Anybody who loves animals knows our pets keep our hearts open, and you can’t find two more loving dog and cat owners than Michelle and Denis of Swampscott.

Through an organization founded in response to abandoned animals as a result of Hurricane Katrina, Cynthia Sweet of Sweet Paws Rescue has created a proud “army of volunteers” in the tens of thousands who foster and adopt dogs and now, cats.

Michelle and Denis are the human parents of Missy and Barley. The canine pair, in turn, is the parents of seven glorious puppies who turned one year old on Aug. 3 and had a big birthday bash to celebrate.

Missy found herself very pregnant with no caretaker and no home. Jeanette, a rescue member in Mississippi, alerted Sweet Paws workers who coaxed Missy, about three-and-half-years old to allow them to feed and treat her and her unborn babies. Meanwhile, Barley, about 4 years old, showed up in protective mode.

Her knight in shining armor would not leave Missy’s side and was there for the births. Six of the newborns, four girls and three boys, were robust and healthy. Their brother, Boo, was so small ( 2.5 ounces ) that he was not expected to make the night.

His dad, Barley, would not be convinced to leave his post.

As soon as the siblings were weaned, their pictures were posted on Sweetpawsrescue.org. They were gone in a day! Each adopter had been vetted after filling out a serious and detailed application and gone through the foster or adoption process.

Boo was taken by Rhonda who brought the little guy to life with the help of her long-time friend, Janet. He needed feeding through a syringe ever few hours and very special crating and clean-up care. Eventually, Boo started to grow and respond to Rhonda and those around him.

On a beautiful clear summer Sunday, Angela Steadman and Peter Bernardin of Boxford offered their open field for a true family reunion. Missy and Barley hadn’t seen their puppies in a year. Many of the puppies hadn’t seen each other since their separation.

It was sheer pandemonium and joy as the youngsters ran and rumbled and played on a course with ropes and tires and jumped over obstacles. Missy and Barley didn’t know where to turn first! Other Sweet Paws rescuers brought their adoptees.

Joyce, mistress of Merry, one of the litter of seven, proclaimed with deep emotion: “Once a Sweet Paws dog, always a Sweet Paws dog.” It was obvious these volunteers share a love for their dogs and cats that has comforted and made the animals feel totally safe and at home.

Feeling safe was not always part of the lives of these rescued and beloved pets. Barley had been terribly beaten before he was found by Sweet Paws in Mississippi and treated and shipped to be adopted eventually by Michelle and Denis.

In fact, Barley arrived with deep cuts and scars all over his face, gunshot pellet marks, buckshot wounds in his leg and a tongue severely burned. His canine teeth were so ground down that he might have been rendered defenseless.

“He was a dog nobody wanted,” said Michelle. Yet, Michelle and Denis saw the sweetness in his face and the soulfulness in his eyes. They decided on the spot they would take both dogs, Barley and Missy. After reading their story, the Swampscott couple decided the two dogs needed to be kept together. As parents, Missy and Barley had fought to stay together. When they first arrived here, they were fostered together by Heather Zengilowski of Salem.

Heather nursed them back to health and they became great pals with her dog, Ruby.

Sweet Paws' adoption coordinator,  Stephanie Rocitowski, said dogs from Mississippi and Alabama are placed in “transport” in special vans equipped with air conditioning and individualized crates. Mother and puppies are kept together. It’s usually a 20-hour drive.

Julie Herget has fostered 23 dogs and puppies so far. At the party, she announced that she was about to receive three new dogs , a mother and two puppies. Her love for every one of these dogs was palpable. She is also very involved in advocacy and promotes MASS HB 800 and S175, in an attempt to outlaw “puppy mills” and animals caged and for sale in commercial pet stores.

There are many animal rescue leagues, nationally and locally. The Northeast Animal Shelter on Highland Ave. in Salem is well known and respected. Sweet Paws can be reached at: info@Sweet pawsrescue.org. Reach out to Ina at inar@rcn.com