Story by Chelsea Martin
Photos by Billy Hardiman
Canines are labeled “man’s best friend”
because, at the end of the day, it’s a
comforting truth. Many pet owners
regard their dog not as just an animal but as
a long-term companion and pivotal member
of the family.
Dogs provide loyalty and an
unconditional companionship that’s
incomparable to any other animal. They
benefit humans psychologically, physically
and socially which, in turn, improves both
species’ quality of life.
But, unfortunately, with the good can
come the bad.
Despite all those happy, healthy
companionships, sometimes dogs are
challenged by the actions of cold, heartless
individuals. The Arizona- and Southern
California-based non-profit, AZ Mastiff
Rescue (Canine Rescue Coalition), is an
organization sustained by a compassionate
group of individuals who understand the
importance of saving abused, neglected and
The effort came into being in Phoenix in
2002. Not only is the organization dedicated
to rescuing and rehabilitating English
and Neapolitan Mastiffs and other giant
breeds, but to finding the canines the ideal
companion and a permanent home.
The rescue encourages community
involvement, which includes pet ownershipeducation
and raising funds to support their
cause. It encourages confident large-breed
lovers to adopt the mastiffs, providing a
simple process by which to do so.
Tempe resident Sheleen Holland has
been an active AZ Mastiff Rescue volunteer
for nearly two years, fostering roughly 30 of
the dogs in total.
“About two years ago I lost my mastiff
to bone cancer,” Holland said. “I wasn’t
ready yet to adopt another dog but I was
experiencing emptiness and I
wanted to do something good.
“I just happened to stumble
upon the mastiff rescue through
a dog posted on pet finder. The
dog was in need of a foster home,
and I thought to myself, I could
definitely do that.”
Holland found herself
devoted to the cause, easily
becoming a core volunteer along
with a handful of others. She
balances her weekly schedule
between her full-time position at
the IT headquarters for Choice
Hotels and the rescue.
Currently, Holland and her
in Chandler, are fostering a mastiff mother, Sedona,
and her four curious puppies.
“The puppies are Inky, Wrinkles, Atlanta and
Atlantis Jr.,” Gil said. One of the puppies is named
after the Hollands’ own mastiff, 6-year-old Atlantis,
who was in rough shape at first but after a year of
recovery is now a happy, healthy 160-pound canine,
“He absolutely loves being surrounded by and
interacting with people,” Sheleen added.
Aside from Sheleen’s round-the-clock parenting
job with the puppies, she utilizes her spare time to
aid in the smooth running of day-to-day operations
of the rescue.
“Depending on how many dogs are in, I typically
spend 5 to 10 hours a week checking in through
phone calls and emails.
But for the most part I’m extremely dedicated
to the puppies right now because they are very timeconsuming,
between feeding and overall care.”
Sheleen said AZ Mastiff Rescue’s top priority
is offering these deserving animals the opportunity
for a second chance. And connecting them with
the right family is essential. As part of its efforts,
the rescue stays focused on its mission, nursing
the large breeds back to a healthy, stable condition
while simultaneously providing shelter, patience and
“Once the mastiffs are adopted they are
completely healthy and hopefully adjusted,” Sheleen
“We try to work with them the best we can. The
majority of the mastiffs that come into the rescue are
stable and kind. But the damaged ones are a lot more
sensitive and need more work.”
Thanks to Holland and the rescue team, the
group is making a difference, one canine at a time.
But the fostering, the unwavering affection and the
care come with a price.
Said Gil Holland, no stranger to erratic hours
during his medical career: “Sheleen has to be up
every couple hours. She doesn’t sleep.”