Rachel Mairose's empathy for discarded pets began early. While she was growing up in Edina, her parents fostered dogs and took in pregnant shelter cats.
"I got ringworm from the cats when I was 5," she remembered. "I was always an animal nut."
She planned a career as a crusader for animal rights. With a hybrid degree in legal studies, environmental science and animal behavior, Mairose imagined going to law school to fight puppy mills. First, though, she started Secondhand Hounds in 2009. The hospice program, which grew out of the animal rescue, started in 2015.
"I wanted to save the world," said Mairose, 31, of Plymouth. "In my mind it was going to be small, with 20 dogs at a time in my basement. But people wanted to help, and I couldn't say no."
Today Mairose, now the married mother of two, oversees 10 paid staff members and an organization with $1 million in revenue. The nonprofit makes 65 percent of its budget from fees it charges when it places pets for adoption, with the rest coming from private donations and fundraisers.
At any given time, 300 to 400 pets are awaiting adoption in foster homes approved by Secondhand Hounds, with volunteers offering short-term care.
"Our approach is that fostering should be free," she said. "We provide our volunteers with everything they could possibly need — food, kennels, beds, bowls, leashes, collars and all the costs of care."
The vast majority of the animals fostered through Secondhand Hounds were left at shelters and marked for euthanasia.
"They come in scared or shy," she said. "I've seen dogs that have been through horrible stuff, but you see their innocence and gratitude when they are treated well. You can see they want love."