This Veteran Volunteer Pairs At-Risk Kids With Neglected Animals

Gracie Hamlin founded W-Underdogs in Atlanta to empower kids by helping them rescue and care for stray dogs and cats.

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- Posted on Sep 9, 2020

Cydney, James and Thomas of the W-Underdogs team. Photo credit: Roy Gumpel

Who she is

Gracie Hamlin is the type of woman who doesn’t just hope for a better world—she makes it happen. An Army veteran who later lost a job due to injury, Gracie has always had a heart for the underdog. Hence the name of her Atlanta nonprofit, W-Underdogs, which helps keep kids off the street by having them work with homeless and neglected animals.

What she does

Gracie moved to Atlanta from California with six dogs she’d rescued after they’d been abandoned in the desert, and had a hard time finding housing where she’d be allowed to keep them all. She ended up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. She was shocked by the prevalence of young kids with no direction and the number of stray dogs. So she formed an organization to help both. W-Underdogs empowers at-risk kids by involving them in the rescue and care of stray dogs and cats. “I want kids to be heroes,” Gracie says.

Why she does it

The idea took hold one day when Gracie was working in her garden and a group of young boys, six to eight years old, walked by, crying. They told her they had been jumped in the park. Their parents weren’t around, and she was worried about them.

She was also concerned about the rampant animal neglect and abuse in the neighborhood. “I saw this as an opportunity to help the dogs and the kids.” She knocked on doors and asked parents if their kids could work with her dogs. “I told them the dogs would keep the kids safe.”

Gracie, who spent her early years in an orphanage in Costa Rica, says that with W-Underdogs, “I finally found the purpose of my life. I never had a family, never felt like I belonged anywhere. This community is my home.”

How she does it

Every morning Gracie and the kids feed and care for the animals they’ve rescued. Gracie teaches the kids how to train the dogs and treat them humanely. Not only do the animals become healthy, adoptable pets, but the kids also acquire life skills. They learn responsibility, empathy and teamwork, all while boosting their self-esteem. When the dogs are ready, Gracie and the kids take them to adoption events. Since 2014, W-Underdogs has rescued 600 dogs and rehomed 100 cats. They’ve also trapped-neutered-returned more than 200 cats.

In addition, Gracie and her young team build and donate doghouses (using discarded furniture and scrap materials the kids find around the neighborhood), repair fences and deliver pet food to less-fortunate families. The organization has also started the Animal Cruelty Task Force, encouraging youth to speak up and become local ambassadors working with the City of Atlanta to address animal abuse and neglect.

How you can do it too

If you live in the Atlanta area, you can help by donating doghouses, building materials or fencing. Otherwise, Gracie says, “start in your own neighborhood. If you see a dog that is not treated well, have a conversation with your neighbor. If that’s not working, go to law enforcement. Most of us can do something. Be an advocate for change.”

Find out more about Gracie’s mission and how you can help at w-underdogs.org.

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