As president of the nascent Southern Arizona Beagle Rescue and a lifelong dog lover, Romi Carrell Wittman is passionate about helping a breed that "sees" the world through its nose and possesses a distinctive howl. The nonprofit foundation takes abandoned beagles and tries to find permanent digs for them with responsible, loving people. According to Wittman, their rescue operation could use more volunteers and foster homes to house the dogs until they're adopted. For more information, visit www.soazbeaglerescue.com.

I've heard about rescue organizations for lots of other dog breeds. Why beagles?

Well, pretty much every breed has its own rescue. We didn't have a beagle rescue down here in Tucson. There's one up in Phoenix, and it got really, really large, and it couldn't help the beagles in Tucson. There's golden retriever rescue; everyone, of course, is familiar with greyhound rescue. ... I saw that there wasn't (a beagle rescue) in Tucson, so we formed it down here and started rescuing beagles.

Who did you form it with?

Two other ladies: Gail Hanson and Sara Thomas. We got together, and did the 501(c)(3) application. We have a very dedicated group of volunteers. We're very small at this point, because we just started last October.

Are beagles a popular breed in Arizona?

They are. They're popular all over the country because of their size and temperament. They're small; they're friendly little dogs, and they're intelligent. But people sometimes get them, and they just don't realize what it is to have a dog or (don't realize) the unique characteristics of the breed, and they discard them. That's where we come in.

What are some unique characteristics of the breed?

They're scent hounds. These dogs will do anything to follow their noses. So they'll get into the trash; they'll get into the dirty laundry. They get into a lot of trouble following their noses. People who aren't accustomed to that don't know how to deal with it. It's really just a training issue--and staying a step ahead of them! (Laughs.)

Do they have a yowl?

Yes, they do. They don't really bark; they have a howl. We call it the "aroo," because it's this howl in the chest. Some of them are barkers, too, and they howl a lot, and that gets on people's nerves. Some are not--it just depends on the dog. But they don't really bark, no.

So a lot of people give up their dogs, because they found they didn't mesh in some fashion?

Yes, well, what happens is they get a puppy, and the puppy's really cute--then the dog grows up, and they haven't trained the dog much. They haven't really put in the time you have to put in with puppies. Then you wind up with an adult dog that doesn't have much manners, and they don't know how to deal with it. So they give it to us. Or they take it to the Humane Society or the pound, and we'll pull dogs from there as well.

Sounds like you know a lot about dogs in general. Would you describe yourself as a dog person?

Yeah, I've had dogs my whole life. I'm not just particular to beagles. I've always had dogs, mutts--everything. But I just started in with beagle rescue, because they needed the help. My organizational skills fit the task.

So do you have a lot of beagles right now?

I have four at my house. Three of them are the permanent kind; one of them is a foster. That's how we take care of the dogs--we foster them in the homes of our volunteers. That way we can evaluate them and see what their temperaments are like. Then we can place them.

About how many volunteers do you have?

Right now, we have about 12 active volunteers. We only have about three foster homes, though, so we're putting our foster homes to the test.

Are there a lot of dogs in these three foster homes?

Yeah. I only have one foster. The other two fosters--one has four, and one has five.

How does someone become a foster?

Well, they just get in touch with us. And what we do--particularly if they're not familiar with the beagle breed--is we go over to their houses, and we do a home visit. (It's) not to check their housekeeping; it's just to make sure that they have a yard that the dog can't get out of. We require that the dog be an indoor/outdoor dog. It can't be outdoor only, because it's too hot here, and the dogs can suffer. And (they need) just a willingness to take care of the dog. We cover all medical expenses; they just provide love and a home and food.