I believe that everyone can do something.
Often I hear from people who thank me for fostering and traveling to shelters. They say they could never do what I do.
And that’s okay. Because they don’t need to.
Fostering multiple animals, writing about rescue, and traveling to shelters are things I can do. Now. I couldn’t have done those things back when I was in the thick of running our little farm, raising three kids, and working on a novel.
In a recent post, I mentioned Linda Taylor, a woman I much admire. She isn’t wealthy; she works hard running her own landscaping business and dotes on her elderly dog who struggles with arthritis and cancer. She doesn’t foster or write about rescue or travel to shelters, but she is saving lives every day.
Linda began volunteering for Alabama Rescue Relay, a transport group that moves dogs from Alabama to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. She met them at their midway stop to walk dogs, love on them, clean crates, and send them on their journey.
As she learned more, she discovered that the dogs had to be heartworm negative to make that trip north to be rescued. Heartworm-positive dogs were left behind. Too often, HW is a death sentence for a shelter dog in the south—either because the disease will kill him or because no rescue will pull him and no adopter will choose him.
HW is contracted via mosquito bite, so it’s a much bigger challenge in the south. We’ve visited shelters where as many as 80-90% of the dogs are HW positive.
HW is easy to prevent with monthly preventative, but it’s not cheap, needs a veterinarian’s prescription, and too often it is not within the budget of many dog owners. I know that research is costly and medications are not cheap to manufacture, but HW preventatives have been around a long time now, and I am willing to bet the pharmaceutical companies are making a fortune on them, while inadvertently contributing to the deaths of so many animals whose caretakers cannot afford or access those preventatives.
If not treated, dogs with heartworm will die a horribly painful death. We wrote about one such dog (T-Bone) in Florida who suffered that fate. But treating HW can be extremely expensive. The cost is out of reach for many individuals and most rescues simply can’t afford to treat HW+ dogs. Rescues and shelters work with generous veterinarians and can often treat heartworm for as little as $300-$500, but treating HW at a private vet can cost as much as $1500.
Heartworm is just one more hurdle in saving dogs from the south.
Enter Linda Taylor.
When Linda met a dog named Bear online, she decided do something to help him. Bear was a big beautiful pit bull, who was as gentle as Ferdinand the Bull. He was stuck at Chilton County Humane Society (a shelter we visited back in 2019). Linda paid for his treatment and a rescue pulled him a few months later. He went into foster care and was a wonderful dog who was adopted the next month. She was so inspired; she started what she calls her Bear Hug Project.
“Bear went from homeless and sick in Alabama to adopted and healthy in 4 short months. Once I realized that a simple positive diagnosis was the ONLY reason they were left behind I decided that there was definitely a need in this. One of the drivers for ARR, Claudette, said I gave him a Bear Hug, and the name quickly stuck. I decided that the Bear Hug was the perfect name, named after my first dog I saved.”
Linda began reaching out to the shelters in Alabama where dogs were left behind because of their HW status. Since March of 2021, Linda has used her own money and the money of friends (and the servers at a local winery) to save 22 dogs through her Bear Hug Project. She keeps a journal, tracking the fate of each dog she helps.
“At first I had guidance as to what dogs were sick, how long they were waiting, which shelters, etc. I started a Need Sheet. After a few months, I just started friending these shelter folks, telling them who I was and what I was doing, and I took the bull by the horns getting all the info on my own.
I have a running list for Monroe County, Chilton County, Gadsden, and Bibb: These are my main focus areas. Especially Bibb because it is the poorest of these counties and they NEVER get people to donate time or anything. Recently I treated a dog from Marion county-(he was especially hard to get out of that place) and Live Oak (TBone) and now I added Bigbee county on my list because they are all run on Volunteers and donations ONLY. There are zero resources coming from the county.”
I’ve thought about what Linda does a lot over the last year or so since I first became aware of her work. She’s just one person and in less than two years, she’s saved 22 dogs! Imagine if everyone did something.
As Linda told me, “I want people to know that it DOES take a village, and if we all do a little-it adds up to a lot. It certainly is a really BIG DEAL to these dogs. They deserve life. They deserve happiness. And if I can help to give them that…then I have had a life well lived too.”
The problem of dogs suffering and dying in our southern states is so very solvable. When I meet people like Linda, it just underlines my belief that we can fix this.
I believe that if everyone just did something—big or small — we could change the narrative in this country. It doesn’t have to be as big as what Linda is doing- it could be supporting the work of someone like Linda (she hopes to eventually have nonprofit status, but meanwhile, she can give you the information for the veterinarians she works with in Alabama and you can help pay for treating more dogs).
Or it could be fostering, driving a transport, offering grant-writing assistance to a southern shelter, supporting struggling shelters with donations of supplies, or helping us spread the word. If you learn all you can about the situation, you will find your own niche. We travel and tell these stories because we know that awareness is the first step. We can’t fix a problem we don’t know exists.
When Linda decided to volunteer to walk dogs who needed a rest stop, she didn’t know about Heartworm. She learned it is killing dogs all over the south, and decided to do something about it—one dog at a time. And now she’s saving lives in Alabama from her home in Illinois.
We can all do something. And those somethings add up. Yes, the problem is huge when looked at from a distance, but when you break it down to simply saving one dog’s life, it’s really pretty fixable.
If you’d like to learn more, visit our website, volunteer, follow along on our shelter tours, you can find a way to help too.
Until each one has a home,