Army veteran Amber Baum used Goldfish crackers to lure in a stray pit bull that had been dumped in the private, wooded area near her home. Then waited for her husband, Thomas Bohne, to return.
“[I] pulled up into the driveway and there’s these two glowing eyes in the darkness,” said Bohne, also an Army veteran.
He grabbed a chair, sat down and waited.
“The dog came up, jumped right into my lap, curled into a little ball and went to sleep,” Bohne said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re home.’ You’re here to stay.”
Bohne, who joined the Army in 1999 and served on active duty for nearly 12 years, said that before this dog, later named Rocky, they never had a pit bull.
“Over the next couple of years, he just became extremely impactful to our lives,” Bohne said. “He changed the hearts and minds of every single person he met about the breed. Amber’s also [a] two-time cancer survivor. He actually is the one that identified the cancer in her neck when she had thyroid cancer … It was just crazy the impact he had.”
But in 2018, Rocky suddenly became “super lethargic” and his gums turned white. He was diagnosed with Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia – a disease in which red blood cells attack each other – and died a few weeks later at only 5 years old.
“It absolutely crushed us,” Bohne said. “I have PTSD and my dogs have become such an integral part of my healing process of just stress management, so I was really struggling to understand how to deal with such a rapid loss.”
At that time, Bohne said, he kept seeing dogs – specifically pit bulls – on Facebook that had been in shelters for 12 months or more. He was searching for a way to not only give meaning to Rocky’s life and death, but to give himself a mission to cope with the loss.
So along with Baum – a former combat medic and a Gold Star spouse whose husband, Sgt. Ryan Baum, was killed in action on May 18, 2007 – Bohne founded Kennel to Couch. The pit bull advocacy organization partners with shelters nationwide to adopt out long-term shelter residents.
“I think one of the hardest things that veterans deal with when they get out of the military is losing that sense of purpose or that mission,” Bohne said. “We’re very mission oriented. And when you don’t have that anymore, some of the other things that are negative in your life can tend to take over. And then you have to find other ways to cope with those things because you’re not preoccupied with the mission … So, Kennel to Couch was really my way of giving myself a mission through Rocky to continue coping with all the things that he was helping me cope with.”
That led to research on long-term shelter dogs and their impact on a shelter’s overall business operations. Bohne, who also worked as a chef, said he wanted to know if there was a way to have a “macro impact” on a shelter with micro resources.
“Every kennel in a shelter is like a table in a restaurant,” he said. “If a restaurant wants to make money, they have to turn that table over several times in a night. And if a shelter wants to keep its numbers up … they have to turn that kennel over many times in a year.”
Kennel to Couch creates incentive packages where the organization sponsors the longest-tenured dog at the shelter and runs a social media campaign within a certain radius of the shelter. Harford County Humane Association in Maryland was the first partner.
“There was a dog there named Ace and he had been there a year and a half,” Bohne said. “And we got him adopted within two months. And then we sponsored the next longest resident and the next longest resident and the next longest resident, and within a year had all of their long-term residents adopted.”
Bob Citrullo, Harford County Humane Society’s executive director, said it takes about two to three months to find the “right fit” for the dog and for the adoption to occur.
“Now the only one left is Wave,” said Citrullo, a retired soldier who served for 25 years. “He’s been here a year.”
One of the recently adopted dogs, Chillie, returned for a visit, and Citrullo said the difference between then and when he was at the shelter was “amazing.”
“Just getting him out of this environment was the No. 1 one thing,” Citrullo said.
The work with Harford County “proved the concept,” according to Bohne, and Kennel to Couch is now partnered with five shelters in four states with a goal of expanding nationwide.
In the simplest terms, according to Bohne, Kennel to Couch is a “force multiplier.”
“We’re a free marketing firm for shelters to focus on their hardest problems,” he said. “Shelters, they have to promote all of their dogs, and we are hyper-focused on that one that they’re having the hardest time getting adopted.”
As of press time, Kennel to Couch had gotten its 25th dog adopted.
Kennel to Couch also recently created the Kennel to Couch Furever Fund Endowment to ensure that programs are funded “in perpetuity,” Bohne said.Read comments