Posted on September 16 2020

Love saves the day!
by Joanne Camas


Sally Mars and her husband, Chris, have five dogs. “We are pretty bad at fostering,” she says, sheepishly. Indeed, you get the feeling that if their home wasn’t already at dog-capacity, they’d nudge their pack bigger and bigger and...

Luckily they are firm believers that it’s important to share how marvelous all dogs are: “In the spirit of charity,” Mars says, “we can’t hog them!”

Sally Mars is a live-wire, brimming with love for dogs and their people. Talk to her for just a few minutes, and you realize that for her, the glass isn’t just full, it’s overflowing. She has a successful career as a photographer, writer, artist agent, creative director, and commercial producer, yet still manages to carve out time to help dogs.


Sally, all heart and greeting an arriving traveler.  


That enthusiasm converted her husband, Chris, to loving all things dog, too. He didn’t have a dog growing up, but he’s made up for it since he met Sally. Chris is the founding drummer of the Replacements and has released solo albums as well, and now he’s an accomplished artist and filmmaker.


Chris and a cute cohort.


The couple founded Minneapolis rescue Mutt Mutt Engine in early 2019, after years of fostering and rescuing pups. They find travelers who are willing to chaperone rescue dogs back to the U.S. and then connect the dogs with U.S. rescue organizations or medical care if they need that first. So far they have helped to bring around 250 dogs to better lives.

Mutt Mutt Engine also helps dogs from high-kill shelters in the U.S. get to places like Minnesota, New York, and Oregon to be adopted.  “We’ve just opened a pipeline from South Carolina to Minnesota, and I’m working on a rescue from Miami to New York right now,” says Mars.

“There are all different kinds of volunteerism in the world,” she explains. “We want to provide opportunities for kindness. We’re not powerless against all the hardships in the world―even small kindnesses can have profound consequences.”

This focus on kindness gives MME a dual mission: It’s as much a people project as a dog one. Mars understands that poverty and cultural attitudes towards animals are key factors when dogs are mistreated or abandoned, and she’s pivoted MME to help tackle those root causes.


The Mutt Mutt Network at work: KyLee and Loni with a van of donations. 


MME works with rescues in China, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and other countries, and while Mars admits that it’s very hard, she believes that “in a generation from now, it will be different.” She works with rescuers on the frontlines as they try to change the local culture in respect to animals.

And the strategy is paying off. Mars says Baja has some of the worst cases of dog neglect and abuse, and a lot of poverty. MME helps a woman there who hires local people to foster dogs. It’s a win-win: Families earn much-needed income, they love working with the dogs, and they have a chance to put their compassion into action, and in turn the neglected dogs find love and are nurtured and returned to health.

One particularly exciting outcome is that a young woman whose family fosters dogs is now the first person in her family to go to college―and she’s earned a scholarship to study to become a vet.

A new approach is also working in the town of San Pancho, Mexico. “It was a very small town when I visited 25 years ago,” says Mars. “There were stray dogs everywhere.” Someone had set up a “leaving place,” where people abandoned unwanted puppies. Now people take them to the local rescue instead. “Having a place to take a dog in need is something most Americans can take for granted, but it is a profound and positive change in small-town Mexico!’ Mars says. “Now there are no stray dogs. The children help take care of the dogs,” she explains, “and the culture has changed. It’s clear the future will be much brighter for dogs and dog lovers there. Today they help other towns!”


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Of course this year the coronavirus pandemic has hit Mutt Mutt Engine’s operations hard. Monthly transports of rescue dogs from Tijuana to Portland, Oregon, had to shut down, and when spring break trips to Mexico were cancelled, that meant no rides back north for a lot of strays.

Mars realized that rescue organizations working in poorer resort towns and cities were hampered by lack of funds when tourism dried up, leading to frustration when they couldn’t move dogs to a better life.

Always quick to respond to changing circumstances, MME switched its focus to supporting pet-food bank networks in the U.S. and other countries―and that assistance includes people food, too.

In fact, supplying groceries to hungry families who couldn’t otherwise afford to keep feeding their pets is a vital part of the mission. As Mars puts it, “The greatest rescue keeps someone who loves their dog with their dog.”

“The opportunity to rescue dogs is a privilege for me,” Mars says. “Emotionally it is so rewarding and such a source of healing and peace, not a weight. Every dog is adoptable because every dog is amazing, and when you get a special dog, you get to meet a really special person who will take them.”

So what lessons can we learn from dogs? “You have social friends, and you have heart friends, who are inside your being. They know your faults and love you anyway, and that’s what dogs do. The most profound lesson is the acceptance.”



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