A few months ago, we visited Virginia Paws for Pits and had the pleasure of meeting Page Hearn, the founder and director, plus three lovely pups (all foster-fails). Page describes Paws for Pits as a low-volume, high-maintenance rescue.
Page runs Paws for Pits out of her gym, Queen City Strength, in Staunton, Virginia. PFP is so much more than a foster-based pit bull rescue. They are advocates for the breed, educating everyone in their path. They often take in desperate cases – dogs most people would give up on because of horrendous medical issues, often human inflicted.
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?
I have to explain, that no, we aren’t a rescue, but we help rescues. We aren’t a shelter either, but we help shelters too. We don’t transport or train dogs. And we have nothing to do with cats (mostly).
Because we don’t directly handle dogs (although we meet thousands), it’s sometimes hard to explain what we do or to ask for money to help us do it.
Okay, let’s talk about something that’s super uncomfortable for me….
I try hard to keep it in perspective.
When my husband and I have to spend large sums of money on something truly un-fun or unexpected but necessary like a car or home repair, or we make a stupid mistake and waste money, or one of our kids costs us some serious dough, I always say, “It’s just money. That’s why we have it.”
I work hard to pinch pennies and cook in and shop smart. I’m all about the use-it-up, make-do, don’t-waste-a-bit. ‘Shopping’ as an outing is one of my least favorite things to do. Money, for me, is a means to an end.
Or a necessary evil. It can do so much good, and it can also create a ton of stress.
One of the reasons we formally organized our work with Who Will Let the Dogs Out was to allow us to raise money to not only help the rescues and shelters we visit, but also so that Nancy and I could stop funding our shelter tours out of our own savings.
The smell is familiar to me now, but that hot August day in 2018 it overwhelmed my senses. The mix of disinfectant, urine, feces, mildew, and desperation was powerful, made even more so by the heat.
Shelters, even the good ones, I’ve come to understand, have the same smell. I recognized it that first time as the faint scent that would waft off of foster dogs when they arrived at our house off a transport from the south.
In that squat brick building, the smell was accompanied by the unrelenting noise of animals jumping against chain link, knocking over metal bowls, barking and whining, their nails grabbing for purchase on the cement.
Our second week on tour coincided with Hurricane Ida, which thankfully skirted around the places we planned to visit mostly dumping a bit of rain here and there. We were able to rearrange our visits and move our one all-day outside to after the weather passed thanks to the flexibility of many people.
While our visits confirmed what we learned the first week – shelters are growing crowded as owner surrenders continue to ratchet up, and puppy and kitten season does not abate. But we also noticed something else that was different on this tour than our previous ones. There are a lot more purebred dogs in the shelters.
My best guess is that this is because so many people bought puppies during the pandemic and those puppies grew into adolescent dogs which require a lot of work and don’t always live up to the expectations of owners. Plus certain breeds have characteristics that owners may or may not have anticipated or been able to handle. Beyond that, economic circumstances have a lot of people surrendering dogs they can’t afford anymore. At any rate, we saw purebred large breeds like Huskies, Rottweilers, Labs, plus many smaller breeds and scruffies.
We also saw a lot of puppies and small breed dogs, which is usually not the case as those dogs get pulled by rescue or adopted at a much higher rate. It was telling that rescue coordinators are struggling to find rescues willing to take puppies.
To me, the presence of so many ‘desirable’ type animals in the shelters is a ‘canary in the coalmine’. It is time for rescues to double-down on all that they can do to help because full shelters lead to killing dogs for space. Even at the shelters that have for many years been saving every treatable, adoptable animal, there is a fresh fear that killing for space is on the horizon if things don’t improve.
Fingers crossed for the early fall back-to-school surge in adoptions and rescue pulls.
We will tell you MUCH more about all thirteen organizations that we visited on this tour in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel so you don’t miss a thing!
And in case you weren’t following along in real time on Facebook, the week’s posts are pasted below.
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:
Our next to last shelter visit was actually two visits in one. We would visit the Giles County Animal Shelter, and also meet with some of the volunteers from the Giles County Humane Association, a foster-based rescue that supports the shelter.
This Humane Association/County Shelter partnership model is fairly common and usually turns out to be a good one for the dogs. While County shelters can’t fundraise and are limited to the budget they are given, a Humane Association isn’t and they can provide immediate support in areas where it is needed most – like veterinary services not covered in the budget, supplies, foster care, and when funds run low, collect donations of essentials like food and dewormers.
Giles County hadn’t been on my original list of shelters to visit. It was the Giles County Dog Pound back then, when a woman named Daphne, reached out to me through Facebook. “You have to see what is going on in Giles County,” she wrote.
I was intrigued and began looking into it. I was shocked by what I discovered. Read more ›