Standing in the sweltering sunshine, I looked around the rambling hillside farm scattered with dog kennels and equipment and livestock. After listening to Rose’s story of Saving Webster Dogs, I observed, “So, basically, you are the county shelter.
“Oh, yes, that’s pretty much it,” agreed Rose.
There was no anger or frustration or even exhaustion in her voice. Rose just does what needs to be done, and doesn’t waste her remarkable energy asking why she is the one who must do it. Instead, she channels her passion towards saving the animals of Webster County, and her wry smile and mischievous eyes give away the joy she gets from it.
We met up with Rose at the Dollar General in Cowen, West Virginia and followed her up the deeply rutted, washed-out roads to Foxfire Farm, a piece of land formerly a strip mine that she and her husband are coaxing back to life. We waited while Barb, Rose’s right hand person who helps run the rescue, opened each gate. The driveway cut through a pasture filled with cows, horses, donkeys, and other farm animals who contentedly grazed, not even lifting their heads at our passing.
Saving Webster Dogs has been in existence since 2017. Rose had been fostering for a local rescue, but the director decided to fold up shop and move east. If no one stepped up, the county would simply go back to ‘5 day kill.’ That means they hold strays for five days and then kill them if no one claims them. (Owner surrenders they can kill as soon as they’re dropped off.) That is still the practice in rural places not just in West Virginia, but Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and lots of other states where animal sheltering is barely regulated if at all.
Lucky for Webster County, West Virgnia, Rose came to the rescue and formed Saving Webster Dogs which is quite literally saving Webster’s dogs. We couldn’t go to the County pound, a small concrete building once used as showers for the mines, because the road in was too washed out and also because there weren’t any dogs there. They were all at Rose’s.
It used to be that when the Animal Control Officer picked up a dog, he would take it to the pound. Rose would hear about it and go get it and bring it home. Eventually, they cut out that middle step and now the ACO simply calls Rose when he picks up a dog and she meets him at his house. Sure makes his job easier.
Saving Webster Dogs is the county shelter that the county doesn’t pay a cent to operate. I ask Rose how she paid for the care and vetting of so many dogs and she said she’s blessed with a few rescues in Virginia and Maryland that sometimes send her money when she’s in a pinch. Plus, she and Barb make and sell soap (and a few other things—Rose said they’ll sell anything if it will help the dogs). They sell it through Facebook and also sometimes set up a table outside the Dollar General. They also have regular hot dog chili sales.
Despite their limited resources, all Webster Dogs leave for rescue (there are nearly no adoptions) spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and dewormed. Normally, the receiving rescue pays for that, but Rose will do whatever she can to get dogs out, often transporting them herself in an old van. SWD also organizes local spay/neuter services with the help of Tails of Hope (in VA), transporting dogs twice a month with their ‘Fix ‘em Transport’, driving two and a half hours to Barboursville, WV to the vet that will do the surgeries at a reduced rate. In 2019, they spayed and neutered 380 community and rescue animals. Rose couldn’t remember the exact number for 2020, but said they did even more.
We walked around the property with Rose as she introduced to some of the 65 dogs in her care. The dogs live in a hodgepodge of makeshift kennels created with fencing panels she and Barb find through yard sales, Facebook, and Craigs List. All of the dogs live on dirt, which the day we visited was mud in many places thanks to the recent rains. The property is a hillside, which helps with drainage, but the mud is a constant nuisance.
Along one fence line were pens set up for puppies.
A litter of five beautiful coonhounds had come in that morning.
They were about nine weeks old, unvaccinated. I watched them race around on the dirt and poke their adorable noses through the fence to see us, but I kept my hands at my side as Rose explained that they lose many puppies to parvo. It seemed like about 50%. She pointed out the pans of bleach water that they stepped in as they went in or out of the pens, an attempt to protect the puppies and the other dogs from the spread of parvo.
Once in the ground, though, parvo is basically impossible to get rid of, hence their constant battle. I’ve thought so much about this situation since we visited, but there are no easy solutions. The puppies would die at the shelter. Rose has no building or money to buy a building, or to pour concrete. Every penny they have with Saving Webster Dogs is going towards saving Webster County dogs. They are doing the best they can with what they have.
We met a striking bassett hound puppy that Rose assured me would be snatched up quickly, her surviving siblings were already gone. (When I checked in with her yesterday, she had two more Bassett puppies that arrived that morning!)
We watched three slightly feral puppies hide under their shelter and then dart back out to look at us, curious but wary. They’ll come around, Rose assured me. And no doubt they will, showered in the love and care of these remarkable women.
It was clear as we walked around and Rose greeted the dogs, and Barb popped in and out feeding them their dinner, that the dogs were happy and loved. They might be muddy, but they did look healthy. And nearly everyone was friendly and happy for our pets and treats.
There were so many beautiful dogs. A heaven for a hound lover like me. We met Dixie, a gorgeous purebred Redbone Hound who was raised with children and loved people, but who was too timid to hunt. She couldn’t handle being kenneled, so she had a generous tie-out and bayed at our approach, leaning in for affection when we reached her.
We met Lucy, a young dog surrendered by her owner who was housetrained, and Winnie, a beautiful tri-colored Treeing Walker Coonhound who serenaded us every time I tried to do a Facebook Live video.
We walked down Hound dog Alley, where big, long eared, affable hounds leapt at the fence in greeting. We saw a few small dogs, and one scruffy dog who Barb said had never lived outside so she was confused.
Rose pointed out the lumber that had been donated to build a pavilion for some of the long termers who were unlikely to get rescue for one reason or another. It would give them shade and some protection from the elements. She was waiting on a relative to come build it when he had time.
In the winter, it does dip down to zero degrees in these parts. A local nursery donated heavy ply plastic last year for them to wrap around the kennel walls for some protection.
I checked in with Rose this week to see how things were since we visited over a month ago. She said it’s bear season, so they are getting droves of bear dogs and puppies. Nine the day before, and two more that morning. Bear dogs are often plott hounds and Walker hounds. Here are the pictures she messaged me:
I nagged Rose to update her Amazon wishlist and told her we were going to feature her this week. I hope the story of Webster Dogs will pull at your heartstrings as hard as it pulls at mine.
If you have the means to help, please do. You can donate via paypal (email@example.com). You can also send donations (they are a 501c3 so they are tax deductible!) to: Saving Webster Dogs c/o Rose Cochran, 168 foxfire Lane, Cowen WV 26206.
If you are a rescue, or know of a rescue, that can pull dogs (especially hound dogs), please contact Webster Dogs (Facebook messenger is often the easiest way to reach Rose). If I can help connect you, do reach out and I will.
Consider following them on Facebook and spreading the word. You’ll be inspired by the work they do and awed by all the beautiful hound dogs.
If you’d like to hear Rose talking about Webster Dogs and see the dogs in action, watch our YouTube video about our visit (and be sure to help us out by subscribing to our new channel!):
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020) which tells the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired the author to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It also explains how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. The book is available anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold will go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is a short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It tells the story of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for twelve film festivals (to date), it is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change.