VICTORY TWP. — Luke has been waiting for a place to call home for the better part of a year. Until he finds one, he has a place at Cotten’s Sunset Kennels.
The affectionate, energetic mix-breed dog is one of many in the area in need of homes, and kennel owners John and Allison Cotten have teamed up with local animal welfare group Mason County Mutts to make sure dogs like Luke are ready for when their future owners eat.
The Cottens are training surrendered, abandoned and stray dogs from Mason County Animal Control, giving them some attention and making sure they’re well-behaved, to increase their chances of being adopted.
On Thursday, in the front office of Cotten’s on North Stiles Road, John and Allison, along with Sara Lutz and Teresa Swist from Mason County Mutts, spoke to the Daily News about what they’re trying to accomplish.
The idea started around October 2021, according to John. At the time, he was called to the Mason County Animal Control building at the request of a friend to provide his opinion about whether the dog was “trainable.” He quickly “had the dog walking nicely,” and figured he could easily do the same for the other lonely dogs waiting to be adopted.
“I looked around and I said, there’s probably the same issue with all of these dogs: Nobody’s ever taught them how to walk nicely on a leash,” he said. “And I thought, we ought to do something.”
The Cottens reached out to Mason County Mutts, which works with animal control, and a kind of alliance was formed.
Everyone involved said they want to make a real difference for homeless dogs in the area, as there’s been an overabundance of them lately.
Lutz said there are more dogs at animal control than there have been in years, noting that it’s a mix of surrendered dogs, abandoned dogs and strays.
She and Swist attribute that in part to impulse buys made during the pandemic — people seeking companionship during their down time and being unprepared to follow through on their commitments when things started to shift back to normalcy.
“Unfortunately a lot of them are… dogs with issues that people didn’t address,” Lutz said. “Socializing your animal is really important, and when you stay at home and don’t go anywhere, then later down the road you end up with a dog that… ends up at animal control.”
According to John, a plan was formed to always “have at least one of (animal control’s) dogs in here, and get it out for adoption after it’s trained.”
The goal was to take in and re-home a couple dogs every month, but it’s been slow going, and Luke is still waiting.
“Four months later, we’ve got Luke still,” John said. “Within a week we had him acting like a good citizen. He’s an athlete, he likes to move and he’s cooped up a lot… but he’s a really nice animal. I’ve had zero issues with him — none whatsoever.”
He added later: “Luke is probably one of the best dogs I’ve ever trained. I’ve got national championship plaques on my wall, and guess what? Luke is that smart.”
“He just really wants somebody to love him,” Allison said.
Lutz and Swist are a bit mystified as to why Luke has yet to find an owner. Though there have been some interested parties, a perfect fit has been elusive.
But as committed as they are to finding an owner for the dog, they’re just as committed to making sure it’s the right owner — someone who can handle the responsibility, with a suitable home, references and the ability to cover veterinary costs and other expenses.
“When he goes to a home we want it to be forever,” Lutz said. “We don’t want him to have to come back and then try and find another home.”
The Cottens are also currently housing another surrendered dog — a 9-month-old full-sized Goldendoodle named Matilda — who they expect will go quickly.
“I don’t think we’ll have any problem placing her, because everyone wants a doodle,” Allison said.
Until then, at least the two dogs have food, shelter, affection and structure from the training. John said the first part of the training process, at least for him, is to teach the dogs to walk properly.
“I get them paying attention, I teach them to stop, I teach them to come back to me,” he said. “I generally do a weeklong boot camp … and I like (to teach) dogs to just hang out and be good citizens.”
John said he uses a “whole combination of tools,” and that there’s a lot of work that goes into it.
Cotten’s Sunset Kennels is essentially donating time and money to board, train and feed the dogs, which is why only two dogs are being taken at a time. The business has other paying clients it has to keep up with.
Mason County Mutts has covered veterinary costs, like neutering, vaccinations and shots for Luke, and if someone wants to adopt Luke or Matilda, Lutz and Swist will conduct a screening to ensure the fit is right.
Once Luke does find a home, the Cottens say they’ll fill his spot with another dog from animal control.
“Hopefully once we re-home him we’ll be able to get more dogs through quicker,” Allison said.
Lutz said the partnership between Cotten’s Kennels and Mason County Mutts has been beneficial, and the Cottens feel the same way.
“We’re just trying to give back to the dog community,” Allison said. “They deserve it.”
Those interested in adopting Luke or Matilda should contact Lutz or Swist through the Mason County Mutts Facebook page.
Cotten’s Sunset Kennels opened in February 2021. The business is at 2750 N. Stiles Road in Victory Township.