“Why do you do this?” I asked Rose, the founder/director/doer-of-pretty-much-everything at Saving Webster Dogs.
Rose shrugged, smiled, sighed, and said, “Somebody has to do it.”
But, somebody doesn’t have to do it. In fact, nobody else in Webster County, West Virginia is willing to do what Rose does to save these dogs.
We just finished three days of volunteering at the rescue on Rose’s hillside farm in Cowen, West Virginia. Together with Tails of Hope and For Otis’ Sake, we worked to make the situation a little bit better for the dogs and for Rose. As I’ve written about previously, Rose is the defacto county shelter for Webster County since the Count Animal Control officer brings the dogs to her rather than keep them in the inhabitable county pound. The county contributes dog food occasionally, but for everything else, Rose must raise the money through her non-profit Saving Webster Dogs. She single-handedly cares for all the dogs (generally between 60 and 100) in outdoor kennels and tie-outs.
From the outset, we knew the job was bigger than what we could possibly handle, even with twenty-five incredibly dedicated, hard-working volunteers who amazed me with their willingness to get filthy, sweaty, and exhausted in the heat and mud and passing storms. But we came with eager hearts and best intentions. People traveled from four states to help the dogs and thought nothing of trudging through the ‘shmud’ from the relentless weather and the presence of 100 dogs, mostly large ones.
The soundtrack of the weekend was the barking and baying of so many hounds, punctuated by the sound of power tools. I spent most of my time in the medical tent giving vaccines, dewormers, and flea treatments, but when there was a rare lull (I treated over 80 dogs), I looked around at all the work happening around me and my heart simply swelled.
These people. Building kennels, hauling pavers and pallets to get dogs out of the mud, shoveling poop, bathing dogs, sanitizing dog houses, disinfecting kennels and moving them to higher ground, building a shed, running new water lines, scrubbing feeders and water buckets, working nonstop all day despite the heat and the passing storms. These dog-hearted people are awesome, was what I thought.
One of the biggest goals for Sue and Kelly, the leaders of Tails of Hope, was to get the dogs out of the mud. Many of the kennels were flooded and oozing with mud. One dog, Kong (a favorite of mine), sat resolutely in his dog house, like a liferaft, his only dry spot when we arrived. By the end of the weekend, he was set up in a 10×10 kennel on concrete, with a dry dog house and a karunda bed, plus an automatic feeder and a clean metal bucket of water.
Sue and Kelly, along with so many others, worked like, ahem, dogs to find dry spaces. After building kennels over every inch of the concrete the team paid to have poured prior to our arrival (and assembling kennel toppers to provide shade), they began hauling pallets to higher spots, covering them with pavers and installing kennels on top of them. Again and again, they came up with inventive ways to move dogs out of the mud to dryer digs and into the shade.
The dream is to pour more concrete, but the three organizations raised $14,000 to pour the first slab, so it will take some time to pour a second. For now, the pallets and pavers system worked well.
One of the really special moments of the weekend came when the trailer arrived with 1000 pavers. It was hot, a storm was threatening, but two ‘bucket brigades’ formed to unload and stack all the pavers in short order.
Other projects included installing a watering system to make it easier for Rose to water all the dogs scattered across the property – there are kennels and tie-outs in the woods, down ‘hound dog alley’, along ‘puppy row,’ and in what was once known as ‘mud row’ but is now paved. Until this weekend, Rose has had to haul 300 feet of hose everywhere or haul buckets to fill water bowls.
A half-finished work shed was finally completed to create a space for Rose to work on repairs for fences and kennels, and to store her tools and supplies.
We took a stab at sorting and organizing some of the many crates and equipment scattered around, but ran out of time on that project. We did manage to clean up and remove trash and worn out items, but with the number of dogs coming and going at Saving Webster Dogs, that will be an ongoing project. Rick, a local volunteer whose knowledge, good nature, and ability with tools and dogs, made him indispensable, managed to be pretty much everywhere pitching in, single-handedly assembled most of the 16 karunda beds donated to get the dogs off the concrete. Patricia, another local volunteer, knew all of the dogs and was key in handling (and catching) the tricky ones. Her calm, sunny nature and steady work ethic, was invaluable to me in the medical tent. A handful of other local volunteers also helped out handling dogs and delivering supplies.
Every car seemed to arrive with donations of food, blankets, towels, beds, treats, and medical supplies. We’d hoped to be able to help organize Rose’s office, supply building, and medical treatment area, but mostly we just filled it up. We did install air conditioning in the medical treatment side of the building.
Another critical project of the weekend was to get all of the dogs documented, dewormed, vaccinated, and treated for fleas, plus pictures taken and information gathered to write accurate bios with the goal being to network dogs to rescues and move as many as possible as quickly as possible.
The task started Friday morning bright and early when Nancy and I spent three hours walking all over the property with Rose, filling out kennel cards with critical information for each dog (name, sex, breed and age guess, vaccination status, spay/neuter status). We placed the card in waterproof luggage tags and hung from the kennels or tie-out stakes using ribbons coded to let the volunteers know how to handle the dogs. Green ribbons meant that the dog was friendly and anyone could handle it. Yellow meant you need two people to handle the dog and be careful (usually because it was an escape artist or very strong), and red meant only Rose could handle the dog. Of the 80 or cards we hung, I think we used four red ribbons and three yellow, and all the rest were green.
There were so many friendly, happy, sweet, adoptable dogs, and Nancy and I had to name about 15 or so of them because they were new in the last few weeks and Rose hadn’t had a minute to name them. The sheer numbers were overwhelming at times – especially the hound dogs. There were so many gorgeous Treeing Walker, Blue-tick, Red-bone, and Black and Tan Coonhounds. One after another, and in typical hound fashion they were friendly and enthusiastic but a lot to handle on a leash.
By the end of the weekend, we had treated nearly every dog and had medical records, professional pictures, and bio information. Jona, from For Otis’ Sake, is busy getting the dogs uploaded into a computer program that will make it easier to market the dogs to rescue. She’s already begun posting the pictures on the Saving Webster Dogs Facebook page for rescues and adopters to see.
Eight dogs left with volunteers by the end of the weeked – some to be fostered or transported to fosters, and one to be adopted. A pregnant dog was pulled by a rescue, and Rose even had one possible local adoption for Molly the Mop – a long hair dog whose owner surrendered her with massive mats and hair so long she couldn’t see. Jona managed to clip back the hair around her eyes and another local volunteer, Patricia, offered to get her to a groomer this week.
There was so much we hoped to do and didn’t have time to do, but there is talk of another work weekend. So many of us would go back again –the work was hard, but it was rewarding. It was a chance to make a difference for so many deserving dogs.
For us, at Who Will Let the Dogs Out, it was a different experience from what we normally do. Instead of a one-day visit, all five of our board members were there, in the mud, getting filthy and exhausted to further our goal of raising awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them. The people we met this weekend were as committed as we are to changing the situation, and their presence and the enormous amount of work we accomplished were testaments that the situation can be changed. But it won’t change until more people know. Webster County can surely do better. They should not leave the saving of their dogs to one citizen.
Rose said, “Somebody has to do it,” but then her eyes welled up and she said, “I can’t look at them and not help them.” I believe that if more people saw these dogs and the situation they are in, they would also be moved to help. I say it so often that maybe it sounds rote, but I believe it with all my heart – the problem isn’t that people don’t care; it’s that they don’t know.
We have to tell them. I don’t think I’m the only person who left Cowen with dogs imprinted on my heart and a renewed commitment to our goals and the hope that someday every dog will have a home.
If you’d like to help, consider donating to Saving Webster Dogs (at last check the outstanding balance for Saving Webster Dogs and Nicholas Animal Hospital was over two thousand dollars; their number is 304-872-5030), or shop the Amazon wishlist (Rose always needs dog food – she feeds 300-400 pounds a day). Tails of Hope funds the spay/neuter transport for all of Rose’s dogs, and the communities. They are also considering sponsoring another work weekend. You can donate to Tails of Hope here.
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. Find links to everything Waldo here.
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). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is our short documentary film produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for sixteen film festivals (to date), it’s won eight awards (including Best Short Doc, Best Soundtrack, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice), and was nominated for an Emmy! It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change. Please watch it and share it far and wide.
For more information on any of our projects, to talk about rescue in your neck of the woods, or become a Waldo volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.