When Jenna Donleavy graduated from college in 2014, she’d never had a dog. Growing up in Vermont, she’d always loved animals. So once she earned her degree and was on her own, she fulfilled her life-long dream and got a pup.
Now, three years later, Donleavy has three dogs — including two rescues.
Meanwhile, the South End resident has been documenting her growing canine crew on Instagram, where more than 75,000 followers keep tabs on the dogs’ adventures. She also offers advice on rescuing animals.
It all started with Bear, an abandoned pup left on the side of the road in Arkansas. Donleavy found out about him on
petfinder.com, and applied to adopt him. At the time, Donleavy had an apartment in Back Bay, and bent the truth a little bit when a question on the application asked if she had a backyard.
“They would not take anyone in the city, but I knew he would have an awesome life walking around Boston because there are so many dog parks,” Donleavy says.
Bear rode a bus from Arkansas to Connecticut where she picked him up. He was, Donleavy recalls, the “perfect puppy” — for three days.
Then the 3-month-old puppy became extremely sick, and Donleavy took him to Back Bay Veterinary Clinic and then to Angell Animal Medical Center, where he stayed for three nights. Donleavy didn’t know if he’d survive. Bear, a mix of labrador, border collie, and other breeds, was suffering from a life-threatening disease called parvovirus.
Luckily, he made it, and Bear has grown up to be a dog pretty much everyone loves. And he loves everyone back.
“He’s so well-mannered and such an old soul,” Donleavy says. “He’s such a special dog and it’s just wild that I picked him off of a picture on Petfinder.”
Once Bear had recovered, Donleavy had to potty train him in her Back Bay apartment, which meant every time he had to do his business, she had to run him downstairs so he could go outside. It was there — outside, while Bear learned potty rules — that Donleavy got to talking to someone in her building who was doing the same thing. At one point, the neighbor revealed that they’d gotten their dog from an abusive breeder.
Some pet owners view getting a dog from a breeder as a better alternative to rescuing a dog because there are fewer questions about the dog’s background. Donleavy said that was not her experience at all. The breeder where she got her second dog, Knox, was keeping more than 60 dogs in cramped living conditions, and was abusive toward the animals.
Donleavy adopted Knox from the Massachusetts breeder when he was just 8 weeks old, thinking he was a golden retriever. Now that he’s 2, Donleavy knows he’s a lab-golden retriever mix.
“He’s really nervous because of the abuse he experienced and saw when he was a puppy. He’s come so far now . . . but he’s the more challenging one,” Donleavy says.
Two young dogs in a small Back Bay apartment wasn’t going to work, so she moved into a bigger apartment in the South End with her boyfriend — who then rescued a small boxer-labrador-pitbull-rottweiler-great pyrenees named Harper. The sassy one of the bunch, Harper leads the pack, and the three dogs are best buds, Donleavy says.
It was Bear’s bout with parvo that made Donleavy want to help as many rescued dogs as she could. Even though her current living situation doesn’t allow for more animals, she is helping to shine a light on animal rescues.
Tina Bohannan, who rescued Bear in South Arkansas, advocates for adopting rescued dogs as well. On average, she rescues anywhere from 50 to 80 abandoned puppies a month around Pine Bluff, Ark.
Bohannan operates Lost But Now Loved Animal Rescue on her own, and takes dogs back to her own home before finding people to adopt the dogs. After Donleavy adopted Bear through Bohannan’s rescue, she has continued to work with her, spreading the word about the organization.
“I think a lot of people, especially up North, are finding out about [rescuing dogs] from [Donleavy],” Bohannan says. “I’ve been involved for 40 years, and I’m amazed at how many people are willing to rescue and help . . . there’s a lot of support.”
For Donleavy, her Instagram (@knoxandbear) is about more than taking pictures of her dogs. It’s about showing off her sweet rescued animals — and encouraging others to do the same.
“Just because they are a mixed breed and you’ve never seen a dog like him or her before, doesn’t mean there are going to be problems or that they’re not classically beautiful,” Donleavy says. “They all have their own personalities.”
Originally, Donleavy set up her Instagram a few days before adopting Knox to flood her family and friends’ social media accounts with dog photos. She doesn’t know any particular reason why her Instagram became so popular just eight months after she made it in February 2015, but she’s now taken photography classes to learn how to take the best snaps of her dogs.
Besides answering Instagram messages from followers across the country seeking advice on rescuing pets, Donleavy has gotten involved with shelters in the area, and transitioned from her career in public relations to become a founding member in a startup company that’s working on an app that donates kibble to rescue shelters.
“Rescuing has changed my life and opened my eyes to the problems we’re facing,” she says. “For now, for the Instagram, I’m just trying to educate people and try and help them make the decision of rescuing.”Lexi Peery can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LexiFP.