many animals, even for all of us that go so often in the rescue community and in sheltering, it’s still a lot to look at. And so to kind of narrow your search down before you get there, it saves an incredible amount of time.”

Blackwell says giving these dogs a second chance depends on people sharing her posts. You can find her on Instagram.

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