After a fun night and day in Nashville with my hubby in which we discovered my book at Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s bookstore!), visited a few honky tonks, got some much needed rest, and I bought new cowboy boots (!), we headed to Scott County, VA to visit the shelter that inspired my book.
Back in summer 2016, I was about forty foster dogs in to my rescue adventures when I attended a training seminar with OPH. We heard about how the rescue came to be, how many dogs we had collectively rescued to date (6000, I think it was), and then we heard from some special guests. Rachel and Ashley had come all the way from Scott County, Virginia. Ashley was a volunteer and foster mom and Rachel was a volunteer, foster mom, and rescue coordinator for the Scott County Humane Society.
As I’ve learned, at many rural shelters the intake is handled by animal control and the ‘shelter’, but the actual saving of dogs is done by volunteers, many times a Humane Society organization. If not for these amazing people, the dogs would just be held until their owners came and found them, or they were euthanized. Sadly, there are still rural shelters where there are no volunteer organizations like the Humane Society.
Rachel and Ashley had come to OPH’s meeting so they could tell us about the impact OPH had on Scott County. OPH began pulling dogs from Scott County in mid-2015. At that time Scott’s kill rate was well over 60%. Now, a year later their rate was just 3% thanks in large part to OPH. They just wanted all of us to know we were making a difference. It was the moment when I realized that fostering dogs was critical not only for the dog in my home, but for the people who worked in the shelters.
I was excited to go to Scott County because this time instead of just delivering donations and touring the kennels, we were going to get to spring six dogs! The van was almost empty and Nick and I spent the night before organizing what was left to give to Scott and assembling crates for the passengers of our freedom ride.
When we arrived at Scott, we unloaded the donations and met many of the Humane Society’s volunteers.
These amazing people spend countless hours, especially on holidays and weekends (when the paid shelter employees do not work) cleaning the kennels, feeding and walking the dogs, taking pictures and getting to know them in hopes that they can find a rescue to save them. They do some local adoptions they told us, but most of those dogs come back.
Scott had no cats or kittens because in their county cats are deemed, ‘free roaming animals’ so the County is not obligated to deal with cats. I shook my head at this news. It seemed so foreign to me, but it is the way of life in Scott, and likely many other rural places in our country. Delta, a humane society volunteer who also helps out at a low cost spay/neuter facility that spays and neuters many cats, said she’d take the litter and cat food we had left in the van to donate there.
We also met Allison, a hound-loving SCHS volunteer who fosters many of the hounds who linger at Scott County which fills up with hounds, especially this time of year. In fact, Allison has so many foster hounds at her house that she’s paying to board several others in her efforts to save them. Allison is a school teacher so you know she can’t afford to be doing this, but hounds, like pits, can be very difficult to move out through rescues or adoption. We also met Sonja, Ted, Jackie, and Billy, who is the rescue coordinator, the (volunteer) job that Rachel had been doing when OPH first linked up with Scott.
It was a treat to catch up with Ashley and she gave me a tour of the kennel. The Scott County shelter burned down several years ago, so the shelter is relatively new, but it’s very simple—a large pole building with a cement floor. A drain runs down the center of the building and two sets of kennels face each other. The noise is deafening when the dogs get going and you have to lean close together to be heard.
While driving through Tennessee the day before, I’d learned that a pregnant dog had been turned in to Scott County by its owner. I’d contacted several people at OPH who said I couldn’t pull her unless she had a rabies vaccine and a health certificate – the two things she’d need to cross a state line. Without them, she couldn’t come to Pennsylvania with me.
I rolled around all night trying to imagine a scenario in which I’d miraculously find a vet open on Labor Day in the mountains of Virginia. And then I envisioned me just adopting her outright – for myself. Who would stop me?
That morning over breakfast I told Nick, “I’m taking that dog.”
He nodded and said, “I know.”
The pregnant dog was small – only 27 pounds. She was speckled like a coon hound and huddled against the corner of her kennel, cringing from the noise, her eyes closed. Ashley and I went into her narrow kennel and I ran my hand over her. She didn’t move or acknowledge me. Her belly bulged.
There was no way I was leaving this dog to deliver puppies on a concrete floor amidst the unbearable noise.
I told Ashley, “I’m taking her,” and then went to figure out how. I called our puppy coordinator, Barb, and she said, “Gimme a few minutes to figure this out.”
I didn’t know what Barb would figure out, but I was absolutely not leaving without that dog. For the past nine days, I’d seen heartbreak after heartbreak and been unable to do anything except hand out a few donations and write about it. It was in my power to do something here. I could actually rescue, and I was sure as heck gonna rescue.
While I waited on Barb’s call, I toured the rest of the shelter, but by now I knew what I’d find—large dogs, pit mixes, older dogs—the dogs no one wants and few rescues will pull. SCHS works hard to save every dog, and they nearly do. They are serious heroes.
I discovered that the county only pays for dog food – not wormers or flea meds/preventative, not treats, not bedding, not anything – just food. I posted their wish list on my Another Good Dog facebook group, along with their dream wish—an animal scale to weigh the dogs so they could give rescues a more accurate assessment of the dogs they were trying to rescue. (note: one amazing reader decided to buy them a brand new scale! When I told Billy, he said, “That is freakin’ awesome!”)
Barb called back and told me they had a plan. There was a 24-hour clinic in Purcellville, VA. I could drive directly to the clinic that was mostly on my way, and she would meet me there. If the clinic could do the health certificate and rabies, all would be well, if not, she’d take my little mama to her house (she lives in VA) and I would come back to get her in a day or so and take her to a vet.
We loaded everybody up and said a hasty good-bye. I would have loved to have stayed longer with these wonderful people, but we had a long, now longer, drive ahead of us.
One of the dogs on the van, Flannery O’Connor (I gave all my transport dogs southern names), was going home with us because we hadn’t secured a foster for her. Whenever she heard us talking, she would start barking. If we stayed quiet, she did. “Figures,” I told Nick, “the only noisy one on the van is going home with us.”
It was a beautiful drive up I-81 along the Blue Ridge Mountains and I soaked up the sight of my future home state, happy that I had finally been able to take a few dogs out of a shelter instead of simply leaving frustrated and sad at all I couldn’t do.
We made it to Purcellville and Barb informed me that there was no one at the clinic who could do what we needed to do, so we transferred our little mama, who I named Dixie, to Barb’s car and I told her good-bye and I’d see her soon.
We dropped off the other dogs at two stops in Maryland and headed home with Flannery and another dog (Gimme Some Shuga) who was staying with us for a couple days until her foster could pick her up.
It took two more days until I could pick up Dixie. Back I went to Virginia. By then, Barb had determined that something was seriously wrong with her leg. I carried her into the vet’s office, since she had barely moved in her time at Barb’s and when I set her down on the side walk, she took two steps away and froze, stunned still by fear. This poor dog.
The vet determined that the bent leg was actually an old fracture. She’d broken her leg some time ago and the owner who had so kindly dumped her at the shelter last Friday had never gotten treatment for it. The bones had fused together and calcified which makes her left hind leg shorter than the other and never completely straight. It doesn’t straighten or reach the ground when she stands but she can move on it okay (if she were to ever move).
We needed to take x-rays to verify this assessment for Dixie’s eventual adoption. OPH medical approved the x-rays and the vet told me, “She’s so little, with the right angle we can probably see the puppies.”
Sure enough, she was right on both counts. It was an old break, fused together, nothing to be done except maybe give her glucosamine to make her more comfortable.
And she could see the puppies. A whole mess of them (her words). It was hard to know for sure how many as they weren’t fully developed yet. Dixie will have another week, hopefully two to grow them.
Since we installed Dixie in our puppy room, she has slept. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a dog so exhausted. Maybe Berneen, another Scott County dog I fostered several years go who slept for the first several days at our house. When I go in to check on Dixie, she thumps her tail at the sound of my voice. She is gentle and sweet and so, so, quiet. I hope that she is recovering and she will find her spirit soon. She does get up to eat when I feed her, but then lies right back down.
It feels good to have finally been able to help one of the dogs we met on this tour. But I met so many others that I could do nothing for.
At least not yet.
I’m thinking and scheming and dreaming and writing and planning.
Something must be done. It is not acceptable that in a county as rich and advanced as ours that so many dogs are dying unnecessary deaths.
It is not acceptable that we house them in cruel conditions that break their spirits and wear down their souls.
The endless stream of unwanted animals continues no matter how many good people like those I met at Scott County and all over the rural south, work themselves to physical and emotional exhaustion trying to help. In many ways it seems like these volunteers are the little boy with his finger in the dike, holding back an ocean but not able close up the hole.
We should have fixed this problem a long time ago. Bob Barker has been telling people to spay and neuter for fifty years (does Drew Carey still say it?).
Why don’t they listen?
What are the obstacles?
What will it take to make them understand that their ignorance and defiance is what is killing countless dogs and cats?
What will it take to make governments mandate spay and neuter?
To make people value their animals and not give up at the first inconvenience or obstacle?
When will county governments seek out solutions instead of hiding the problem in underfunded shelters built next to garbage dumps and railroad tracks?
So many questions.
We need to keep asking them.
Until change happens, one thing you can do is offer your support to the people who are on the front lines of this battle. I’ve added a page to my AnotherGoodDog.org site titled, “How You Can Help.” It lists the shelters and rescues that I have visited, what they need and their addresses, so you can mail your gifts directly to them.
Maybe this year, instead of Christmas presents you can send a few Kong toys (or equally indestructible toys) or a box of treats or a package of dewormers or flea treatments to a shelter in honor of someone you know who has everything they need. Or maybe you’ll want to set up an automatic order on Chewy.com so your gift can last all year long. These are small things, but they can make a difference. A dog not plagued by worms or fleas feels better and you know the expression on your own pet’s face when you pull out the treats. It doesn’t take much to make a dog happy.
Feel free to also write a note of encouragement to the shelter workers because they need all the support they can get to keep their fingers in the dike.
Thanks for reading!
NOTE: One of the shelters I visited (and wrote about), Lenoir County SPCA is directly in the path of Hurricane Florence. OPH has mobilized and is bringing 13 dogs northward today (one to my house), but this means that we will be short foster homes for the regular transports from our other shelters. We need MORE FOSTER HOMES now. If you live in VA, MD, DC, or south central PA and have ever considered stepping up to foster, NOW is the time. Email me to find out more or apply at www.ophrescue.org/foster.
If you’d like to know more about the book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, check 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, the schedule of signings, and what you can do right now to help shelter animals!
If you’d like to know how you can volunteer, foster, adopt or donate with OPH, click here. And if you’d like more pictures and videos of my foster dogs past and present, be sure to join the Another Good Dog facebook group.
Released August 2018 from Pegasus Books and available for preorder now: