Traveling through the south this time around feels different. It’s not just the masks that are sometimes prevalent and other times completely absent. As we wind through the mountains on our way to Nashville, I wondered about priorities. Is it wrong to want to save dogs when people are struggling so much? Will people care what we about what we are seeing? Will they find everything as heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, as I do?
I think it’s even more remarkable how hard the people we meet are working. Despite the compassion fatigue and an often apathic public, so many continue to fight for lives, even as the wave of homeless dogs builds instead of ebbing.
Everyone said that the silver lining of the pandemic was all the adoptions, the empty shelters, the new awareness of rescue, the flood of fosters. And that was great. I’m definitely not discounting that moment. It was awesome.
But in its wake, shelters and rescues are drowning. That was the word we heard more than once from shelter directors and rescue coordinators in answer to my question, “How are you doing?”
They are drowning. Owner surrenders are at an all time high as people struggle to care for their families in uncertain times. The result of 6-12 months of no spay/neuter surgeries, puppy and kitten season is astronomical. Even now, getting a vet appointment to spay or neuter a dog can take weeks.
Rescues are full and adoptions have slowed to a trickle. Everyone either already adopted a dog or is hesitant to commit to a new life when the future looks as precarious as ever. With no dogs moving north and huge numbers of dogs arriving at the shelters via owners who can’t keep them or animal control officers who are as busy as ever, the result is unavoidable. Dogs are being killed in places that once claimed no-kill status. Parvo is rampant as puppies fill the shelters and linger instead of heading out to rescues.
I keep hoping the story will be different at our next stop, but so far, halfway through our tour, that has not been the case. We are sharing our stories in real time on Facebook and Instagram and plan to share even more via this blog and our YouTube channel once we are home. I hope you are following along. But just in case, here’s a recap:
TUESDAY AUG 24:
Our first stop was with Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue in Front Royal, VA. This incredible rescue pulls endangered dogs from shelters all over the country. They are foster based and 90% of the dogs they rescue are bully breeds.
We met Jessica Cook (founder and director) her husband Brad (who is just as deep into this as his wife!), Kaitlynn (volunteer and medical foster) and four special dogs at a local park in Maurertown.
Currently MSGBR has about 40 dogs in the rescue and they intake about 1-2 dogs daily. They have dogs and puppies arriving from Louisiana and Georgia this weekend. As Jessica put it, ‘We are drowning.’ That’s the same sentiment we are hearing from pretty much all our shelter/rescue contacts.
MSGBR’s monthly medical bills are $4000-$7000. In these pictures and the videos posted in the comments you will see an adorable 7 month old puppy named Tilly (or Tilly-bean as her foster calls her) who is paralyzed from mistreatment she received from owners who surrendered her to a shelter in Louisiana to die. She has the sweetest, brightest spirit, a big smile, and puppy kisses for everyone. The rescue is working on medical assessments and trying to fit her for a cart but would like to transfer her to another rescue that is equipped to help her progress and eventually find a forever family. (Good thing we have to hit the road because she and Nancy Slattery seemed meant for each other!) Be sure to see the video of Tilly and Manny in action in the comments.
We will post links to their Amazon wishlist, Website, and donation pagesin the comments. If you have a heart for pit bulls, this is a remarkable organization that can use your support.
We’ll tell you more about them in upcoming blog posts and YouTube videos.
WEDNESDAY AUG 25:
Wow. I don’t know where to start to tell you about our visit today at Saving Webster Dogs. I’m just so AMAZED and GRATEFUL and ANGRY.
I’ll start with AMAZED. Rose and Barb are doing miraculous work. I simply can’t believe the amount of physical labor they undertake on a daily basis, all the while showering love on the 50 or so dogs in their care.
All of the dogs live outside 24/7/365 in an assortment of accommodations – mostly determined by what each dog needs. Some are in kennels with buddies, some by themselves. A couple are on tie-outs because they can’t handle being kenneled. Some are in pens up in the woods where it is quieter and there is more space between runs, some are down ‘hound dog hollow’ where they can holler all they want, and others are in covered shelters scattered all over Rose’s farm.
They live outside with makeshift shade, dog houses, mud or gravel floors, big wide water buckets (that double as baths when they need to cool off). The puppies are along one row in larger enclosures with places to hide and room to tussle. The dogs are spread out all over the hillside. It may look rough (especially to those of us used to seeing climate control shelters with actual floors and walls and expansive runs and volunteer programs) but Nancy and I can tell you that all of these dogs are happy and healthy (or getting healthier); they are friendly and loved.
Saving Webster Dogs is doing just that – saving Webster County’s Dogs. And for that I’m GRATEFUL. All of these dogs, and that’s no exaggeration, would suffer and die in the county pound if not for the work of these two women and those that support them. They network and nurture all day. They run a low-cost spay/neuter transport twice a month for their community dogs. They raise money selling soap they make themselves, t-shirts, tote bags, pretty much anything they can, Rose told me. They get help from a few other organizations like Tails of Hope, but mostly they figure it out. They save Webster’s Dogs.
And that’s why I’m ANGRY. Lost dogs or surrendered dogs or sick or injured dogs don’t go to the Webster County dog pound as they did until Rose started SWD in 2017. Well, they did for a while when she first started, she told me, but Rose would go and get them. Now they just cut out that step and the current Animal Control Officer calls Rose when he picks up a dog and she meets him at his house and brings the dog or dogs to her farm and finds a place for him (or them).
Saving Webster Dogs is the default County Shelter. And that makes me mad. Why should these two remarkable women sacrifice every penny, every hour, every ounce of their lives saving dogs for the county that does not pay them a cent to do it?
I will tell you. Because they love these dogs and they cannot bear to see them suffer. So they do the best they can with the few resources they have.
If you are moved to help them, you can donate via paypal at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/savingwebsterdogs. You can learn more about them on their website savingwebsterdogs.godaddysites.com or follow them on Facebook.
Most of the dogs in these pictures are in need of rescue commitments. Rose and Barb can get the vetting done that is necessary. Every dog we met was people and dog-friendly, and thankfully very few were heartworm positive. If you are a rescue and can help move (mostly) hound dogs, please contact Rose directly via FB or their website, or contact us and we’ll connect you.
Again and again, as Nancy I talk over the situation at Saving Webster Dogs, we keep saying, “If only people knew. If only they could see this.” We still believe that situations like this don’t exist because people don’t care; it’s because people don’t know.
Please follow along with us in the coming week here on Facebook or on our Instagram account. If we can get a decent signal, we will put up live videos at each site so you can see everything for yourself.
We have nine more visits in VA, KY, TN, and AL. Share our posts and help us find a bigger microphone so we can tell more people, and help incredible heroes like Rose and Barb, and these beautiful animals who deserve so much better.
Today we drove to Wise County, VA on a highway carved out of beautiful mountains that caused our GPS (and Pandora) to cut in and out. We made it to the Pet Sense store in Norton, VA to meet up with Paws of SWVA. Their leader, Jo Anne, has a gentle, positive attitude but clearly, she gets things done. She introduced us to lots of other volunteers and fosters and some of their foster dogs, puppies, cats, and kittens. The plan was to do a photo shoot for this foster-based rescue operation and learn all we could about what they do before heading to Wise County shelter.
Paws of SWVA’s mission it to keep animals out of the shelter by offering foster care and organizing low-cost spay/neuter service for the community. They work diligently putting together transports twice a month to veterinary services over an hour away. Jo Anne also coordinates rescue transports for animals in two neighboring counties.
While Nancy wrangled cats and dogs in a makeshift photo studio set up in a storage area, I got to talk with Tammy whose name was familiar to me because she has been working with Wise County shelter for six years moving thousands of animals out of that high-volume yet small facility as a volunteer rescue coordinator. Tammy recently stepped down from this role, and Nancy and I (and likely everyone around Wise County) are holding our breath to see what will happen.
So often when we meet women like Jo Anne and Tammy (and Rose and Barb yesterday and Jessica on Tuesday) who singlehandedly do so much to save dogs, I always wonder, what if….they have to stop for any number of reasons – physical or mental health, family issues, relocation, exhaustion? They are not paid. They don’t have a job description. And certainly most people would never want the work they do. So much rescue happens because of these strong, compassionately determined women (and a few men). What is the fall-back plan?
Jo Anne and Tammy treated us to a delicious lunch (at Wood Boogers!), and we learned more about the work that Jo Anne and PAWS of SWVA does. I asked if their efforts of spay and neuter (and the local Humane Societies TNR program) was reducing the numbers coming in and both Jo Anne and Tammy answered emphatically, “No!”
I have so much to tell you about all that we learned from these incredible women and from our visit to Wise County Animal Shelter after lunch, but I’ll have to save most of it for an upcoming post on our blog.
This much I can tell you—there is a crisis brewing in our southern shelters. The combination of owner surrenders due to economic struggles (Wise County, a small rural shelter had 820 owner surrenders in 2020), lack of spay/neuter for 6-12 months during the pandemic, the returns from the record number of adoptions in 2020, rescues that have stopped pulling dogs because their foster homes or shelters are full, their volunteers are burned out, and adopters are harder to find, and our nation’s assumption that the shelters are empty now thanks to the pandemic is creating a tsunami of need. Tammy told us that shelters that haven’t had to ‘euthanize’ for space in five years are now killing animals again. Jo Anne said that during the pandemic rescues were begging for dogs, but now the shelters have to beg rescues and many simply can’t take any more dogs.
It is heart-breaking to hear these stories and even more heart-breaking to meet so many beautiful dogs. But none of that breaks my heart like the fact that this is SO fixable and we haven’t fixed it.
For more information on Paws of SWVA, follow them on Facebook or check out their website, https://www.pawsswva.org/. Their most pressing need is always money for veterinary care (and more foster homes!).
I hope you will join us on the Shelter/Rescue Tour. We have eight more stops with shelters, rescues, and organizations working on the front lines saving dogs. Please help us get the word out. We will continue to share live videos and pictures on Facebook and Instagram of the incredible heroes and the beautiful animals we meet.
The problem is not that people don’t care, it’s that they don’t know. Help us tell them.
This morning we had to pivot a bit. There was a health crisis in the family of our planned stop (all is well), so we altered course and made an impromptu stop at Pause 4 The Cause in downtown Lexington.
After talking by phone with Anita, one of their leaders and a great spokesperson for the organization, we decided this was a must-see.
At the shelter we met Remi whose vision and enormous heart launched Paws 4 the Cause, and Kathryn, their veterinary assistant.
P4TC is “dedicated to rescuing animals from extreme situations.” They are currently developing their shelter space as a community center which will feature expanded kennel area and a low cost spay/neuter clinic.
Spending just 30 minutes with Remi was inspiring. He echoed so much of what we believe about the situation and the solutions for the struggle of rescuing animals in the south.
He has plans to make P4TC into a community center that involves veterans, seniors, and children, and understands that the only way we solve these problems is together.
Currently they have about 70 dogs in their care, primarily in foster homes. The handful of dogs we met will be in foster care by the weekend.
They take I dogs from the struggling mountain areas around Lexington, the ones we drove thru on our way here. Many of them are hard luck cases— dogs who have been hit by cars, abused or abandoned, the ones most likely to die on their own or in shelters that are ill-equipped or unable to treat them.
Obviously, fundraising is a big part of what they do. When they started in 2008, Remi funded everything out of his own pocket, now they have an army of supporters but need more.
I wished we could have spent more time with this wise and compassionate man but he had an appointment to get to and we had surprised them. Check out their Facebook page Paws 4 the Cause. They are doing amazing work.
We left excited about the future of rescue in Lexington and I’m sure the next time we come thru this area, things will be different because Remi has an incredible vision for a much better future for the animals (and the people) of Lexington.
Follow along on our tour- we have seven more stops to make and seven more stories to tell of dog-hearted people making a difference.
To learn more and help, visit https://www.paws4thecause.com/ and follow them on Facebook for some truly heartwarming stories!
Camp Jean is a place we were very much looking forward to visiting, and it didn’t disappoint. This is rescue sheltering done right. I always say even a good shelter is no place for a dog, but Camp Jean might be the exception.
I loved the attitude that these dogs were ‘campers.’ They have big, roomy kennels, play yards with space to run and water and climbing elements. Every night an interactive dinner is served. A slow-down bowl filled with frozen canned food, two hooves—one with white meat and one with red meat, and a peanut butter filled bone keep the dogs busy all evening and help relieve the stress of being kenneled.
I learned about Camp Jean from the original Jean who founded it. She has since had to relocate and asked Deidrea to take it over. Deidrea is a warm, thoughtful woman who knows how to run a professional, yet compassionate rescue. She admitted that being a private shelter allows her the luxury of choosing how many and which campers to take int. They have about 16 (plus a mom with newborn pups) at the moment, but they could technically hold about 25. They choose to keep their number small so that they can love and nurture well the ones they have. Deidrea intentially chooses dogs hwo might nee da little more extra time and attention, and dogs with medical needs because she understands that those are the dogs who are less likely to survive in a traditional shelter or pound in Kentucky.
Camp Jean is an all breed rescue in Frankfort, but they adopt their dogs out to anyone who qualifies and is willing to travel to pick up their dog. They do some transfers to rescue also.
As we toured the kennels and yard, we were accompanied by Tanner, an enthusiastic camper who romped around casing us for treats and taunting the other dogs to play.
Deidrea let out a brother-sister pair of shelpherd-lab mixes to play in the yard and cool off in the tub. We learned that they are six years old and were surrendered by a veteran because the female kept scaling his chainlink fence and getting rounded up by Animal Control. Both were affectionate and very people-oriented. They have been at Camp Jean for over six months and Deidrea hopes that someone, somewhere will want to adopt these large, sweet dogs together.
As Deidrea introduced us to all the dogs, I was again impressed by her calm nature, her smart policies, and her deep compassion. Camp Jean is indeed a special place; it’s a great model for private rescue sheltering. Maybe someday when we finally get the numbers under control, this shelter will be the norm and not the exception.
To learn more or find ways to help Camp Jean, visit www.campjean.com
We still have seven more stops to make. You can come along with us in real time on Facebook and Instagram. We post stories, videos, and pictures as we travel. The one thing you could do for us is to share what we are doing via this blog, Facebook, Instagram, or pretty much anywhere. Too many people do not know what is happening in the south and other rural areas of this country. There is a tsunami of need building and if we don’t all step up in big and small ways, too many animals will suffer and far too many will die.
I remain convinced that the problem doesn’t exist because people don’t care, but because they don’t know. Help us tell them.
Until each one has a home,
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 book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 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 anywhere books are sold. Proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Our short documentary film created in partnership with Farnival Films, Amber’s Halfway Home, tells the story of heroes in the dog pounds of western Tennessee. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story that will compel viewers to work for change.
For more information on any of our projects or to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org.