TARA offers a way to help the helpless

Four years ago, a guy named Otis broke my heart.

He was 13 years old, with the shaggiest golden brown fur I’d ever seen. The German shepherd had soulful eyes. I met him at a shelter. You could tell he had lived on a short and harsh leash in Kansas City. Flies had bitten away at his ears. His fur was matted. He had a chronic ear infection and heartworms.

I volunteered to take him to be groomed in hopes that it might help him find a forever home. He hopped into my car with a hint of excitement.

Despite years of abuse, he believed in people. He believed in me. We had a beautiful day. But by its end, we would learn that Otis was in too much pain to be adopted. Instead, he went off to spend his last days in a pet hospice.

He taught me that I was not cut out to be a shelter volunteer. I don’t have the emotional stamina for life-and-death work. Instead I donate money and attend awareness events. So I have a special place in my heart for people with the strength to do the hard part. People like Tara Nagel.

She spent her early 20s helping pets as the kennel supervisor at Country Kennels in Kansas City. But she had a soft spot for hard-to-adopt pets, like black dogs, seniors and animals with health or behavioral issues. She put a lot into the adoption program, finding homes for more than 1,000 cats and dogs.

Through her work, she met and inspired volunteers like Virginia Keithley.

“She had a love for dogs that went beyond cute, little fluffy puppies,” says Virginia, 38. “She didn’t give up. There was this one dog that was terrified of people. No one could touch him. She would spend hours sitting in the yard with him. One day he finally got in her lap. They built a trust and a friendship. That takes patience and love.”

Tara, of Blue Springs, died in a car accident in 2005. She was just 25 years old. Her fellow volunteers wanted to honor her memory. So in 2007, they started

The Animal Rescue Alliance


Virginia, a pharmaceutical chemist by day, is the president of the nonprofit volunteer group. In these trying economic times, animal shelters don’t have it easy. It takes a lot of money and resources to rescue, transport, rehabilitate and foster animals. Last year, they spent more than $50,000.

“It’s been hard,” Virginia says. “Sometimes I don’t know how we’re going to keep going, but we always manage to stay on track.”

Volunteers have been instrumental in keeping the organization going. Even though many of them have never met Tara, they are dedicated to her vision.

Michelle Daniel has fostered more than 10 dogs in two years. She has seen dogs saved from gas chambers, dogs nursed back from illnesses and dogs rescued and trained to help people. She even adopted a TARA dog — a pit bull mix she named Dahlia.

“It’s a wonderful experience to see a dog get where they are supposed to be,” says Michelle, 40, a Kansas City freelance copyeditor.

But the road to a forever home isn’t cheap. Costs run from $200 to $2,000 to cover a pet’s medical expenses and rescue stay. Right now, the group is looking to relocate. Currently they rent space from Country Kennels, but want a space of their own to accommodate more animals. Their goal: $5,000.

Michelle decided a fundraiser, “Tunes for TARA: Musicians Unite for Homeless Pets,” was in order. Her cover band, Holmes Street, is playing with four others from 1 to 6 p.m. on Sunday at Foundation, 1221 Union Ave. in Kansas City.

Tickets are $25 at the door or online at

. A silent auction, appetizers and prize drawings are scheduled. Money raised from just one ticket will provide a month of heartworm and flea and tick prevention for two dogs. Two tickets can cover a spay or neuter surgery for one pet. Four tickets can cover the fees to save five pets from death row at a high-kill shelter.

Every dollar counts. A night of music and good times could save a life.