After nearly two weeks in Georgia and Florida (with one quick stop in NC), we are home and I’m sifting through all that we learned.
The chorus of too many dogs and not enough adopters, resources, or rescues were variations on the same theme. Just like other trips, we met heroic rescue coordinators, shelter directors, ACOs, kennel techs, and volunteers sacrificing selves and sanity to save dogs.
The biggest challenge continues to be changing minds and hearts. BSLs, ordinances, and prejudices condemn too many dogs regardless of the individual animal. Ignorance, culture, and too often access/affordability stymie efforts to spay and neuter to control the endless stream of puppies and kittens.
After winding our way through the rolling hills of Kentucky, we arrived at the home of Melissa, a foster for Kentucky Saving Them Together, Inc.. It was the perfect last stop for our fall shelter tour.
Melissa, and Wendy, the vice-president of KSTT, welcomed us with a yummy spread of food and open hearts.
Melissa looked pretty good considering that for the last two weeks, she’d been up every two hours around the clock bottle feeding a litter of four tiny puppies whose mother was hit by a car and killed. To make matters worse, they were also battling kennel cough.
I called her the rescue wizard of Tennessee in my book 100 Dogs & Counting, but it isn’t magic; it’s serious work that has saved over 7700 lives since she began this work in 2016.
The first time I visited the wizard, Laura Prechel, I shared the house with twenty-six dogs awaiting their lift out of Tennessee. The dogs and puppies were housed in crates in her finished basement and garage. I watched, astounded, as she fed, watered, and cleaned up after the dogs and then took them out to potty before tucking them back in their crates to rest before their journey. And then I slept through their 4:30am departure (best of intentions).
I believe it was Margaret Mead who said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.
SCAMP (Saving Cheatham Animals Mission PAWSible) is a smart model for how small group of committed individuals can help a publicly funded shelter. There’s so much to love about SCAMP (including its namesake pup!).
SCAMP is a 501c3 organization that raises money to directly help the animals at Cheatham County Animal Shelter. SCAMP provides immediate help by purchasing needed supplies, veterinary services, and pretty much anything outside the budget that a shelter would have to requisition the county government to obtain.
Camp Jean is more than a shelter—it’s exactly what it says it is – camp.
The dogs who are fortunate enough to be pulled from a typical Kentucky shelter situation and land with Deidrea at Camp Jean are some lucky dogs.
Deidrea specifically looks for dogs who are ultimately adoptable but may need some extra time and attention. She gives priority to dogs from the struggling county shelters and pounds where dogs truly suffer while waiting for adoption, rescue, or death. Places where the conditions are harsh, the vet care nonexistent, and any kind of enrichment impossible.
The mission of Paws of SWVA is similar to so many rescue organizations in the south – keep animals out of the shelter.
Not only are shelters extremely stressful places for animals, too many shelters in our rural south still kill dogs (and cats) for space, so crowded shelters mean more animals die. Paws of SWVA keeps dogs (and cats) out of the shelter by providing foster homes, securing rescue placement, and getting animals adopted, many times out of state.
The other way that Paws keeps animals out of the shelter is by promoting and providing spay/neuter services. They run a van service twice a month to Bristol, Virginia to a veterinarian there because vet services are so few and far between (and expensive) in southwest Virginia.
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.
But rescuing pit bulls is harder. That’s why I was really excited to discover a pit bull rescue in my new hometown. And after I met Jessica, the founder and director of Margaret’s Saving Grace Bully Rescue, I was profoundly grateful that a rescue like this exists. I just wish there were more.
Traveling to shelters and rescues all over the south for the last four years, one thing has been consistent before, during, and after the pandemic: there are pit bulls everywhere and they are dying in the highest numbers.
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.