“... If I won the lottery I would not come back to work. I would stay right there and take care of dogs.”

CALLAWAY — When Teri Mattson arrived at the farm in Callaway on Saturday morning, the dozen or so dogs playing in the yard rushed to greet her and the dozen other dogs she brought with her.

“I love them,” she said. “If I could do nothing else in life — I work three days a week in Panama City, and then I spend the rest of the time at the farm — but if I won the lottery I would not come back to work. I would stay right there and take care of dogs.”

Mattson and her partner, Becky Lowrey, own Lucky Puppy Rescue, a nonprofit that for the past 13 years has taken in dogs from all over the Panhandle to care for them and find them permanent homes. The first Saturday of every month, March through November, the two open up their Callaway farm to the public, welcoming families and friendly dogs to come by and get to know the rescue with the Pawz Day FUNdraiser.

“We try to do everything outdoors. We try to get kids to connect with their dogs and people to connect with each other and network — you know, get to know other people with dogs,” Lowrey said.

“This is part of why we do this event, is to get (kids) outside; you know, don’t have a computer in front of you or a movie going on,” Mattson said. “It makes them more natural — kid-like and playing.”

Lucky Puppy is based in Bonifay, where Mattson and Lowrey own a 30-acre farm, and they host Pawz Day at Lowrey’s Callaway property: 5 acres on Callaway Bayou featuring a zipline, swings, seesaw, water access for swimming and a big dirt pile for kids to play on and a field to run around with the dogs. Buddy’s Bouncers donated an inflatable water slide and an inflatable bounce house for the day, as the company does often for the summer Pawz Days. They grilled burgers and hot dogs and, of course, accepted donations.

Mattson estimated the rescue costs about $100,000 a year to run, and that comes solely from donations. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Lucky Puppy is eligible for grants, but Mattson said they don’t have a grant writer to help them take advantage of that.

“It takes money, so we’re always begging, always begging,” she said.

The Bonifay farm is home to upward of 100 dogs, being house trained, learning how to walk on a leash and getting comfortable around other dogs and people. Lucky Puppy also vaccinates and spays and neuters the dogs that come to them, preparing the dogs for their new families. While many of the dogs are adopted by local families, Lucky Puppy also transports dogs to rescue groups in the North, who facilitate adoptions there, where overpopulation is less of a problem.

“The two biggest things are, we try to get them out of here and we try to retire the mamas,” Mattson said.

The Retired Mamas Program is Lucky Puppy’s attempt to curb overpopulation in the area. When pet owners come to the rescue with a litter of puppies, Lucky Puppy vaccinates and spays and neuters the puppies, but also provides those services for the mother and any other female dogs in the household.

“We retire your mama because if we don’t, you’re gonna call me next year with another litter and there’s just not enough homes. Plus, it’s hard on the mamas to be pregnant every year,” Mattson said.

Mattson cares greatly about the happiness of the dogs in her care. She and Lowrey have adopted several as their own pets, but Mattson said she feels sad every night when she puts the other dogs to bed and leaves them, even though she is able to provide a much better environment for them than many shelters.

“They don’t live like a shelter, where everybody’s in a cage. They get lots of exercise. The Lucky Puppy is fenced in on 30 acres,” she said. “Once you bring a dog to our environment, even if they were scared or aggressive in the past, they almost always begin their change immediately.”

Many Lucky Puppy Rescue dogs are available for adoption, and Mattson is happy to set up an appointment for anyone who wants to come meet them and choose a new furry family member. For those who want to help, but can’t adopt, Lucky Puppy is always in need of volunteers to help care for the dogs. They also always need donations of Purina One dog and puppy food, puppy pads, and bleach. For more information, contact them at 850-814-6500 or visit Facebook.com/TheLuckyPuppy.