WITH their wrinkled faces and sad-looking eyes, pug dogs easily tug at any animal lover's heart strings.
But Wantirna resident Joanna Herceg isn't just a fan of the breed, she's made the small dogs her life.
Ms Herceg is president of Pug Rescue and Adoption Victoria and her home was chosen as the location for the state government's announcement last week that it has established a $1.6 million fund to protect and care for abused and neglected animals.
Organisations will be able to apply for funds up to $50,000.
Ms Herceg said Pug Rescue was thrilled to be eligible for the new fund because her group wasn't always acknowledged in the same way as traditional animal shelters.
"We work out of the family home. We don't want to put them in kennels or runs," she said. "You can't rehabilitate them as well or see their true personality."
Ms Herceg manages a group of pug foster carers, mainly in the outer east, who nurse the dogs back to health until they're ready to be adopted.
Pugs have many special needs that require particular attention from their owners.
They can't be left alone for too long, they're susceptible to heat stress, shed hair most days of the year, need their nose rolls cleaned twice a week, and can drown because they can't swim.
The organisation has several ideas about how the grants could benefit them, including covering veterinary fees.
If a pug requires medical attention, the foster carer pays for the vet bill. "Every third pug can cost around $2000 to help," Ms Herceg said.
Funds could also be used to pay someone to work with the pugs once a week.
"We're all volunteers and the burn-out factor in rescue is so high. There's no pay and you spend a lot of your own money."
The organisation often gets phone calls about pug health and behaviour issues, so another option was a worker who could answer those questions, Ms Herceg said.
Pug Rescue and Adoption Victoria care for between 70 and 100 pugs each year and there are about 15 households looking after them.
Most of the carers are in and around Knox because Ms Herceg likes to regularly check up on the dogs.
She said all the carers treated the pugs "like our own" and if something needs to be done to help the dog, "it gets done".
Because they are kept in a family home, Ms Herceg says the process to adoption is often a "fantastic, smooth transition".
The organisation is always looking more foster carers.
More details: pugrescue.org.au.