Our last stop on our January shelter tour was a tiny animal control facility beside the wastewater treatment plant in Live Oak, Florida.
Mary, the sole ACO for Live Oak city shelter, was in the yard with a dog whose story haunted me the entire drive home. Mary picked up T-bone and another female dog (who could have been a mate or sister, as she looked just like him) after a woman called to say that her son had left the dogs at her house in a pen. She’d been feeding them by throwing food over the fence, but now the female wasn’t looking so good. The woman was too old to deal with the dogs, could Mary come get them?
Mary found the female lying in a pool of blood. She took both dogs to the vet. They were full of heartworms and the female was already in heart failure. The humane thing was to euthanize her. The vet treated T-bone but said he needed immediate medical rescue if he were to have a chance. Mary took him back to the shelter along with meds to try to keep the fluid from filling his belly and the heartworms at bay. She put out a plea, but no rescue stepped up.
The day before our visit, Mary had arrived at the shelter to discover T-bone’s belly was as bloated as his female companion’s had been. He was still energetic and friendly (we can attest to that), but he had bloody diarrhea and a bloated belly. He was entering the end stages of heartworm. Mary assured us that she wouldn’t let him suffer, she’d have him euthanized if it came to that. But meanwhile, we all hoped for a miracle, or more specifically, a hero to step in and help T-Bone. With immediate medical intervention, the vet felt it was possible he could survive. He was relatively young – probably 4 years old.
T-Bone received donations for heartworm treatment but no foster home or rescue stepped up. Mary took him for treatment, but it was too little too late and when he began to fail, there was no alternative but to euthanize him. Still, at least he knew love for his last days. His story is all too familiar to anyone in animal rescue in the south. Heartworm is a terrible way to go and absolutely preventable.
Live Oak is a typical animal control facility with metal sides, cement floors, chain link, and the dogs facing each other across an aisleway. There are ten kennels inside and five outside. It gets hot in Live Oak, but there are fans for the dogs inside, and Mary tries not to use the outside kennels in the high heat.
Mary has been at the shelter for just over a year. Until last November she was part-time, trying to squeeze in all of the animal control calls and all of the care of the dogs and cats into five days a week 9-2 (there is a kennel tech who comes in Fri-Mon to care for the animals). Now at least she is getting paid for the work she was already doing full-time.
Before Live Oak, Mary was at the Lake City shelter, where they euthanize regularly. She grew frustrated and heartbroken with the situation, so she took the job at Live Oak. She assured us she will not kill a dog for space. “I’ll take one home before I let that happen.”
Since taking over the shelter, she has restarted their Facebook page and been able to get quite a few local adoptions. She could still use rescue help, though. We spent time with four dogs who had been there too long. Maggie was a sweet, elderly Mastiff mix with beautiful black-grey-white coloring and soulful eyes. She was fine with other big dogs but not small ones, and was briefly adopted, so they know she was also fine with cats and birds.
Maggie and King were found abandoned on a property where they’d been kept in crates too small for them (growing smaller because of the mound of feces they were standing on). King’s back was bent when he first arrived from living so long in a space too small for him. Now, he has recovered and is sweet, goofy, and friendly. He is relatively young and quite handsome with one blue eye.
Next we met Smiley, an older medium size dog who was found in an abandoned bus with her puppies. Her puppies were all adopted, but she was still at the shelter. She is heartworm positive, has a few tumors on her and prefers to be an only dog, so she will be a tough adoption or rescue placement. Smiley is gentle and sweet and well named as she is a happy pup. I plied her with treats (although it was clear that Mary spoiled her too). It is heartbreaking that a dog like this could be at the shelter for years. She deserves a home of her own.
We met one other older smallish dog named Cookie who was ‘barrier aggressive’, which means that she will bark at you when you approach her kennel. Once outside, though, she was a total love bug who greeted us with a wagging tail and zoomed around the little yard. She’s a plump little girl and Mary calls her, Ms Piggy. Shelter dogs, like Cookie, can become barrier aggressive when they live so long in a shelter. Just like they might protect your home if you took them home, they regard their kennel as their home and are protective of it.
A generous donor has sponsored the adoption fees for eight of the long-term dogs at Live Oak, so they are free to adopt (or rescue). Still, they sit. And while Mary cares for them ‘as if they are my personal dogs,’ a shelter is a hard life for any dog.
I asked Mary what she thought could make a difference in Live Oak, and she said if there were access to free or low cost spay and neuter it could really help. Right now, there is none, so even if someone wanted to get their dog spayed or neutered, it costs hundreds, so they don’t.
The shelter dogs don’t get heartworm preventative (it’s expensive and requires a veterinarian’s prescription), so the odds are stacked against them. Even if they don’t come in positive, there’s a pretty good chance they will get it while living here so long in close quarters, exposed to the elements and the bugs they bring.
At the time of our visit there were twelve dogs at the shelter, all mixed breed medium to large dogs, and pretty much every single one greeted us with wiggling butts. I doled out treats and Nancy took pictures. We made two live videos (on Facebook and Instagram) to share the story and make a plea for T-bone.
Live Oak is blessed to have an ACO like Mary who is knowledgeable, professional, and clearly loves these dogs. If you’d like to help, consider shopping the shelter’s Amazon wishlist. She could use some tough chewer toys and busy bone type chews (she leaves each dog with one when she leaves for the day to help keep them occupied overnight).
Like most Animal Control facilities, making a donation is possible, but it doesn’t always make a difference because if it does find its way to the shelter, the donation amount might then be docked from the shelter’s annual budget which is decided by the city (without input from shelter employees).
Beyond shopping their Amazon wishlist (or pulling a few dogs if you’re a rescue), the best thing you can do to help Mary and the dogs at Live Oak is continue to advocate for change in your own county and state. It is long past time that we gave our animal shelter professionals the facilities, tools, and budget to properly care for animals, and the laws and funds to do their job. Offering spay and neuter vouchers for community animals, requiring dog licensing and breeder permits, and enacting and enforcing anti-cruelty/neglect laws are common sense moves to make if you’re serious about helping the animals in your community.
Meeting T-Bone and being unable to help was hard, but at least he was known. He didn’t die a cruel death all alone in a pen abandoned by his people. Thanks to Mary he received compassionate care and hundreds of people read his story and responded on Facebook. These are the stories we have to keep telling—until change comes. We can’t look the other way and be blind to it—we owe these animals better. It was too late for T-bone, but maybe his story will inspire a change that will save other lives.
We leave in less than two weeks for another shelter tour. If you’d like to support us and help tell these stories to inspire change, please send what you can to our Shelter Tour Campaign. Awareness is the first step toward change.
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). 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.
Support our work and spread the message with this fun t-shirt available in lots of colors….CLICK HERE to get yours!