It started off as a handful of animal lovers travelling the country in an old van.
But nine years later, a Northern Ireland rescue programme has saved its 10,000th dog from certain death.
The landmark achievement has been recorded by the Chance of a Lifetime (Coal) project, run by the Assisi Animal Sanctuary.
It was founded in 2003 by five people who wanted to tackle the growing issue of dogs being needlessly put to sleep in council pounds.
They would collect fit, healthy dogs from the pounds and transfer them by boat to animal sanctuaries in Scotland and England which were running at less than half their capacity.
There was — and still is .— greater demand for dogs across the water because of the difference in population, meaning the majority of animals are rehomed within three weeks.
The project was launched by Assisi chairman Brian Bingham, who was angry at the number of healthy dogs being destroyed in council pounds because no one wanted them. He was joined by four life-long supporters of Assisi, Harry Glendinning and his wife, Rosemary, Billy Bullar and Charles Raitt-Brown.
Using an old van, the small team would drive around the various pounds to find suitable dogs for rehoming. Today, the project has a specialist air-conditioned vehicle with 20 kennels bought through fundraising, and a large team of volunteer drivers.
While the majority of dogs go to loving homes, some become working animals. A large number have gone on to be trained as sniffer dogs for the police and prison service, with one becoming a cadaver dog, used to find human remains. One even managed to land himself a cosy spot on an estate in Scotland with a laird and his family.
Mr Bingham said the 10,000 dogs rescued by the project would fill every seat in the Odyssey Arena — but warned many are still needlessly put down.
“While we are very proud of the fact that we have rescued 10,000 dogs from almost certain destruction in council pounds, it saddens us that society in Northern Ireland still dumps and abandons so many dogs,” he said.
Mr Bingham said dogs have become a commodity in society, and often have little worth or connection with people who find themselves with unwanted pups.
Project co-ordinator Bill Donan said: “This is a tremendous achievement and we are grateful to every one of our volunteer drivers who give their time freely to help us with this cause.
“There are a lot of healthy dogs being put down because of irresponsible people who either don’t have pets neutered or don’t give enough thought to the lifelong commitment of a pet.”
Last year the programme cost £88,000 to run. This year will be more than £120,000 as they rescue more dogs than ever before
To make a donation to Coal, log onto assisi-ni.org and click on the donate button. Mark your donation COAL.