After plying Ian with eggs and bagels, we drove out to Trisha’s place, home of her rescue, RARE (Rural Animal Rescue Effort). Disguised as a pretty, petite, energetic normal person, Trisha is a powerhouse who rescues animals all over western Tennessee, fighting for them on every level. She will not tolerate your nonsense and has no qualms with calling a spade, a spade.
“I’m not really a human-person, I’m a dog-person,” she told me. Currently, she fosters thirty-five at her house (along with dozens of cats and kittens, and a few rabbits.
Driving west with Trisha in the back seat, it was hard to keep up with her busy mind as she rattled off the situations we were headed for. Our first stop was the Huntingdon dog pound in Carroll County. She explained that she hoped we’d be able to get in but hadn’t gotten confirmation of that from the dog catchers she’d contacted. Dogcatcher is really what they are called. The county has two dogcatchers who make upwards of a thousand dollars a month. She checked her phone again. No response. “They don’t give a shit,” she said.
This was clear when we arrived. The Huntingdon Animal Shelter is a small cement building surrounded by a tall chainlink fence with three strings of barbed wire on top. It is a desolate spot, one where you could easily set a murder scene for a horror movie.
There was no sign indicating that dogs were kept there, just a warning sign cautioning that you are entering a firing range and will be prosecuted (shot?) for trespassing.Four dogs were in residence, living in kennels carpeted with poop. The dogs had no choice but to lay in their own urine, but got up and greeted us excitedly.
Trisha told me that the dogs are just held in this pound until the dogcatchers get tired of taking care of them. Then they load up the dogs and take them to the local clinic to be destroyed (it only costs $25 a dog).
“But what if you say you’re going to take them?” I asked.
She shook her head. “They take them anyway, but one of the techs there will call me. Then I try to go get them.”
I thought of the two and a half hour drive we’d just made to get there, the thirty-five other dogs presently at Trisha’s house. As if reading my mind, she muttered, “I just know they’re gonna kill these guys soon, and I can’t get out here until Sunday. I’ve got to get some dogs adopted.”
These four were new to Trisha, so she got her supplies. I held each dog as best I could (which wasn’t always great) while she gave them a heartworm blood test, dewormed them, gave them heartworm preventatives and applied flea/tick preventatives. They were sweet and tolerant. The little pitbull rolled on her back and sighed contentedly at our touch. I could feel her bones poking me as I held her She didn’t flinch or fight as Trisha stuck her with a needle, squirted dewormer in her mouth and shoved pills down her throat.
Next Trisha cleaned out four kennels, hosing the dried poop and filth down the open drain run that ran through each kennel.
We moved the dogs to clean kennels and fed them. Ian took lots of pictures. Trisha and I did a quick dog-test with the pittie girl and the blond boy in the hopes that I could share the video with OPH. Both sweet dogs seemed more than adoptable to me. In fact, I really wanted to load up that pittie girl in our car and take her with us, despite her smell.
Trisha wanted to take them all, but with no open kennels at her house, she said she’d have to wait until Sunday. She left a message on the unresponsive phones of both dog catchers telling them that she’d just dewormed and tested the dogs and that she was coming back for them. “Don’t kill them,” she said. And then she left a message at the vet clinic asking them to call her if the dogs were brought over. I asked her if they would really call and she said, “It depends on whether the one vet tech is working.”
We left Huntingdon and headed for another rescue, much like Tabi’s from yesterday. Anne and Kim are a nurse and a teacher, sisters in their sixties who care for seventy dogs at their rescue in Dresden, Red Fern. Like in Huntingdon, Weakley County has no real shelter. There is simply a dog pound where dogs are held and killed. Anne and Kim are not actively taking in dogs, since so very few ever leave. But that doesn’t change the fact that dogs still find their way to them.
Trisha met Anne and Kim while she was living in Buffalo, NY working for a rescue that pulled from Red Fern. She couldn’t believe the things they told her and had to come down to see for herself. Not long after, she moved down here, living in Anne and Kim’s basement until she got on her feet and began rescuing independently.
Anne and Kim were happy to see us, hugging Trisha and introducing us to dog after dog. Kim is a teacher with a warm smile and a soft voice– I am certain there are people all over Weakley County who recall her name when they think of their favorite teacher. Anne is a nurse; she is sharp and thoughtful and told me about hammering in the last nail on Thanksgiving Day when she finished designing and building the kennels. Both women struck me as the kind of people I could talk to all the day long, intelligent and interesting and passionately committed to saving animals.
All of the dogs at Red Fern live outside in large, homemade kennels with roofs. They are shaded by groves of trees and have worn tarps attached to the side to provide more shade and protection. I asked Anne if they had volunteer help and she mentioned one regular volunteer who helps out. Looking around at the sprawling grounds covered with kennels, it was hard to imagine that these older women care for all of it, but they do.
I asked Anne how they got into this business. She told me about Tiger, her beloved dog who died fifteen years ago. When he passed, she decided she wanted to give something back. “It was the first time I ever had that feeling in my life,” she said.
So, she volunteered to foster for another organization and they brought her nine dogs and some cattle panels to keep them in. “The dogs all got out,” she laughed. Nine? And here I was thinking it was such a trial when I cared for my first foster dog, a tiny beagle who ate all the kids’ stuffed animals.
This went on and after a while, Anne and Kim decided they could do this themselves. So they created Red Fern Animal Shelter. Like Tabi and Karin 4 Kritters, they began doing what the county should have been doing, paying for it out of their own pocket and now with their Social Security.
It is clear that Anne and Kim love these dogs. In fact, it’s hard for them to imagine letting them go to just anyone. There are very few adoptions. They depend on Trisha to pull some of their dogs, the ones she thinks she can place. “If we could just find homes for the young ones, the old ones could stay,” Ann told me.
Then Trisha snapped pictures of Chance, a huge, white 6-year-old pitbull with an equally huge smile. He’s been there too long and is such a love, she’s certain there must be a home for him.
I spent a few moments with Lyric, a young black dog who looks so much like the standard-issue OPH dog. She was thrilled for my attention and happily gobbled up the treats I passed her.
We’d hoped to stop in to see the three other city pounds nearby – all much like Huntingdon, Trisha assured me, but there wasn’t time.
It is already time to head for home, but I wish I could stay. There are so many stories here. So much happening that seems impossible. I don’t think many people, at least people I know, would believe what is happening down here. I can’t imagine my little town tolerating Animal Control Officers who just kill dogs on a whim (one of the pounds around here Trisha told me just shoots the dogs with guns, doesn’t even bother with the $25 fee to take them to the vet). Why is it that this can happen here? Where is the outrage?
I asked this question of Kim and she said, “People don’t care. It’s just a dog.”
Those were the same words I heard a few months ago in South Carolina. Is there a line somewhere between north and south, like the Mason-Dixon line, where people stop caring about animals? Where animals become property, not pets? Where you only feed them garbage and don’t worry about exercise or enrichment? Where when you get tired of them, you dump them on a local rescue or take them to the pound and leave them to be euthanized?
At the same time, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing the things that Kim and Anne and Trisha and Tabi and Amber do to save dogs. Why is this work left to them? They are soldiers in this battle against apathy and cruelty that should not be. That doesn’t have to be.
But how do you make people care? Why do they look the other way when these dogs are abandoned in a locked, lonely, barbed-wire place all alone to starve to death, only to be eventually be dumped at a vet to be killed or worse yet, shot to death by the hands that should be caring for them?
If I wasn’t here seeing it with my own eyes, running my hands over the bones of these dogs, looking into their desperate eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.
But it’s happening. All over the place. I only spent three days here, saw just a tiny sliver. When I imagine all the other dogs, suffering worse with every mile I travel further into the rural places so many have forgotten, it feels unbearable. I want to do something, do more. These remarkable people I am meeting should not be left alone with this fight.
While I know money cannot fix this problem, it can help the people who are trying to. If you’re moved to give something to Trisha’s work with RARE, you can visit her website or shop from her Amazon Wishlist.
Anne and Kim do not have an Amazon Wishlist, but I encouraged them to create one (as if they have the time to do it!) and I’ll let you know if they do. Meanwhile, you can visit their website or find them on Facebook.
We are headed home, traveling with two dogs who needed a ride north to their foster homes. We’ll make one quick stop at a small county shelter east of Nashville, just for another point of reference. There is still so much to say. The work here is far from done. Awareness is the first step. Someone has got to let these dogs out.
Thanks for reading. Please spread the word.