So much of our rescue efforts are focused on the rural south, as well they should be. That’s where the majority of dogs are suffering and dying, where shelters are overwhelmed, and money runs short, but recently I participated in a rescue that wasn’t in the south. It was actually four hours north of my home in Pennsylvania.
It happened because of a connection I made through my book, Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. Katie, a reader from Seneca, PA contacted me through Facebook after finishing my book, and we struck up a conversation, as kindred spirits do when it comes to dogs.
Six months later, she contacted me regarding a dog who had just arrived at the shelter where she works.
Bell, a black lab mix, was heavily pregnant. She was a sweet and friendly dog with an excitable personality.
Per the shelter policy, she was scheduled to be spayed and the puppies aborted. Katie wondered if the rescue I wrote about in my book and still fostered for would be willing to pull Bell if she could convince the board to make an exception. I wasn’t sure, so asked our puppy coordinator and shelter pull team to join the conversation.
The spay surgery was scheduled for the very next day so time was of the essence.
After sharing information and deciding on preliminary vet work, the rescue agreed to pull her if I agreed to foster her. Armed with this information, Katie was able to convince the board to make an exception. Bell gave birth to ten beautiful puppies four days later.
Even as I watched the little family finally safe in my whelping box, I couldn’t stop my thoughts from cycling through the what-ifs. What if Katie hadn’t spoken up? What if she hadn’t read my book? What if our rescue couldn’t have acted so quickly? What if I hadn’t had room in my home for the litter?
What if the spay surgery had taken place as scheduled? What does a vet do when she opens up a dog and finds ten full-term puppies? Would they simply throw them in the trash, still in their sacks, to die? How many times every day does a shelter or pound send pregnant animals for spay surgery? It was an issue I hadn’t considered before, focused as I am on the dogs being killed for a plethora of other reasons. By spaying pregnant animals, I suppose a shelter heads off a crisis before it becomes one. These thoughts haunt me as I care for Bell and her babies.
Katie tells me that the shelter has decided to amend its policy. Going forward they will consider transfer for animals whose pregnancies are late-term. But where is that line? How do you decide what is ‘late-term’? These questions never occurred to me as I have traveled and advocated for shelter animals.
This weekend I am headed to a book signing with Alexandra Horowitz, the journalist whose New York Times article about de-sexing dogs caused such a stir. She questions why we are so adamantly beating the spay/neuter drum. I’m going because that controversy is only a tiny piece of the beautiful book she recently wrote. I have great respect for her writing ability and her journalistic chops, so I’m excited to meet her and hear what she has to say. Bell and her babies at home in my mudroom will very much be on my mind.
The deeper we delve into the situation, the more complicated it becomes. What is the value of a life? And when is that life viable?
All I know is that too many dogs are suffering and dying in our shelters through no fault of their own.
Our travels have taught me that this problem is fixable when people and hearts come together to fix them, when we focus on the dogs rather than our own agendas, and when we open our minds to new solutions and believe it is possible—because it is.
Good dogs do not need to die needlessly in a country as rich and resourced as ours.
Until Every Cage is Empty,