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story.lead_photo.caption Lee Asher creates video on his phone Saturday as two of his dogs enjoy the dog park at the Little Rock Animal Village. Asher travels around the U.S. with his six dogs, on a mission to help get other dogs rescued. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Six "Instagram famous" dogs zipped around a Little Rock dog park on Saturday, gnawing treats and presenting their bellies for scratches, completely oblivious to their online popularity.

The dogs belong to 29-year-old Lee Asher, who, along with his friend, Luke Barton, started "The Asher House."

The two humans and six canines are traveling the country in a dog-friendly RV to promote adopting animals from shelters. They've stopped at shelters in six states so far, including Saturday's stop at the Little Rock Animal Village at 4500 Kramer St.

Two months ago, Asher said, he and Barton were brainstorming ideas in Asher's backyard in Los Angeles.

Instead of sharing another post on Facebook to promote "adopt don't shop," they decided to quit their day jobs, buy an RV and hit the road.

They launched an online fundraiser to buy a vehicle that could be livable for themselves and Molly and Butters, both chihuahuas; Cali, a golden retriever; Bo Bo, a Labrador retriever; Stella, a pit bull; and Lillie, a St. Bernard.

Asher and his dogs have about 75,000 followers on Instagram, the image-sharing social media platform.

On Instagram, Asher advertises where and when he'll be stopping in hopes of drawing people to the shelters.

On Saturday, the Little Rock Animal Village offered a half-price discount to the typical adoption fee of $90. Nine animals -- eight of which were dogs -- were adopted by the late afternoon.

Asher and Barton have also paid for 19 adoptions, out of pocket, so far, Asher said.

Many people are under the wrong impression that dogs in shelters are missing eyes, or are too sickly to take home, Asher said. Those people will give money to rescues but won't actually adopt animals, he said.

But dogs in shelters are "amazing, beautiful, happy, healthy," Asher said.

"We want to make animal rescue cool, fun, the right thing to do," he added.

The campaign is also a way to bolster the adoption of sterile animals, said Betsy Robb, president of the board for the Friends of the Animal Village, a nonprofit that supports the shelter.

"You can go on Facebook or Craigslist and get a free animal any day of the week," Robb said. But there's no guarantee that animal is spayed or neutered and up to date on vaccinations, she added.

Pulaski County, like many counties, is teeming with stray dogs and cats. It's estimated that about 340,000 puppies and kittens are born in Pulaski County each year just to pets that have owners.

To combat the tide of stray animals, the shelter is trying to "flood the market" with sterile pets that cannot reproduce, Robb said. It's working in that intake at the shelter is "slowly dropping," she said.

Amanda Servedio, a Little Rock accountant, has followed Asher's Instagram account for about six months. She wished she could adopt another pet Saturday, but she already shares a 700-square-foot apartment with three medium- to large-sized dogs.

Still, getting a chance to cradle Molly, the black chihuahua, was reason enough for Servedio to take a break from work and stop by the shelter. The dog sat docile in her arms, eyes shut to the afternoon sun.

Pulling into the shelter's parking lot and spotting the six famous pups romping in the grass was "almost like a celebrity sighting," Servedio said.

Susan Hibbs and Susan Menefee hadn't heard of The Asher House but saw an event advertisement on Facebook.

They showed up Saturday to meet the pups and learn about Asher's mission, Hibbs said.

The women are advocates of adopting pets from shelters instead of buying them from breeders. They both already have four rescue dogs apiece.

"We have 'sucker' stamped on our forehead," Hibbs joked.

The Asher House has already cruised through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. The plan is to drive south to New Orleans and eventually travel to more than 40 other states.

Sharing a living space with six dogs is not as trying as people think, Asher said -- that is, "except for the smell."

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
Susan Menefee of Little Rock plays Saturday with Molly, one of Lee Asher’s dogs, at the Little Rock Animal Village.

Metro on 03/04/2018

Print Headline: Rescue dogs' U.S. tour makes stop in Arkansas

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