The range of emotions on this trip swings wildly from devastation and hopelessness to joy and gratefulness. Almost every night we’ve stayed with old friends who I rarely see, but are dear to my heart. It has been wonderful to catch up with them and they’ve also proved a delightful distraction from the reality of rescue in the rural south. There hasn’t been time in the evening to dwell on what we’ve seen during the day; there also hasn’t been time to write.
I mentioned this to Lisa and she said, “But it would be really hard to go back to a dark hotel room after what we’ve seen.” And she’s right. We’ve been blessed with wonderful hosts and hostesses all week long who’ve shared their food and homes and hearts.
I’m writing this post from my second hotel night. Lisa has flown home to PA and Nick has arrived to help. He’s taken over the driving and I’m trying to ‘be Lisa’ which is a much bigger job than I realized. She has been a wonderkund at social media – tweeting and posting and tagging.
She has been the one getting the word out, which I’ve discovered is probably the most critical part of this trip. People need to know. If they don’t, they can’t help. They need to know what the shelters need, how they can help the dogs, and the truth of what we all wish was not true. So, Nick has been doing the driving and I have been doing my best to gather the pictures and put them out for you to see.
I’m way behind on recapping out shelter visits, but really want you to get a picture of what is happening. On Wednesday we headed to South Carolina to visit three shelters who have more people and larger buildings, but take in even more dogs – Oconee, our first stop, can take in as many as 500 in a month!
We were late getting to Oconee, having stayed up much too late after the Park Road Bookstore signing sharing stories and wine and laughing our butts off with my old college friend Eli and his husband Greg. Lisa called to tell them we were running late and discovered that not only was the staff waiting for us, but also the local Fox affiliate and an editor and photographer from the Seneca Journal!
This shouldn’t have been news to me since Angel from Oconee had told me they were coming, but in the blur that has been the week, I hadn’t connected all the dots. I slapped on a baseball hat and lipstick and Lisa changed shirts as we hurried, as much as you can hurry in a huge van loaded with thousands of pounds of dog food, towards Oconee.
At the shelter there were indeed press, plus Lynn, the hero who works tirelessly to save dogs at Oconee, Angel who is the sunny face who handles marketing, and many, many other volunteers who come there to walk dogs and take pictures and do everything they can to save as many dogs as they can—which sadly is not all of them.
As we toured the intake and kennels, I noted the red X’s on some of the kennel cards. Lynn said, “That’s not good.” In other words, these are the dogs who will be euthanized when they run out of room and time. Oconee is at capacity. When there is no more space for dogs (and believe me they are utilizing every possible inch), more space must be made and this is why Lynn, Angel, and the others scramble to get as many dogs adopted or out through a rescue as they can.
One little pittie pup, Ski, especially caught my eye. She had a big red X and sat calmly in her kennel when I bent down to say hello.
Lynn didn’t know her story, as she was on the ‘other side’ (the side run by the Sheriff’s department which handles the intake), but she promised to find out as soon as she could so that I could beg OPH to pull this adorable little girl.
There are many volunteers walking dogs, hanging out with them in the outdoor areas, giving them treats, and getting to know them. Oconee is blessed by this fact, but it doesn’t change the hard reality that walks and treats help, but won’t save them all. They need homes and foster homes. There are simply too many dogs.
Oconee has a good spay/neuter program and yet they told me that this summer they’ve taken more dogs than any other. Their building is welcoming and their people positive and friendly. They have utilized the local media to get attention for their dogs. They are doing so much right, and yet the dogs still come.
Much of this is a culture problem. Many in rural, poor areas simply do not value their dogs. They don’t embrace spay and neuter, so even when it’s available at low cost or even free, they don’t take advantage of it. When a dog becomes a burden – in terms of expense, time, space, or behavior, instead of solving their own problem, they dump the dog. And county-run shelters have no choice but to take it.
There are changes that can be made through legislation, education, and innovation, but when a shelter is overloaded, job number one is simply caring for the dogs in front of you. There is no time to petition local government to create spay/neuter laws. There is no time to get out to the places where the message is sorely needed. There is no time to prioritize innovative programs.
To once again beat my endless drum—more foster homes would create the breathing room that shelters need. If their kennels weren’t loaded beyond capacity, there would be time for assessing and training the dogs. Time to start up new programs, partner with other shelters, offer community outreach and education. Foster, foster, foster—are you sick of me saying it yet? (I hope not because I’m far from done.)
At Oconee, like many of the shelters, Animal Control, run by the sheriff’s department, has the final say on the dogs. They handle intake and they compel euthanization. Dogs arrive as a result of an arrest, domestic dispute, code violations, fire, death, bite incident, and a million other reasons. But even more are simply dumped at the shelter, dropped off as strays or by owners who have every excuse under the sun as to why they cannot or will not care for their pet.
There is so much to be angry about in dog rescue. At the event at Park Road Books in Charlotte this week, someone asked, “How can you let go of that anger? Aren’t you angry?”
I am angry, but anger won’t solve this problem. If we focused on every aspect of this situation that calls for anger, we’d get nothing done and it would eat us alive. We must focus on the dogs and what we can do and what so many amazing people are already doing. Anger can motivate, but it can’t bring change in complicated situations or people’s hearts (which are many times the same).
My next post is going to be more hopeful – promise! Because the next two stops on our shelter tour were ones where the situation is changing and the programs are taking hold. They don’t have all the answers – but they’ve found a few.
Thanks for riding along with me on this tour. Please visit my Another Good Dog facebook group to find the lists of shelter needs and the addresses where you can send donated stuff. When I get home from this trip and the dust settles, I’ll add a page to my website, AnotherGoodDog.org which will share updated lists of the needs of all the shelters that I visited. This trip is far from over in many, many ways. You can’t see what I’m seeing and not be changed.
Thanks for reading!
If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check out my new website, AnotherGoodDog.org, where you can find more pictures of the dogs from the book (and some of their happily-ever-after stories), information on fostering, event schedule, and more!
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more regular updates of foster dogs past and present and extra puppy pictures, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.
Be the change,
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available for preorder now: