dog rescue, dog rescued from snow, Tahoe
Images used from Tahoe PAWS & TLC 4 Furry Friends' Facebook, with permission

Pitbull found four months after being given up for lost.

For nonprofit animal rescue organization Tahoe PAWS and TLC 4 Furry Friends, reuniting lost pets with their owners is all in a day’s work. However, one recent rescue has gone viral, after the team successfully found a pitbull who had been missing for nearly four months.

Poor little Russ, a 3-year-old pitbull pup, had gotten spooked one night during a camping trip with his owner, Ricardo Rodriguez, in late August.

Rodriguez had done his best to find Russ: getting the help of friends, calling local shelters, posting fliers. To no avail.

And then, the Caldor Fire hit. As it destroyed several homes and businesses along a stretch of 200,000 acres, the flames forced an emergency evacuation for Rodriguez. From there, things began to turn bleak.

"After months of not hearing back from anyone, I assumed he was in good hands with a different owner," Rodriguez told CNN.

Luckily, Rodriguez and Russ’ story was far from over.


Russ curled up and cold next to a tree.

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On December 16 (four months later), a skier noticed a dog, curled up in the snow next to a tree. That’s when Tahoe PAWS was notified.

Two volunteers, Leona Allen and Elsa Guale, gladly took on the mission, which would not be easy in the frigid temperatures.

Allen, who had volunteered with PAWS for three years, told CNN "We didn't even hesitate.This was a one-shot deal, we either got him or he didn't survive the night."

Trekking up a steep incline, Guale and Allen waded through the snow, guided only by Russ’ tracks. When they reached the tree, all Allen could see was a “dark mass.” No movement was detected, no signs of life.

And then … Russ opened his eyes. They had found him. And he was alive.

But the venture had only just begun. Gaule and Allen would need to safely get a very scared Russ down the hill. Despite his fearful growls, Graule won his trust with treats and patience. Without it, rescue would have been impossible, Allen told the San Francisco Chronicle, according to the Stamford Advocate.

When Russ finally allowed his head to rest on Gaule’s hand, the women wrapped him up in a blanket, placed him on a sled (given by El Dorado County Animal Services Officer Kyle Shumaker) and slowly brought him to the bottom of the hill. The whole endeavor took several hours.

Russ in his rescue sled.

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Russ might have been lost in the most extreme of elements for four months, but the vet deemed the pup completely healthy. Wendy Jones, founder and executive director for Tahoe PAWS, attributes this to his “survival mode” kicking in.

This is more than a turn of phrase. Survival mode, or feral mode, is a very real phenomena that happens when a dog is separated from its owner. As stress starts to deplete serotonin levels, a panicked pup will undergo a drastic (although usually temporary) personality change as primal instincts take over. When this happens, even the most well-trained dog can not recognize their own name.

That is why Tahoe PAWS strongly advises that if your own furry friend goes missing, the first thing you should do (yes, even before searching yourself) is to contact local Animal Services.

When Rodriguez received the good news, the dog owner was “ecstatic,” according to CNN. And only one day after Christmas, the two were reunited. This was thanks not only to the wonderful collective efforts of multiple organizations, but also due to the fact that Russ had been microchipped. Though Russ’ chip had either “not been registered or possibly not updated,” according to Jones, it was no match for the team’s investigative work.

“This is a great reminder that microchipping your pet and maintaining the registration in your name is important,” Tahoe PAWS & TLC 4 Furry Friends wrote in its Facebook post.

dogs, pit bulls

A very happy, healthy and thawed-out Russ.

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Russ is now back where he belongs, thanks to the diligence and commitment of the amazing team at Tahoe PAWS and El Dorado County Animal Services.

Allen shared with the Chronicle (as reported by SFist.com) how grateful she was to help.

"As a rescue organization . . . this is what we're supposed to do…I've worked some pretty gnarly rescues, this probably being the top. I keep reliving the moment when he opened his eyes and lifted his head, and just the joy and elation inside of me was overwhelming. It's one more life that gets to live happy and warm and safe."

As a nonprofit, Tahoe PAWS relies on volunteer services and outside contributions to help supply necessary equipment for these amazing rescues. If you’d like to donate to its cause, you can do so here.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Hey everyone! Hope you're staying safe and healthy, and if you're not, at least you know you're not alone. I mean, omicron? Phew. Pandemics certainly know how to keep us on our toes.

If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

We all need a break from the less pleasant parts of life, and cheering ourselves up with simple, happy things is a tried and true way to push those endorphins and lift our mood for a bit.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

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