Emily Halgrimson's dog, Penny, is a happy, 40-pound beagle whose name suits her bright coppery color.
The product of a puppy mill, Penny weighed just 16 pounds when owner Halgrimson first set eyes on her at an animal rescue event in Dyer.
The dog looked emaciated and her paws had grown splayed, probably from never setting foot on anything but a wire cage during its short lifetime, said Halgrimson, of Munster.
Halgrimson wondered if she could manage a foster puppy while working full time.
"But the dog just stuck in my mind," Halgrimson said. After a two-week trial run, "I just fell in love with her."
Penny came home to stay and started Halgrimson on a fostering path, which put her in contact with some of the more than a dozen rescue groups operating in Northwest Indiana.
"Over the past one to two years I have almost accidentally become part of an incredible underground network of private rescue groups saving the lives of hundreds of animals in Northwest Indiana," Halgrimson said in an email.
The rescue groups work with city and county animal control and pounds to take animals who've not been adopted and have run out of time, Halgrimson said. Veterinarian services, including having animals spayed or neutered, are provided by the rescue groups.
Gabrina Garza, of Munster, started her Fairy Dog Mother Network seven years ago, working with a core of local animal shelters, including the Jasper County Animal Shelter and the Hobart Humane Society, to take in dogs almost certain to otherwise be euthanized.
"The large majority we handle are sick or injured," Garza said.
Getting an animal from a shelter into a foster home, and from there to a forever home requires not only effort but also finesse.
It can start with a photo of an animal posted by a shelter volunteer on Petfinder.com, a website used extensively by rescue groups like Garza's.
Seeing a photo, "sometimes you just get immediately attached to them," Garza said.
That was the case with a 15-year-old pit bull whose photo Garza spotted. Pit bulls are not the easiest breed to adopt out, let alone one that's older, Garza said. This dog had ended up at the shelter when its owner became ill. "It's not the dog's fault," she said.
Garza took the dog in expecting it to become a forever foster. Instead, two families turned up, both looking for a senior pit bull.
"It got adopted to a wonderful home," Garza said. "You never know what somebody's looking for."
Fairy Dog Mother is a small operation, usually handling 15 or fewer dogs at one time and working with a small group of foster people. Garza makes sure there's a foster home for every animal she takes from a shelter.
Glory Redmond, of Lowell, acts as a kind of go-between for rescue networks and animal control agencies and shelters.
Not part of an agency, "I'm just a concerned citizen," Redmond said. "I'm always meeting a friend of a friend, trying to connect everyone together."
"Rescues aren't buildings. They're people," she said.
Redmond's office is her computer, where she networks every chance she gets.
"Time is definitely of the essence," Redmond said. "I might have a day. I might have a week," to rescue a dog before it is euthanized.
"If I can find a phone number, I call. If I can talk to somebody face to face, I do. It's harder to say no to somebody face to face. I email out to a ton of rescues," she said.
Her list of rescue groups totals more than 200 in the Chicago area. She has 7,000 followers on Facebook.
"It's an all-pronged approach," Redmond said. The use of social networks is a huge factor.
Younger and purebred dogs are the easiest to get adopted. For an older or injured dog, a call for help might get one response or it might get none.
Either way, "I never run out of hope," Redmond said. "Until an animal is confirmed dead, I keep trying."
She might talk to hundreds of people for every five animals adopted.
"What makes it worthwhile is the ones you save," Redmond said.
Roberta and Darin Lee, of Hammond, started their HoundSong Rescue 18 years ago after noticing a growing number of beagles showing up in area shelters. Though now on many lists of favorite dog breeds, beagles weren't even in the top 50 at the time, Roberta Lee said.
"Back then if a beagle or a coon hound ended up in a shelter it was a death sentence," said Lee, whose rescue mission expanded several years ago to include coon hounds.
In the years since, the Lees have helped find homes for more than 1,000 beagles and coon hounds. "We stopped counting somewhere around 1,000," Roberta Lee said.
"We quit counting because it doesn't matter if we save 100 or we save 10, as long as the 10 we save we do well. We're making sure it's about the quality of the rescue, not the quantity."
Amy Segally, of Crown Point, started All Breed Rescue Angels in early 2013 with Amy Gorcowski, taking only urgent animals, "those that aren't going to make it out of shelters otherwise," Segally said.
The rescues typically pay upfront veterinary costs including for tests and vaccines.
About 40 active volunteers are involved with All Breed Rescue Angels, including some who foster animals and others who transport them from shelters to foster homes. About two dozen foster homes are in place, Segally said.
Applications help the rescue groups match animals with potential homes, including whether the animal is good with children or with other dogs or cats.
By the end of last year, 191 Rescue Angels animals had been adopted, Segally said.
The number is a drop in the bucket.
"No matter how many we rescue, we'll never keep up," said Segally, a lifelong animal lover whose introduction to the rescue network came during a shopping trip to the mall, where a rescue group was hosting a weekend adoption event.
Segally attended a follow-up event and was hooked. "I came home with a dog," she said.
The work can be thankless.
"We do this for no pay," Segally said. "Our reward is every dog and cat we're able to pull from a shelter — getting them help and getting them adopted instead of them spending their last moments alone and afraid in a metal cage, and getting to live their life out as part of a family."