Happy New Year, friends! With the puppies launched and Bell in the process of being launched, I’ve got a little breathing room to focus on a few upcoming projects for 2020.
The first of those projects is one I’ve mentioned on the blog and been hinting about for the last few months. It’s a nonprofit initiative of Operation Paws for Homes called, Who Will Let the Dogs Out. Photographer Nancy Slattery and I created it so we could formally fundraise and work to raise awareness and resources for shelters and rescues in our rural south in the hopes of ending the senseless killing of so many good dogs.
The idea first began to take shape as I sat on a patch of gravel with a terrified pitbull named Hazel outside a South Carolina shelter last spring. We’d just escaped the deafening noise of the shelter—a metal pole building where the pounding sound of over one hundred dogs frantic with fear and excitement erupted with every visitor, employee, or new dog. Basically, all day and night.
Hazel was shaking as I coaxed her outside. I’d intended to take her for a walk or throw a ball with her in the playyard, but it had taken so long just to get outside, that instead we sat in the sunshine. She wouldn’t meet my eye or lie down, but she sat tentatively on the gravel and stared at the building as I petted her and talked to her.
I’d seen the statistics of that shelter, had interviewed the director, and knew that the odds for this terrified, shut-down dog were not good. It was likely Hazel would eventually be euthanized after suffering for weeks in the windowless, noisy building, lying on a concrete floor with no bedding or toys or comfort of any kind. There was nothing I could do and that fact simply ate at me. It motivated me to return to the shelters two more times last year, each time the conviction that I had to do something grew.
So many of the shelters I visited on my trips were doing all they could to save animals, but the need was endless. There was never enough time, help, or money, and certainly not enough adopters. Rescues made a huge difference, but I know now that we cannot rescue our way out of this problem. If we could, we would have– the people I know in rescue are some of the most convicted, determined, passionate people. They want to save dogs, but no matter how many they do, the desperate need continues.
We have to find local solutions, change attitudes, create smart laws, and support the people doing the real work at shelters and rescues, not just in the cities or at the well-funded county shelters, but in the tiny towns, down the forgotten roads where the local shelter might be in someone’s backyard or a shack inside the municipal dump.
One thing I know is that if I want to help, I’ve got to get off my little hill here in Pennsylvania and travel south. Listen to the people who are living this and then tell their stories, share what I learn, and find ways to connect the knowledge, resources, ideas, and people with the shelters and rescues that need them. I can’t simply take their dogs and move them north, yes this saves lives and yes it is critical but all it does is put a bandaid on a gaping wound that is endlessly oozing lives. We have to find a way to heal that wound.
I know that if you were sitting with Hazel on that sunny patch of gravel, if you’d seen what I saw down the dirt roads and behind chainlink fences ringed with barbed wire, you too would want to do something. It’s easy to forget where they came from when I’m cuddling puppies in my mudroom or throwing a ball for my latest foster at the dogpark. It’s easy to feel good that I’ve done something and to push aside the fact that there are so many more still suffering, so many that won’t be so lucky. And while, yes, our country has come a long way, it is not far enough. I won’t settle for better. Better certainly didn’t help Hazel.
So Who Will Let the Dogs Out intends to do just that – find a way to let the dogs out. I don’t have the solution and don’t believe there is a single solution. But I do know this is fixable.
We’ve visited shelters with tiny budgets that were bright, cheerful places where dogs lounged on raised beds and chewed filled kong toys between multiple daily walks and visits from volunteers while they awaited rescue or adoption. I met directors who work hard to connect with their community, helping to teach them the value of an animal. Where they partner with people to educate and equip them to care for their animals, having them spayed or neutered, microchipped, and give them preventatives and vaccines. I’ve encountered Humane Societies or Associations where they are working to change regulations, nurture partnerships, and create progressive facilities. Places where the tide is slowly turning.
But we’ve visited too many places where they are drowning. Where the shelter director or animal control officer or volunteers simply cannot keep up. They spend their days in an unending shell game moving dogs and shuffling cats, trying to keep as many as they can alive. There is no time or money or people to do much more than clean the kennels and fill the food bowls, and some can’t even do that. Dogs suffering? At least they’re alive. But what kind of life is it spent for months or even years in a cement kennel, bombarded with noise and neglect?
The first step to any kind of change is awareness. So that’s where we have to begin. By traveling south, Nancy and I, along with any other volunteers we take south, will start by sharing the stories. We’ll help people to know about Hazel and all the other dogs waiting and wishing, and we’ll introduce them to the heroes who work every day to save them. We’ll do our best to try to understand the problems–those unique to an individual shelter or rescue and those universal throughout the rural south. It’s not possible to fix a problem you don’t understand. (That was always my problem with geometry.)
Our next trip in March will take us to western Tennessee to the rural dog pounds and private rescues that have cropped up in the absence of county shelters, and then down to Mississippi to meet our OPH partners and other rescues. If you’d like to support us, you can do so in many, many ways.
Because undoubtedly I’ll have a new foster dog to write about soon on this blog, most of what we’re up to can be found on the blog, Who Will Let the Dogs Out, and on our Facebook page or Instagram by the same name. I hope you’ll subscribe to the blog and follow us on social media, but what I really hope is that you’ll share the posts far and wide to help us reach as large an audience as we can.
Nancy and I are more than willing to travel (a reasonable distance) to give presentations on the situation in our southern shelters. If you know of a group who would like to hear our stories and see the pictures, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I am desperately in search of a bigger microphone to share this message.
If you’d like to support us financially, there are lots of ways. The fundraiser for our trip is up and running on our Facebook page—all donations are tax-deductible. You can also send a check to OPH or donate through the website, just be sure to designate it for ‘Who Will Let the Dogs Out’ so it finds its way to us.
We still have Another Good Dog PA Pups calendars available for sale. Email me (email@example.com) to get yours. They are $20 ($25 with shipping) and feature the beautiful photography of Nancy Slattery, all the dog holidays noted, and the last page tells the story of the PA Pups; best of all, the proceeds go to Who Will Let the Dogs Out (Waldo for short).
The last way you can help is by dropping off donations for the shelters. We will take everything donated with us to hand out on our travels. Most needed: high quality dog and puppy food (dry and canned), treats, tough-chewer toys, collars/harnesses/slip leads, flea/tick preventatives, dewormers, and Amazon, Chewy, or Tractor Supply gift cards. I updated our Who Will Let the Dogs Out amazon wishlist which makes it easy to send donations for the trip. Otherwise, email me for address and to set up a time to drop off (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Bell has been enjoying her last weeks with us. She is getting healthy and strong and will soon be spayed so that her new life can begin. I’ll tell you all about that next week!
Reports are that the puppies are growing fast and settling into their new homes. There have been quite a few updates on the Another Good Dog facebook group, if you want to see for yourself.
Thanks for your support!
If you’d like regular updates all my foster dogs past and present, plus regular videos of the PA pups, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
For information on me, my writing, and my upcoming book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, visit CaraWrites.com.
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
Recently released from Pegasus Books and available anywhere books are sold: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at email@example.com.