I got started in dog rescue about four years ago when I adopted my beagle, Penny. She was bought by a dog rescue at an Amish dog auction in Ohio, which is similar to a machinery auction. Animals used for breeding are numbered and auctioned off to the highest bidder with selling points like “four healthy litters last year!” and “breed in demand!” The Amish are well despised in the rescue community for their treatment of dogs, which to them are akin to cattle. Penny’s feet were splayed wide and raw from the chicken wire she had lived her life on, and at five years old she was emaciated at only 16 pounds (she’s now a happy 40).
A year later, not long after my divorce had been finalized, I fostered Max, a small Chihuahua mix, for a local rescue group. After one week, I knew I had found my second dog. He and Penny bonded immediately and complimented each other. Plus, Max was a man-hater, which echoed my own feelings at that time of my life.
Now, three years later, I’m the Director of Happy Tails Rescue Inc. The rescue is run by all volunteers and has no shelter, instead using a network of wonderful foster homes that take care of the dogs.
Dog rescues act as go-betweens for dog shelters and the public. Shelters are over-run, under-staffed and have limited space, so when they become too full or have a dog that has sat too long, instead of euthanizing, a good shelter will reach out to local rescues to “pull” the dog. Rescues then take the dog straight to the vet for a thorough exam, a heartworm and fecal test, vaccinations, and make an appointment to have the dog altered (spayed or neutered). They find a screened foster-home to commit to caring for the dog until they find a “forever home.” Popular breeds can be adopted out in a week or two, but Pittbulls, Chihuahuas, seniors, and black colored dogs can take months and months to find homes for. A rescue like Happy Tails can handle 10-15 dogs at a time, depending on available funds for vetting and the elusive good, open foster home.
It costs $150-$250 on average to vet a dog, and dogs are usually adopted out for around $200 — less if the dog is a senior, although a senior dog almost always costs a lot more to vet, with dentals and bloodwork. People often complain that adoption fees are too high, but they don’t understand that when they adopt a dog from a rescue they’re getting a fully vetted dog. If they were to do all that vetting themselves they’d spend much more than the adoption fee.
Sites like Craigslist and Facebook’s “Free Pet” Community are a bane to the dog rescuer. “Free” dogs can be scooped up by dog fighters or people selling dogs to research facilities. A dog rescue volunteer often feels like no matter how hard they work, how many dogs they pull, or how much money they collect from sitting for hours at weekly adoption events at Petsmart, they’re barely making a drop in the bucket. The supply of dogs in need never ends.
The need is so great, the way we throw out our senior dogs or our no-longer-cute-puppy 1-year-old hyper dogs, never ceases to amaze. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Gandhi. We aren’t doing very well — over 20,000 animals are euthanized each week in the U.S., while we put on our blinders to the suffering we perpetuate and breed and buy and breed and buy.
The consensus in animal rescue is that the longer you do the work of saving animals, the more you dislike people. You’re continually confronted with the selfish and heartless side of people. We get calls for dogs burned with cigarettes, dogs hung up as training bait for dog fighting, dogs tossed out of car windows and over bridges, Mama’s with their newborn puppies on the street with ingrown collars, dogs that can’t walk because their nails have grown in circular from neglect, dogs without a single hair on them because the fleas have had their way so long, dogs that have been starved into complete skeletons, dogs that have their growth stunted because as they grew they never left their crate so their bones re-shaped. Every day there’s another case like this, another reason to cry over the suffering humans inflict.
Two weeks ago, I was at a nearby city’s Animal Control on a late Friday afternoon and came across a very pregnant Chihuahua. The conditions of Animal Control vary city to city, but this was Halloween and in Northwest Indiana it was a blustery day. The kennels are made of concrete and have a heavy metal door that drops like a guillotine to separate the inside from the outside. The wind whistled under the door and the very pregnant Chihuahua was curled up in a small dog bed on the concrete floor. I said “crap” under my breath and knew I was in for a long weekend. I scooped her up and brought her home. No question, if Mama Chihuahua (who we named Oreo) had given birth there that weekend she and the pups would have died. Cold drafts are an enemy to puppies, and newborn Chihuahua puppies can fit comfortably in the palm of your hand. I didn’t need this new commitment as I already had a litter of six four-week-old Lab mix puppies I had sunk over $1300 in vet bills into, as two of them had developed serious pneumonia and were hospitalized for a week undergoing nebulizer treatments.
I settled in the poor old Mama, who had been found on the streets as a stray, at my house into a nice comfy crate with a bed, and she gobbled up two large bowls of wet puppy food. She was terrified, but not aggressive, and she flinched when I pet her. Not a sign of an easy life. I was shocked by how old she was — at least six or seven from look of her teeth and frail bones.
By Sunday night Mama had gone into labor, and Monday morning at 5:00 a.m. the first baby appeared, dry, feet first, and stuck tight. I knew immediately this was bad and I grabbed Oreo up, put her in the car, and rushed to the emergency vet only a mile or so from my house. The first baby hadn’t had a chance, but over the next five hours I waited in the waiting room while Mama Oreo had five healthy baby girls. A morning off of work and $350 later, we came home and settled Mama and the babies in. She’s a good Mom, and even the runt, who is half the size of the others, is hanging in there.
Every puppy (and Mama Oreo) will be completely vetted with checkups and vaccines, spayed, and microchipped. We will then screen adoptive homes for them through applications and vet reference checks, and do home visits for each puppy. Rescues are there to fix the problem of homeless pets, and do not want to leave any chance open that a dog in their care will contribute to the problem of unwanted litters or end up in a shelter. That’s why they’re so picky about choosing adoptive homes.
I want people to be aware that that gas chambers are still used in some states (like Michigan) to kill unwanted animals; puppies bought at pet stores have parents who will suffer horribly their whole lives; thousands of beagles are hooked up to breathing masks and piped in oven cleaners and other chemicals in labs until 50% die from the fumes; and there are people out there care so deeply and feel the pain of these animals so palpably that they’re willing to sink their life savings into easing their suffering.
It’s a whole new world out there when your eye is on the four-legged creatures that look up at us with such love. “Think occasionally of the suffering which you spare yourself the sight,” said Albert Schweitzer.
Emily Halgrimson is Today’s Machining World’s Managing Editor and Marketing Manager. To support her “Noble Paws” please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Question 1: Do you prefer animals to people?
Question 2: What is your noble cause?