When we pulled up at the gate for our first stop in Alabama, enormous dogs loped towards us. “What are those?” I asked Nancy, incredulous. I’d never seen dogs like this up close.
We waited while Rhonda, the director of Brindlee Mountain Rescue put the giant creatures in their kennels and opened the automatic gate for us.
Once inside the tidy property, we met Rhonda, a smart, kind, sensible woman who had a gentle air about her, not unlike the giants we would soon meet. Rhonda created this rescue so that she could save animals her way—which we would learn is not only dog-centered but creates excellent, adoptable pets who probably don’t know they’re living in a shelter.
Around these parts, Rhonda is known as the ‘Dane Lady’ because not only does she love them, but she knows how to manage them and train them. Danes find their way to Rhonda from all the surrounding county shelters and she places them via Petfinder when they are ready to be adopted.
But Rhonda saves all kinds of dogs, not just Danes. She has about ten to twelve dogs at a time when she is full. She says that’s all she can manage well– it’s not just saving the dog, but the quality of care while in the process of saving them, that is important to her. She keeps each dog an average of two to three months, working with it, assessing its needs, and setting the dog up to be successful once adopted. “There’s a fine line between rescuing and hoarding,” she told us. She keeps herself from crossing that line by only taking as many dogs as she can handle, and making sure every step she takes is an improvement.
The dogs rotate between living in her home and living in her kennel. The kennel is comprised of five huge runs that could each hold several dogs, on a paved pad under a shelter in a shady spot in her yard. There was a swamp fan blowing on them and each run had raised beds and plenty of toys.
Beside the kennels is a small airconditioned shed where every dog has its own crate, just like they would in a real home, where they go every night. “I want them to learn how to be family pets, or if they already were pets, I don’t want them to lose any manners they already have,” she explains.
There were a handful of Danes and Dane mixes, but also a sweet hound dog she recently took in who is heartworm positive. She is trying to raise funds for his treatment.
There was also a friendly brown dog with faint brindle markings (named Brownie of course) who has been there two years. Rhonda can’t understand why no one adopts Brownie as he is a true lovebug who wiggled when you petted him. Nancy and I were partial to him too.
Rhonda shared the dog’s stories, which like so many we have heard this week, were heart-breaking. Sandy, a dog she does not plan to adopt out, but to spoil all of her remaining days had spent her first eight years chained to a front porch. She has nearly no front teeth because they were ground down to nothing from a lifetime of eating off the ground with no bowl.
Rhonda’s dogs land at Brindlee via owner surrenders or shelters that seek her out for her expertise and her care of the Danes, and also by community members who contact her about an abandoned dogs or strays need of help. Rhonda has about five other foster homes where she places some of the dogs.
Each year Brindlee Mountain Rescue helps around five to six hundred dogs find loving homes. This year she’s had two surgeries so her numbers are fewer, but her energy and dedication have not abated and I imagine she will be saving dogs and advocating for them for years to come.
After we toured the kennels and met some of the dogs, Rhonda invited me inside her home to see a few dogs there and to grab water bottles since all three of us were melting in the unforgiving heat. Her home is a neat, organized house trailer with a large covered carport. I paused to flirt with the two shepherd puppies in a puppy pen on the carport.
Rhonda and Billy didn’t always live in a house trailer, once upon a time they had a house with a mortgage and two cars, but they sold that so they could buy the property in Joppa and rescue dogs.
We asked how we could help and she said she needed more exposure and also some nice pictures of a few of her dogs. Nancy set up a little studio under the tree beside Rhonda’s house and we got work. I acted as lighting assistant and dog-wrangler (a job that is not easy to do with only two hands, particularly when the dog is bigger than you are). Rhonda was hoping to get some pictures of her dogs for the Subaru dealer’s ad campaign which would feature dogs (and maybe support what she does).
I’ve never been so close to so many Great Danes. I knew nothing of the breed, but fell in love with their gentleness. They were sweet and goofy and affectionate. Right now I can’t imagine life with such a large dog, but someday I might. I promised Rhonda that if I ever did, I would come to her for my Dane.
Anyone looking to rescue a Dane should certainly look her up. All of the Danes we met and handled were sweet and gentle and had incredible manners. Some of that may be the breed, but a lot of it is from life with Rhonda at Brindlee Mountain Rescue.
After we left, I thought about the life Rhonda has built for herself, surrounded by dogs on a quiet, shady spot in Alabama. I wondered if it was a life I might have someday. I’m sure it is not an easy life, but I also can’t imagine living out my days on a beach chair. I think I’d much rather spend them with dogs. They are good for the soul. Rhonda confessed that she doesn’t think this problem of too many unwanted and mistreated dogs will be solved in her lifetime. I don’t want to believe that.
In a message yesterday, someone mentioned that what I’m seeing is hard to see. Sometimes it is, but I think the problem is that not enough people are seeing it. Yes, it can be hard, as it was in Franklin County, but then I meet people like Heather at Franklin, and Rhonda today, and I realize that they need us and more than that, they inspire us. We can do better. We can save these dogs, and we can solve this problem.
It is time to let ALL the dogs out. Please help us spread the word. Share wherever you can, especially if you know people in the areas where these shelters and rescues are located. Please consider subscribing to this blog, follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Even after we are home, we will share more stories, updates, and how you can help.