The first time I talked to Dave Hollingshead, the street supervisor and defacto dogcatcher for Hayti, Missouri, I learned two things—
1)You pronounce Hayti, not like the Caribbean country, but Hay-tie, as in a bale of hay and a tie that goes with your shirt.
2) the dogs of Hayti are incredibly lucky to have Dave on their side.
Hayti is the county in the boot heel of Missouri (or what I think looks more like the tail of Missouri that pokes down into Tennessee). It felt like a forgotten place—somewhere not really Missouri, but not a place Tennessee would claim either.
Hayti is a tiny place where the only store we saw was called, ‘The Store.’ We turned at the Top Hat Club and crept down the dusty gravel-turned-to-dirt road to the dog pound, which is really just four kennels on the side of the city maintenance building.
We were met by Dave, the Street Supervisor who doubles as the dogcatcher, and Frank, the Code Enforcement Officer. Later, a dog-loving alderman named Kathy stopped by to meet us.
What we didn’t find were dogs. Which is actually good news in this place where the county council expects Dave to have any dogs that aren’t claimed after their five-day stray hold destroyed.
Hayti has a history of killing every unclaimed dog that lands in their kennels. In fact, that’s how Paws to Care, the group who pointed me in Dave’s direction, discovered the pound. The same vet that does their work, contacted them to say that the pound was bringing in an awful lot of nice dogs for him to put down.
Since taking over responsibility for the pound, Dave has managed to secure rescue, reclaim, or adoptions for all the adoptable dogs. I was excited to meet this remarkable man and I wasn’t disappointed. He is serious about changing the situation for Hayti’s lost dogs, but he will need all the help he can get to rewrite the story in this place.
To keep the dogs from costing the county money they don’t have in their budget, Dave, with help from a concerned citizen/dog lover named Lori and Paws to Care, has secured donations of dog food, dog houses, and straw. In fact, Lori and another dog-loving local named Jeri Claire are organizing a nonprofit called Hayti Pound Puppies to change the situation. (I’ll tell you how you can help them at the end of this post.)
We talked with Dave as he showed us the current kennels and the open space that would be perfect spot for a small shelter building. Then he showed us the shed he recently acquired to lock up the donated supplies.
Dave dreams of making this dog pound a real shelter where dogs are actually rescued. He showed us the before and after picture of a dog that was starving and covered in Demodex mange who he’d been able to find rescue for.
If you’re going to live outside, the kennels in Hayti, are pretty good. Dave has covered the sides with tarps for protection and added heat lamps and heated water bowls. Each run had an insulated dog house, plus pallets filled with straw to give the dogs a way to get off the cement.
As we looked at the four neat, empty kennels, Dave mentioned several puppies who were living under an abandoned house in town. He had tried unsuccessfully to catch them. The mother and father were nearby and the mother had bitten the last person who tried to catch them.
After we unloaded a few donations for the pound – treats, toys, collars, leashes, and Capstar, I asked if we could try to catch the puppies. They were only a few blocks away.
As we approached, we saw the mother, father, and two puppies in the yard of the abandoned house. The puppies were fat, still nursing way past when they should have been weaned. Other than being filthy, the adult dogs didn’t look too bad. Frank and Dave told us that people at ‘The Store’ throw out food for them.
I pulled out my ‘dog crack’ –chicken jerky that normally proves irresistible to fussy or shy dogs- and tossed treats to the mom and dad. The puppies were curious and crept closer. Each time one of the four of us moved too quickly, they retreated, but then came forward again for the treats that Nancy and I threw.
Eventually, the mom and dad had enough and the puppies frightened by their aggressive barking ran under the porch of the house. Dave and Frank carefully herded the older dogs away and left Nancy and I to ply the pups with treats.
It was a long game of forward and back. I sat quietly on the porch and tossed treats into their hole, a space created where the concrete porch has split.
The puppies couldn’t resist the treats and the bigger brindle pup came so close that I slowly pulled out my sliplead and prepared to catch him. I have to pause here to say that I’m a huge fan of Pitbulls and Parolees, and they make lassoing a loose dog look really easy. It isn’t.
In the end, I didn’t trust my reflexes, so just grabbed the puppy by his scruff. He immediately began snapping and fighting, but I held tight until Dave could get to me wearing his gloves and picked up the puppy. Dave put him in the dog kennel in the back of his truck (which is so old and worn out that Dave has to use zip ties to keep it closed).
The other puppy escaped out the back of the house and ran toward the sound of her brother’s cries in the truck on the street. I raced toward the truck, worried the puppy would be hit by a car in its panic, but before I could get there the puppy had scooted safely across the street away from us and ran around the side of an empty office building. Dave went one way around the lot and I went the other.
I’d just spotted the puppy when I heard the mama and daddy dogs barking and turned to see them racing towards me. My heart froze. Nancy told me later that she really thought I was about to be attacked and couldn’t decide if she should try to help or take pictures.
It only took a moment to realize the mama wasn’t focused on me, she was focused on the puppy just beyond me. The daddy dog was ahead of her also focused on the puppy but not in a good way. They ran within feet of me, but when the daddy dog reached the puppy, he snarled and the puppy yelped and turned tail and ran back the way she came, zipping past Dave. (I think daddy was on our side and more than ready for the pups to move on.)
I sprinted back around to the front of the building, hoping to cut off her access to the street and miraculously it worked. With Dave one way and me the other, she had nowhere to go but the alcove at the front of the building where she accidentally trapped herself.
When realized she was trapped, she simply lay down in the corner and closed her eyes. I looped her with my leash, ala Tia Torres, but when I picked her up, she melted into my arms like any other puppy I’ve ever held. It was quite a moment. This terrified, feral pup who had never been touched by humans instinctively leaned into me, no snapping or growling, I could feel her body relax and let go.
I assured her that her life would get better from here, as I carried her to Dave’s truck. Dave cut the zip ties to open the crate and we tucked her in with her brother.
Dave was already on the phone finding rescue for them. They would stay with him a few days and then head out on a transport through Paws to Care.
I was pretty stoked to rescue the puppies. In fact, the rest of the day (and the next), every chance I got, I reminded Nancy—‘I rescued puppies!’ It was how I handled the tougher moments we encountered. By far, it was one of the best moments of my trip.
We’d seen so much this week and been unable to do anything except write about it and take pictures. To get my hands on those puppies and know that now they are safe because of us was just what I needed. Now they won’t be hit by a car or grow up to be feral dogs that are eventually destroyed when they become a nuisance or a danger.
I’m so glad the dogs of Hayti have a hero in this large, gentle man who is here not just to protect his community, but to protect the dogs too.
I was inspired by meeting Dave and listening to his dreams for the dogs of Hayti. There is hope even in the hopeless places. A week after I returned from our trip, I connected with Lori from Hayti, the woman who Dave mentioned had been helping him.
Lori is a smart woman who has lived in Hayti all her life and can’t believe she didn’t know what was happening at their dog pound. She, along with Jeri Claire, have begun a nonprofit called Hayti Pound Puppies in the hopes of raising enough money to build a real shelter. They’ve already met with the county officials, created a 501c3, and found local supporters to help with fundraising. As she said, “We’re like a diesel, we might be starting slow but we are powerful.”
I assured Dave and Lori that we would share their story. I encouraged Dave to create an Amazon wishlist to get the things that he needs. Patty, who works with Nancy and me, will get Lori information on grants Hayti can apply for to finally build that real shelter, and Diana from Paws to Care promised to be in touch with Lori to share what they’ve learned.
The story is just beginning in Hayti, and it’s gonna be a good one. Helping these people and rescuing puppies are what this journey has been all about. Finding safety and homes for animals who can’t do it for themselves. They have no voice, so we must be theirs.
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 some of our shelter visits and how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. It is available for preorder now and a portion of proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.