June 24, 2012— -- A dog took a bullet to save Colleen Combs from a home invader 20 years ago, and she's still returning the favor.
Combs founded her nonprofit dog rehabilitation program, Green Dog Rescue Project, to save "problem" shelter dogs from euthanasia about six months ago, but you won't find the animals stuffed into cages there.
Instead, they roam free as part of a pack in which Combs herself is the "alpha" pooch, she said.
"We have cages in our society, and we put prisoners in them." she told ABCNews.com. "Time and time again, I've seen so many dogs euthanized because they're misunderstood."
In standard shelters, dogs feel trapped because everything around them feels like a threat, Combs said. But her tactic is to take the leash and have a "conversation" with the dog, who usually submits within 30 seconds. The dog realizes someone else –the alpha -- is making decisions, and it can relax, she said.
In the last six months, Combs has placed 20 to 25 of these charity dogs in homes and takes care of another 25 Green Dog animals at King's Kastle, her for-profit dog rehab and socialization training facility in Windsor, Calif.
Many of them were at shelters facing euthanasia because they were too aggressive.
Combs said she's personally paid for 600 to 700 dogs at King's Kastle over the last 15 years, and decided it was time to start an official non-profit six months ago. She hopes to move Green Dog Rescue Project to its own facility within the next three to six months, she said.
Douglass Keane is just one of the believers in Comb's methods.
He said he turned to Combs in a last-ditch effort to avoid euthanizing his rescued Border Collie mix, Jakey, when he realized the dog was too aggressive to stay in his home, and a shelter refused to take him.
"I bring Jakey out on the leash, and I'm afraid to give it to her," Keane said, adding that the dog immediately began barking up a storm. "Thirty seconds later, he was over it. I swear to God, there were tears streaming down my face."
Jakey is still with Combs as a pack dog.
In November, Keane sought Combs' help again, and sued a Healdsburg animal shelter to allow him to take a 110-pound Catahoula Mastiff mix to Combs' shelter. The Healdsburg shelter initially refused and slated the dog for euthanasia around Thanksgiving, claiming it didn't want to pass on its problems to other shelters, Keane said.
Keane won and paid to Combs to rehabilitate and train the Catahoula Mastiff named Cash. Keane plans to take Cash home soon.
Keane, a chef who used to volunteer at the Healdsburg Animal Shelter where he met Jakey and Cash, said Combs opened up his mind to better dog rescue.
"She's just showed me there's a different way and a different mentality to rescue dogs," he said. "There's no stress. They don't need to be locked up. She's a very calm force."
Combs said there's no reason dogs should wind up in a landfill.
"Mother nature designed this program," she said. "If we are able to step back from being a human being and see that these animals have a culture and a language…we can coexist."