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Backstory: Giving every dog its day

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It's the thought of their fear that troubles him most. Homeless dogs are Randy Grim's passion. Whether caged in shelters or running wild on the street, the dogs consume most of his waking hours. At night, he says, he often can't sleep because "their faces haunt me." They're afraid almost all the time, Mr. Grim says. "And when I look at them, I see me."

Grim, founder of St. Louis-based Stray Rescue, is a most unlikely crusader. "I'd actually rather be a recluse," he cracks.

A self-described "poster boy for panic disorder." Grim is made anxious by new faces, public spaces, elevators, and driving. He worries about germs on doorknobs and is subject to panic attacks in crowded stores.

But when it comes to dogs, fear has no sway. Grim cruises regularly through the kind of urban blight armed police officers prefer to avoid. When necessary, he tosses harsh words at street toughs. And several times daily, he kneels among packs of stray street dogs - dogs with gunshot wounds, dogs missing limbs, dogs bleeding from open wounds. He offers them bits of hot dogs, cubes of cheese, and - to any who will allow it - gentle caresses of love.

He has been bitten, but not often. It's harder to get close to most of these frightened strays than to be bitten by them, he insists. And even the aggressive ones, he believes, are remarkably responsive to a kind and fearless approach.

Grim says he can't pinpoint an exact moment when rescuing dogs became his life's work. He began saving stray dogs and cats as a child and, in a way, it's just always been with him. He worked for a time as a flight attendant, then quit to open his own dog-grooming shop. But, distracted by the sight and thought of stray dogs, he couldn't keep his mind on business. Soon, it became his cause. He discovered where they lived, and learned to watch them, woo them, and, when necessary, trap them.

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