We are headed south today. There were snowflakes falling as I walked Fanny for the last time, assuring her that she would see me in ten days, but knowing my absence will be hard on her. I am hoping it will be warmer where we are going.
Our schedule is full and what was originally a 7-day trip has grown to 10 days. We plan to visit 16 shelters, rescues, and pounds, plus check out a market where anyone can sell a dog or puppy with no papers or vaccine records or verification of any kind, just cash on the nose. That’s the plan, but you know about plans.
So much of what we will see is foreign to the part of the country where I live. In fact, as if to underline that point, on Monday, the dog warden stopped by for one of my two surprise inspections required by the state because I foster more than 25 dogs each year. I stood in my kitchen with the warden as she checked that I had health certificates and rabies vaccinations for each of my foster dogs, plus rabies and licenses for my personal pets, and wondered what it would take for this kind of accountability to be the norm in the places we will visit this week.
I asked the warden for her thoughts and she shrugged and told me a little about some of the inadequacies of the PA dog policies. She even gave me a copy of the dog laws before she left. I haven’t had a chance to study it, but I will.
At these required inspections, the warden also verifies that I have my kennel license posted, checks my fence to be sure my dogs can’t escape or be hurt, pokes her head in my puppy room and quizzes me on where my fire-extinguishers are. I get a copy of the report the warden files and, while I’ve never had a violation, I imagine if I did, there would be consequences.
The inspections might be a nuisance, but I’m glad I live in a county that demands them. I have often wondered where the line is in this country between places that protect and care for the animals that reside there and the ones that don’t see it as their responsibility. Why here and not where we are headed today?
How do we change the situation? How do we make the life of an animal valuable everywhere? I don’t know, but as I’ve said before that’s no excuse for doing nothing.
So we are headed south to do something. We will share our stories, introduce you to dogs (and maybe a few cats) and the heroes who fight for them, and we’ll tell you what we learn. We will also invite you to get involved in whatever way you can whether it be sharing on social media, sending a donation or an item from a shelter’s wishlist, writing your local officials, or maybe getting in your car and driving south to help.
If you know people in the places we visit, please let them know we are there and share what we learn. I’ve realized that many times the people who live in a shelter’s immediate community may have no idea of the challenges they face. The local taxpayers are in the best position to demand change.
Here is our, ever-changing itinerary as of this moment:
Fri Feb 28: travel day
Sat Feb 29: Arrive in Columbia, TN visit with foster dogs for RARE (Rural Animal Rescue Effort) and catch up with shelter dog advocates and the most amazing transport coordinator I know
Sun March 1: First Monday Market in Ripley, MS and Midsouth Animal Welfare Foundation (an OPH partner) in Corinth, MS
Mon March 2: Corinth-Alcorn Animal Shelter and Tupelo-Lee Humane Society
Tues March 3: MARL (Mississippi Animal Rescue League) in Jackson, MS
Wed March 4: All 4s Rescue (Memphis) and Horn Lake Animal Shelter (MS)
Thurs March 5: Hayti County Pound (MO), Paws to Care, Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society, and Gibson County Pound (TN)
Fri March 6: Halfway Home Rescue + five dog pound visits (with Halfway Home)
Sat-Sun March 7-8: back to Columbia and travel home
I’m excited and nervous about this trip. I’ve debated about whether to pack a crate—I have no plans to bring a dog back and logistically that would be pretty impossible. Still, I never know what we’ll find and want to be ready. Every trip has been different and every time it has been incredible, heartbreaking, inspiring, devastating, hopeful, and frustrating, sometimes at the same time.
Who knows what this week will bring, but one thing I hope it brings is awareness. I hope someone who didn’t know about the situation in the southern shelters reads this blog or sees one of our Facebook posts and is moved to get involved.
The problem of unwanted dogs suffering and dying in the south is a fixable problem. Completely. Fixable. But it won’t happen until hearts and minds are changed. And the first step is awareness.
That’s why I’m driving south. That’s why I won’t stop writing about this.
Until every cage is empty,
Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is an initiative of Operation Paws for Homes. If you’d like to contribute to our work, we encourage you to click on the how-to-help link above and give directly to a shelter. You can also donate to our work via OPH’s donation page by designating ‘Who Will Let the Dogs Out’ in your comments.
My upcoming book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, July 7, 2020) tells the story of not only our foster experience but how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.