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Jesse "Buck" Bannister

Jesse "Buck" Bannister and his partner, Michael Koch, share their home with an assortment of dogs they've rescued and one they currently foster. Rescuing man's best buds has become so important to the couple that in September they started Tucson Rescue Pack, a dog rescue group with a mission to help people keep their pets and to recruit more foster homes. For more info, visit tucsonrescuepack.org.

Mari Herreras, mherreras@tucsonweekly.com

Why did you and Michael decide to start a new rescue group in Tucson?

We kind of realized that there was a need for somebody to step up and help people keep their animals. A lot of things happen that people may not realize they can fix, so they take their animals to the shelters when they don't know how to control barking or house-train them. We want to help people with those kind of issues. Most people can't afford a trainer. Michael works for a kennel and we have one dog, Amber, who is a boarder right now because her owner died suddenly and the family can't take her in. They don't want to take her to an animal shelter, but we don't know how long they will pay for boarding. We are trying to find a new home for her.

What do you need right now?

More foster homes. We'd really like to get more people in who aren't already fostering a dog. The rescuing community is pretty compact and the same people foster over and over again. People get overloaded with dogs. We want to get people who are going to foster maybe only a couple at a time. We're also trying to find people who haven't done this before but want to. But we also need people who have a lot of experience training or working with dogs, who like to help people.

Why the partnership with No Kill Pima County?

They were working on a program to help people keep their dogs, which is part of the no-kill solution and what we support, too. They asked if we'd join them to work on owner retention, so we've been working with them. They are going to be setting up a help desk at the Pima County animal shelter for people dropping off dogs to ask why they are bringing it in, give them information and help (them) to perhaps keep the dog. They are trying hard. It's being done in several different places with great success.

Have you filed for nonprofit status?

We're in the process of completing the paperwork in Phoenix, and waiting to hear back.

Most rescue groups in Tucson seem to be breed-specific, but you aren't.

There are bunches that are breed-specific and others that are more generalized. But all have in common, for the most part, that they come in after the dog is in the shelter and only if the dog is listed as sick or on the list to be euthanized. That's when they come in, at that critical point. We want to get there before it gets critical.

Is it your perspective that most fosters in Tucson are overextended?

A lot of fosters have multiple dogs and there's only so much room. There are more dogs than there are fosters. That's why we really need some good new fosters. Some people think, "If I start, I'm going to have a dozen dogs." We are not going to give you more dogs than you can handle. But you know, the dogs get to you. It can be hard to give up a dog you've fostered. But at the same time it's extremely rewarding to see them go to a great home and see them flourish and bring happiness to people. That's the big payoff.

Do fosters provide all food and vet expenses?

Fosters provide food, unless we have donations. With nonprofit status, we'll be able to work with local pet stores like other rescues. Broken bags of food and other items are donated to rescues. We take care of vet bills and shots and all that kind of stuff, and if there's food available, then everyone shares. Right now we're running on a shoestring budget. With No Kill Pima County we're working to coordinate fundraising.

Where do you think change is needed most in Pima County?

Spaying and neutering. I've found that there are a lot of people in Tucson who refuse to neuter a dog because they tie it to their own sexuality or manhood or something and absolutely refuse. Then, of course, their dog ends up mating with the dog next door and has puppies and those dogs have puppies. We seem to see it particularly with pit bulls. Cage after cage are in the shelters. If we can convince people to neuter or spay their dog, we'd see a difference.

More by Mari Herreras

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