FAIRBANKS — Visitors are at the door of Linda Cook’s two-story home north of Fairbanks, which means a riot has suddenly erupted inside.
A dozen or more small dogs appear, greeting newcomers as a whirling, yelping mass of fur, tongues and tails. Sahara, a brawny mastiff the size of a small steer, lopes behind them with a laid-back amble. Still more dogs sit in kennels on the perimeter of the room, while other canines quietly watch the spectacle while lounging on dog beds or mattresses.
The scene is repeated countless times each day, triggered by everything from a knock at the door to an anonymous creak inside the house.
“A leaf falls in Brooklyn,” and Cook’s rowdy troupe of canines lets her know about it, she said with a smile.
Scenes like this have been at the center of Cook’s life more or less since she moved to Fairbanks in 1996. She runs Homeward Bound Pet Rescue & Referral from her home, an organization that shelters dogs that need special attention or extra care.
Cook, 57, has a spray bottle of water nearby, and frequently pauses to hose down misbehaving dogs. But despite a weary look she flashes as she discusses her life, the blunt-talking Cook said she doesn’t regret the unusual detour she’s taken with Homeward Bound. Seeing dogs successfully move past histories of abuse or neglect gives her a unique satisfaction.
“They’re worth it,” she said. “Every dog who’s come through has been placed. We’ve placed thousands of dogs.”
Her life wasn’t always on a trajectory to run a shelter out of her home. Cook grew up in Oakland, Calif., in a home without any dogs. It wasn’t until she moved to Sacramento as a young adult when animals became a big part of her life.
When her now ex-husband got a job in Alaska, they moved to Wasilla. But seeing the rural town transform into a bedroom community for Anchorage convinced her it was time to leave.
She moved to Fairbanks, which she always felt had a welcoming vibe. After she bought her home, Cook contacted the borough animal shelter and registered as a foster home for mastiffs and Pomeranians, two breeds she was familiar with.
“The first call was, ‘I know it’s not a mastiff or a Pomeranian, but we have a Pekingese,’” Cook said.
After seeing the need, she found it impossible to say no. Not long afterward, Cook found herself caring for about 20 dogs, she said.
“There are people who do this individually with a few dogs at a time,” Cook said. “I do things a little different.”
Her current dogs include a Great Dane that arrived starving and covered with sores and a Chihuahua mix whose former owners would choke it unconscious for entertainment. Those cases require months of work before they’re ready to live with a family, Cook said.
Sandy Besser, the manager of the Fairbanks North Star Borough animal shelter, said Cook’s shelter fills an important role for such animals. Animal control simply doesn’t have the resources to work with troubled dogs on the level they need, she said.
“They’re able to take the time to actually work with those dogs,” Besser said. “They’ve been very helpful to us.”
Cook doesn’t do it on her own. Her daughter, Sabrina, lives next door and serves as treasurer of the organization. She also gets volunteer help, with friends stopping by occasionally to clean or do crowd control.
Still, Cook said, there’s always more to do.
“People romanticize this, but we need more help — it’s that simple,” Cook said.
The operation is run largely through donations and adoption fees, but Cook said the budget is tight. Cook goes through nearly three 50-pound bags of a dog food per week, and veterinary bills mount for dogs that arrive in need of care, even with discounts they offer to Homeward Bound.
Cook, who has a part-time job at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said she supplements it with her own money into the project.
About three years ago she installed a webcam, which can be seen at www.hbprr.org, to provide a live stream of the action. Dogs roam by through the day on the web- cam, which is constantly being watched by viewers as far away as Australia.
Although she was initially “creeped out” at the thought of her home being broadcast, Cook said she’s grown accustomed to showing her home full of quirky canines to the world.
“I do it gladly because they need their own homes, they need them desperately,” she said. “How are people going to know about them if they can’t see them?”