#NutrishPets A Passion for Volunteering Turns Into A Career! #Sponsored

Rachael Ray Nutrish has sponsored this post, but all opinions are my own.

April is National Volunteer Month,  and the true definition, (per Wikipedia is: This month is dedicated to honoring all of the volunteers in our communities as well as encouraging volunteerism throughout the month) and here at Dakota’s Den, we say ALL YEAR!

It is with great pride, that today I am featuring an individual who has a dedication to animals that I am blessed to witness first hand. How? The individual I am featuring is  Marla Weingarten, who is a Manager at Almost Home Animal Rescue League and Haven. She also happens to be one of my “bonus daughters”. (That means step daughter but I prefer the term “bonus daughter. Because I happen to be married to her Dad!)

Marla is not normally this glamorous working at a shelter! She knew I was coming :)

Marla is not normally this glamorous working at a shelter! She knew I was coming 🙂

I first met Marla in 2001,   ONE thing that was  evident from the beginning,  is that she has a LOVE, DEDICATION, AND PASSION for all animals.

Marla had volunteered hours and hours upon end both at shelters and on her own, helping to care for and promote animals that needed loving homes. I was beyond thrilled for her when she was offered the opportunity of a full-time job, doing what she has a true passion and a calling for. Marla would be caring for, helping, loving and spending time with animals whether she was being paid or not!!

It is my pleasure to present to you my interview with Marla Weingarten, of Almost Home Animal Rescue League and Haven:

WHEN DID YOU FIRST START LOVING ANIMALS? My love of animals began when I was a child. I was lucky enough to grow up with dogs, rabbits, cats, lizards, etc…animals were always my passion! I loved horse back riding, and going to the petting zoo. I always wanted a farm since I can remember, but working at an animal rescue is my dream job!

WHAT MADE YOU GET INVOLVED IN RESCUE? I have been involved with Almost Home Animal Haven since I was 15 years old and other rescues prior to that.    I was so fortunate when the position for manager at Almost Home became available, and I have been working here for the past 3 years.

Almost Home Logo

TELL US  ABOUT ALMOST HOMEAlmost Home is a non-profit (c) 3 no-kill organization dedicated to finding loving, forever homes for unwanted , homeless animals that was founded and is run by Gail Montgomery and her daughter, Lauren. We are strongly against the senseless act of euthanasia. We have a small group of dedicated volunteers who are passionate about keeping Almost Home operating. Almost Home believes every animal can be adoptable. It just takes time, patience and money. Almost Home believes that every animal is worth saving. They don’t deserve to be tossed aside, abused or worse. The haven is a place where animals can feel safe and be safe. Every animal in our care gets the very best love and attention we can give them. 

almost home lobby collage

Just some of the cuteness that exists in the waiting area at Almost Home.

WHAT IS AN AVERAGE DAY LIKE AT THE RESCUE? Every day is different. It is all about making sure the animals are safe, and healthy. We are constantly taking sick dogs from animal control and rushing them to the vet to get better so they can become available for adoption. There are days when we get multiple dogs from Animal control or owner surrenders and we have to make room. We get calls every day from people wanting to surrender their pets, and it’s quite difficult to turn people away, especially because we are such a small facility and we just don’t have the space to take in another dog. We noticed there are so many pit bulls that people want to surrender and it’s really sad that the majority that come in are not spayed or neutered. We wish more people would be responsible pet owners and not just buy a puppy for their kids,  because it is cute, then, once they are  older, they want to dispose of them. Every day is a constant struggle, as Almost Home does not receive government or city funding.  They rely on donations from the community, and the generosity of people on their Facebook page to help with the cost of medical issues, etc. Working at an animal shelter has opened my eyes to the sadness of animal abuse and neglect, but I do know there are good people out there too who foster dogs, and who care, by donating to our cause and other wonderful causes.

APPROX HOW MANY ANIMALS ARE ADOPTED EACH MONTH? I would say between 9-13, it depends. Unfortunately, the reality is the smaller dogs get adopted a lot quicker then the big dogs. Most of the big dogs we have at the shelter are Pit Bull mixes, and a lot of them  can take longer to be adopted due to breed stereotypes, etc.

Marla with the cutest dog EVER,(Luna,...see further down for info about her, she is available for adoption!! and me!!

Marla with the cutest dog EVER, (Luna…see further down for info about her, she is available for adoption!!) and me!!

TELL US ABOUT YOUR PETS AND HOW MANY ARE RESCUE PETS? I currently own 3 dogs and 3 cats. I adopted two of my pets from Almost Home.  One of them is “Chico”, a 14-year-old Chihuahua who I found while taking part in a rescue mission at a puppy mill.  He is a special needs dog, he was  blind in one eye at the time and recently has lost his vision in both eyes. He is such a special little man and is so happy to finally be spoiled!  I also adopted a Devon Rex, 8-year-old cat named “Muffins”. She was owner relinquished. The owner said that “she was too needy” and she didn’t have time for her because she was expecting a baby.   I immediately took Muffins home that day, she is still with me!

Rescue pets are so thankful for love. They are pure and trusting and never pass judgement towards humans. I only wish that people could follow in their paw prints, the world would be a much better place.

A huge thank you to Marla for taking the time to visit with me before her busy day began!! 

 Did you see sweet, ADOPTABLE, Luna, above?  She is one of the SWEETEST dogs I have ever met. She was brought in as a stray and would do best as the only dog. She is 48.6 pounds of SWEETNESS!!! Here she is!!!

almost home adopt luna

Almost Home can always use help to help subsidize the cost involved in caring for the animals. To donate you can visit them on GO FUND ME  and on the DONATE tab on their website.

Almost Home Business Card

Almost Home in the NEWS!!!! 


Another person who holds animal rescue close to her heart is  Rachael Ray. Rachael, like Marla,  doesn’t just “talk the talk”, she “walks the walk!!”



What is Rachael’s Rescue®?

Rachael’s Rescue was created for all of the forgotten pets — the ones that might not have someone who loves them as much as you love your pet.

Rachael’s personal proceeds go to Rachael’s Rescue®, which was created to help animals in need. To date, she has donated over $10MM. This money has gone toward food, medical supplies and treatments for these unfortunate animals. All of the Rachael Ray Nutrish products are available where you shop for your family’s groceries, making specialty recipes accessible and convenient for every pet parent.

If you can volunteer or donate

to a shelter, please do!!

if you can adopt a shelter pet,

that’s even better!

it will make YOU and your pet

feel “REAL GOOD”!!!

How Can You Help The Shelters

During National Volunteer Month and EVERY DAY?

  • you could volunteer to play with and walk dogs
  • clean cages
  • share adoptable pets on social media
  • donate items such as newspapers, towels, cleaning supplies
  • Buy Rachael Ray Nutrish !!
  • do something to thank the Volunteers!! (Everyone LOVES FOOD!!)

That’s what Nutrish did! They mailed me coupons for food for the animals, to give to Almost Home!  Marla, on behalf of Almost Home, and myself,  would like to thank Nutrish for the coupons they donated to the animals!!


almost home collage coupons

About Rachael Ray Nutrish:

In 2007, with help from pet nutrition experts, Rachael Ray created Nutrish super-premium food and treats for dogs inspired by recipes from her own kitchen. In 2014, we were very excited to grow the brand into the world of cat food. Whether intended for dogs or cats, Nutrish recipes are made with simple, wholesome ingredients like real meat or fish, and do not contain poultry by-product meal or fillers. 

Follow Nutrish ! 


Facebook Nutrish

Facebook Nutrish for Cats





Book Review/Give-Away: SIT! STAY! SPEAK! by Annie England Noblin

FROM THE PUBLISHER: People say nothing happens in small towns, but Addie quickly learns better. She’s got an elderly next door neighbor who perplexingly dances outside in his underwear, a house needing more work than she has money, a best friend whose son uncannily predicts the weather, and a local drug dealer holding a massive grudge against her. Ever determined, Addie is set out to unravel a secret among this curious town, even if that means confronting some big names.



But most surprising of all, she has a dog. Not any dog, but Felix–a bedraggled puppy she discovered abandoned, lost, and in desperate need of love. Kind of like Addie herself. She’d come to Eunice hoping to hide from the world, but soon she discovers that perhaps she’s finding the way back to living, laughing, and loving once more.

A touching novel of friendships, memories and quirky southern charm, fans of Alice Sebold and new readers alike will be transfixed by Noblin’s writing, and inspired by her real life rescue stories.

FROM DAKOTA’S DEN: SIT! STAY! SPEAK! exposes the sad reality of breed discrimination and dog-fighting vividly and for me, in a realistic and disturbing way. Disturbing because these archaic practices are still prevalent throughout our country.

“Author Noblin was compelled to write her novel after spending a year teaching in the Delta of Arkansas. She worked in animal rescue there during the same time the animal control facility was shut down due to city budgets. This act resulted in releasing all of the stray dogs into the national forest, which added to the issue of stray animals in the city. A few concerned citizens began a Humane Society, and Annie joined in and never looked back. It was the first time she worked with severely abused animals and there are so many animals that Annie will never forget working in her ten plus years of rescue.”


Annie England Noblin is an obvious dog lover which is what I loved most about SIT! STAY! SPEAK! I was less enthused with the main characters (Addie and Jasper), for me, they weren’t overly likable, that is my opinion and many might disagree. I found much of what took place between Addie and Jasper (and there is some lusty stuff in here!), to be a bit unrealistic, (could that be because I am in a much different stage of life than many who will read this book?  I viewed some of Addie’s actions with Jasper  as being foolish, you will have to read the book to see if you agree).

I do agree that Annie’s “portrayal of life in this part of the United States as seen through the eyes of an outsider gives an authentic take on small town southern culture–and a place where outsiders are few and far between.”

SPECIAL BONUS: There are tons of delicious regional foods mentioned in SIT! STAY! SPEAK! and the recipes can be found in the back of the book. I am looking forward to trying a number of them.

DAKOTA’S DEN FINAL THOUGHTS: If I zero in on the fact that there is an obvious love of dogs (specifically Pit Bulls), in SIT! STAY! SPEAK!  and a deep appreciation for the customs of this part of the country (and for antique buildings/furniture), I feel it is a worthwhile read. It definitely DID capture my interest. Will you find some parts of the book disturbing and difficult to read? YES. Are some important issues brought to light in reference to dogs, dog fighting/breed discrimination? YES. Are Addie and Jasper’s personalities dry and boring? (and their relationship somewhat unrealistic?), YES…but don’t let my opinion about them deter you from purchasing this book, pick up a copy and decide for yourself. PURCHASE WHEREVER BOOKS ARE SOLD!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Annie England Noblin lives with her son, husband, and four rescued bulldogs in the Missouri Ozarks. She graduated with an M.A. in creative writing from Missouri State University and currently teaches English full-time for Arkansas State University in Mountain Home, Arkansas. 

GIVE-AWAY! The publisher has generously offered to give away THREE COPIES of SIT! STAY! SPEAK! by Annie England Noblin, to my readers who are 18 and over and who reside in the U.S. (A $14.99 value). Entering is super easy! Just enter on the Rafflecopter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway





In full disclosure:I was sent a complimentary copy of SIT! STAY! SPEAK! in exchange for my always honest review.

Fall Nutrish Blogging Trip! Austin, Texas! #AustinTrip

austin cow and cactus

Many of you remember that Wednesday, October 14th I flew to Austin, Texas to spend some time with some blogging pals and my great friends at Nutrish!  Sit back and relax because I have tons of photos to share with you from this fabulous trip!

austin me and texas flag

The second I stepped foot out of the airport I was greeted with a blast of HOT, HOT air! That week in October, Austin broke a minimum of three record heat setting days, and both days that I was there it was 96 degrees!


We stayed at the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel which was  super comfy, attractive and centrally located.

Austin hotel history

The Hotel staff was extremely accommodating, especially Natalia whom I spoke to before the trip and she also made sure that while I was there that my stay was wonderful. Jamiliah was also a gem and always greeted me with a warm and wonderful smile and was extremely helpful.

Austin Natalia and Jamiliahedited

The next shots were taken in and outside of the hotel:

Austin hotel collage

After checking in and getting ourselves oriented, we all met in the lobby to head off to a most delicious dinner at Swift’s Attic. I can’t believe I was remiss and forgot to take photos of the food there! It was superb! We tasted a wide variety of dishes, each more delicious than the last!

Thursday morning we headed out bright and early for breakfast. We ate at Slake Cafe which was just a mere 200 ft from the hotel. I had an amazing breakfast taco called the Mr.Taco. It had  scrambled eggs, a slice of Boar’s Head cheddar cheese, and homemade bacon jam!!! OMG it was so good!

Austin breakfast taco from Slake Cafe

After a delicious breakfast we were off to Zilker Park  where we met up with Amber from Love-A-Bull. Our mission was to walk throughout the park and stop dog owners (preferably pit bull owners, but we only met two), to tell them about the special Pit Bull Awareness Day event that would be taking place on October 25th. at Yard Bar, Austin’s first dog park/beer garden/restaurant.

Zilker Park was simply gorgeous. Here are some photos of some sights that interested me.

Austin park collage

One photo that I loved was this shot that I took of the water under the bridge.

Austin under bridge at Zilker Park

Zilker Park is popular with cyclists, runners, walkers and of course DOGS!!!! There were a number of 4-legged friends that we met and here are a few!

An Australian Shepherd whose name escapes me!

Austin Zilker Park Australian shepherd

Nutrish’s own Nisha makes a new friend!!!

Austin Zilker Park Nisha and friend

Then, one of my favorites was a crazy swimming dog who just could NOT get enough of the water! He was just adorable!

austin crazy swimming dog collage

He would swim and swim, run out, “shake it off”, and run right back in! Enjoy this super short video of him swimming:

In the next photo you will see one of two Pit Bulls that we saw, meet Rebel! He was just adorable and had been adopted the day before we met him. I loved the color of his coat and he was a real sweetie!

Austin Rebel in Zilker Park

After our mission in the park was finished we headed off to Yard Bar, Austin’s first dog park/beer garden/restaurant where we chatted with the incredibly sweet owner. Check out these doors to the restrooms there:

austin yard bar restrooms

We also  dined on  hush puppies, (the BEST I have EVER eaten),  and other goodies in the scorching sun and enjoyed refreshing fresh squeezed lemonade. The Yard Bar’s slogan is  “Good Food, Great Drinks, WIFI, and Dogs” (yes, DOGS are welcome there!!!). If you are in the area you MUST check it out!

austin yard bar collage

If you thought our eating frenzy was done here, well, you thought wrong!!! I think my FAVORITE restaurant of the trip was Black’s BBQ in Austin. Ohhhh myyy God! When we opened the door to walk in, I was lured in by the incredible aroma. I told my blogging pals that if I could wear perfume that smelled like Black’s BBQ I would! When people tell you that you haven’t eaten BBQ til you have eaten Texas BBQ, well, they KNOW what they are talking about! Black’s was the most AMAZING BBQ I have EVER eaten!!! Check out these photos…WARNING…your mouth WILL be watering!

Austin barbecue

Austin Blacks sign

Austin my barbecue

I had Brisket, (yes the fattier cut!), a pork rib, garlic sausage and sweet potatoes!!! I am STILL dreaming about it! I was just visiting their website and discovered a shop there. If they ship out-of-state, trust me, I am going to be all over it!

Our last stop on our culinary adventure was Matt’s Famous El Rancho  (where I also neglected to take photos!)  Probably because I was still dreaming of that BBQ! Matt’s was great, and what was extra special was that I was surprised by a Mariachi band who sang Happy Birthday to me! My only photo came out too blurry to post, but trust me when I say it was a lot of fun!!

If you made it to the end of this photo-laden post, I thank you! I also want to thank Rachael Ray Nutrish for one of the most fantastic trips of my life! I’m STILL trying to lose the weight I gained on it!!!  Austin, it was my first visit, and I fell in love!!! Thanks to every place we visited for the most amazing hospitality ever!!! “I’ll see ya, when I see ya!”



In full disclosure: We were not required to blog about this trip, hence I have not used the word “ad” or “sponsored.” That being said the kind people at Nutrish made this trip possible for all of us. All opinions expressed in this post are my own and are in no way influenced by Nutrish subsidizing our trip.