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It's not a charity event for dogs until the first crotch gets sniffed, so let it be known that the WDVD-FM (96.3) radiothon didn't truly get rolling Friday until 7:45 a.m.

By then, the tote board already showed nearly $4,000 raised for Detroit Dog Rescue. But the no-kill shelter and adoption center wasn't bringing its resident canines to Orchard Mall in West Bloomfield until 11 a.m., so it was up to a Lab mix named Josie to get the party started.

She sniffed the cages where the rescue dogs would be available to take home and love for as little as $9.63. She sniffed one of the loudspeakers on the stage where morning hosts Blaine Fowler and Lauren Crocker were exhorting their listeners for donations. Then she sniffed a pair of Levi 501s. Bingo.

Josie, a rescue from a different shelter, is the boon companion of Sam Keene, the lead marketing strategist for presenting sponsor Diversified Members Credit Union.

"I'm so excited that I'm able to bring my own dog," Keene said. Josie didn't say anything, but she seemed equally pleased.

Fowler, 51, said the station used to do a similar fundraiser for a national children's charity, but it felt disconnected.

"We were like, 'Let's do something that's really grass-roots,'" he said. Or in this case, roll-in-the-grass roots.

Crocker, 38, is the proud but realistic owner of two English bulldogs, 10-year-old Molly and 9-year-old Rosie. "Old, cranky ladies," she called them, but they know just when to settle their 60-pound selves into her lap and perk up a bleak day.

She suggested Detroit Dog Rescue as the beneficiary, and their second annual collaboration Friday raised $61,268, a slight dropoff from the $63,000 last year. If that's a relative Chihuahua next to a $1.2 million Great Dane like the annual Salvation Army radio event, it's still a significant sum to an organization that handles up to 100 dogs at a time on an operating budget of $500,000.

Executive director Kristina Rinaldi said she was bound for nursing school until some friends founded the organization a decade ago.

"Detroit needed us," she said, and she has always felt a pull toward animals. It was a match made in the streets and alleys of a city with an estimated 140,000 dogs — most of them beloved and cared for, but too many not.

"Any dog we come across in Detroit that needs our help, whether pit bull or Pomeranian, we don't discriminate," said Rinaldi, 36.

Working with Detroit Animal Control, she said, and a corps of 80 tenacious volunteers, her organization fosters and adopts out whatever comes through the door, be they heartthrobs or hard cases.

"A lot of shelters only want to rescue dogs they can move in and out. I understand that," she said.

Detroit Dog Rescue trainers, she said, might devote months to rehabilitating a single animal. Case in point: Leroy, her family's 100-pound chocolate Lab, who was a biting, growling 6-week-old when she took him off the hands of an overwhelmed breeder while the breeder still had hands left.

"He's amazing now," she said. "He's just a very good boy."

Oh, yes, he is. And so, she said, are the dogs who were up for adoption at the mall, unless of course they're very good girls.

Ordinarily, she said, the cost is $250 to adopt a composed, health-checked, birth-controlled rescue dog. In honor of WDVD's radio frequency, the fee was spayed or neutered to $9.63 for adults or $96.30 for puppies.

Edgar Johnson of Detroit was so taken with a black-and-white 14-week-old called Zuckey that they went home together — a savings, as if it mattered, of $153.70.

Johnson is 75, a quiet former autoworker who said he spent exactly 30.7 years with Ford before he retired a decade ago. Zuckey was quiet, too: not so much as a bark while strangers looked at him and a volunteer fetched him from his cage and he sat in Johnson's arms as though he'd been born there.

Coconut was more lively.

He'd shown up a few minutes ahead of Josie. He's 60% Shih Tzu, said owner Chris Boytim of Rochester Hills, 40% poodle, "and 100% love."

Boytim, 48, and partner Lucy Cruz, 50, have photos of Coconut the way Detroit Dog Rescue found him, with dirty fur so matted he couldn't walk or even open his mouth. Friday, he was a poster child, prancing around the stage while Cruz chatted on the air.

Then he and Josie discovered one another. They sniffed, they preened, they rubbed, they bonded, the phones rang, and the radiothon continued on, uninhibited and unleashed.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn

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