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Freedom! Laboratory dogs see sun, feel grass for first time thanks to Paws&Co.

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It was a beautiful late-January day in the Denver area and for four young dogs venturing out of their crates into a residential back yard, it was a life-changing experience. The dogs - between 1 and 1-1/2 years old -. had spent their entire lives in a laboratory somewhere near Denver before being rescued by Paws & Co. Adoptions (www.pawscoadoptions.org).

At first, they emerged cautiously, skittishly, not knowing what was happening. Then as they gained a little confidence, they began to move around unencumbered and acting like normal dogs.

"These sweethearts finally got to feel the sun on their faces and grass on their paws after we rescued them this weekend!" one of those present said later on Facebook. "They all grew up in a laboratory and now finally get the lives they've always deserved!"

The name and specific location of the lab is not being released at the lab's request, said Paws & Co. founder Tiana Nelson. But at least the dogs were finally free and on a path to new homes It was a banner day for Paws & Co, which has been making a difference in the approximately six months since the organization was founded.

According to Nelson, it has rescued about an animal a day since it started, and 120 of those have been adopted.

Paws & Co. has been focusing mostly on rural areas of Colorado, where animal welfare resources are fewer than in urban centers. Nelson said 80 percent of her groups's work has been done in rural areas, as opposed to 20 percent in urban areas.

And by partnering with two other groups, they can marshal resources ranging from spay and neuter to community education, food and a "seamless" system of placing rescued animals in foster care until adoptions can be arranged.

Paws & Co. is the brainchild of Nelson, who grew up in a family of animal lovers including her father Mike Nelson, chief meteorologist for Denver's Channel 7. She now works professionally as a communication specialist for Colorado State University. She graduated from CSU with a degree in technical journalism. and worked for a time at the Fort Collins Coloradoan newspaper.

"I have a passion for rescuing animals," Tiana (short for Christiana) said. So when she met Kristin Des Marais, executive director of Four Paws Pet Center of Colorado, Inc. (www.fourpawsofcolorado.org.), a 501c3 nonprofit, the wheels started turning in Nelson's mind.

Four Paws Pet Center, formed in 2005 in Denver, focuses on areas within Colorado that have limited resources for companion animal protection by means of low-cost spay/neuter assistance. Nelson started Paws & Co. and it is now a division of the Pet Center and has 160 volunteers and 23 team leaders. Tiana's mother Cindy is fundraising director.

Another group, Furry Friends Food Drive, (www.furryfriendsfooddrive.org), founded in 2009 by Denver resident Felicia Diamond, has also become a division of the pet center. Furry Friends, led by a group of Denver area women including Diamond and Nelson, started gathering donations of pet food and money and funneling it to the Food Bank of the Rockies to distribute to those around the state who need it. The goal was to enable people in bad financial circumstances from having to give their pets up to shelters.

From among the three groups, a long list of assistance can now be marshaled for shelters that need help, Nelson says.

"We're trying to be a resource for Colorado shelters," she adds. "Many small shelters just don't have the resources. In some of these shelters, we have been the only rescue working with them."

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