by Kate Kuligowski
“What is it with that man? I have no time for this!” PACA (People’s Animal Cruelty Association) volunteer Gloria had been growling about the stranger who had been following her every move for the last hour. This outburst was further evidence of the strain of her exhausting and disappointing week during which she had rescued two new pups for which PACA could not find any fosters, and to add salt to her wounds, two former adopters (sisters) had just returned their newly adopted pets because, “We have decided that we want to travel.” The toll it had taken was evident in Gloria’s usually smiling friendly face, now brows furrowed, lips pursed. And she had a raging headache. She only had to endure 30 more minutes until their weekly adoption clinic at PetSmart would close. She was trying to stay engrossed in gathering her paperwork and preparing to leave. But she couldn’t help it, she glanced up from her clinic table to see if ‘that man’ was still there. Average height, slender, middle aged, lots of facial hair, this customer had been blatently staring at her for the better of the past hour, causing her to stress out. Not only was he still there, but now this guy was taking long strides towards her table. When she looked up, there he was…just inches from her face.
“I’ve been watching you.”
Silence…what could I say except you are freaking me out?
“You are always cheerful around people, answering their questions, smiling, helping people.”
“I can tell you are an animal person. You respect animals.”
“Mmmm.” A nod.
“I feel I can talk to you about my predicament.”
“I need to help some dogs, dogs that were tossed away. You could help…tell me what to do.”
“Gosh, you know. I’m just a volunteer who rescues and rehomes pets.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. I need to ask you to help me find homes for about 30 dogs…that includes puppies and mommas. Let me show you some pictures. They don’t bite. They are pretty friendly, considering their life. Even though they are not purebreds, they are beautiful…just like the dogs you have here.”
He opened his iPhone to reveal almost ten snaps of countless precious puppies and several good looking adult dogs, chowing down in what appeared to be a dump.
“Thirty dogs in one place? Where?”
“I rescued them from the city landfill located on county land in the Southwest valley.”
Although her heart melted when she saw these pictures, she had to be honest. “My rescue organization is foster-based. That means we do not have a shelter. Right now we have no fosters available to take even one dog, much less 30. Have you tried Lap Dog or Animal Humane Association?
“You are the one I want to help me. I feel good about you; you can help them.”
“PACA can’t take them, but let me jot down the phone numbers of a few other rescue organizations. Will you contact them?”
“Maybe. I guess…not sure. I just don’t know. I need to be sure I can trust them.”
“Please try…call them; let me know what happened. Here is my phone, too,”
“I am Rich. Here is my cell,” his sad eyes revealed his rejection. “I wanted you, because of your special connection to dogs. They can smell your thoughts, you know.” He turned and left, dejected, his face in a hangdog grimace.
“Boy! Did he lay a guilt trip on me!” Gloria was no longer just stressed, she was bummed out, feeling that she not only let Rich down but also his 30 dogs.
Obviously Gloria did not sleep well that night, tossing and turning, replaying her conversation and recalling the photos she had seen, knowing that she must find some way to help. The following day and night would not release her. She was hooked on making sure that these throw-aways were rehomed.
On the third day, Monday, she gave into her conscience and called Rich. “Rich, this is Gloria, from the adoption clinic at PetSmart. Were you able to reach any of the rescue groups?”
“Wow! Gloria, I am so glad you called. I didn’t know what to do. I just knew you were the one to help us.”
“Did you call the rescues?”
“I left messages on Saturday. This is Monday. No word. Can you help?”
“Yes. I couldn’t get those photos out of my mind, so I contacted my friend Katherine, who is tight with Mirasol, the director of our newly opened County shelter Care Center. Mirasol was very impressed with your concern for these dump dogs. She would alert her workers to be ready… if we deliver. The shelter opens at 11.”
“I moved them behind the dump to a place where they will be safe. Can you meet me tomorrow morning, Tuesday? I will give you directions. Will you alert the county shelter? We need to meet early because of this August heat…over 90 degrees all month. Remember it can only be you, no others. Oh, yes, and bring some large crates, leashes, slip leads, water and water bowls.”
“Nope, Got it covered.”
Bright and early Gloria picked up her bud, her rescue partner, Alan. (The amazing, unbelievable “saves” of this team are almost legendary through the area.) It was already hot when the two began their fifteen mile journey in her electric blue, compact SUV to meet Rich, who stepped from a dark Silverado as they approached.
His voice sounded impatient. “Hey! This could be dicey. Why did you bring someone else? No way! He. Can. Not. Come.”
“Alan is the necessary and trusted other half of my rescue team.”
Rich was not to be swayed. “Only you. Follow me.”
Both Gloria and Alan could sense his fear. This particular part of the county had a dangerous rep: high crime stats, and teeming with gang activity, especially the deadly TCK, Things Causing Kaos. Alan stepped from her SUV and watched as Gloria’s vehicle followed Rich down narrow dusty and desolate roads curving around and behind the landfill. Sharp hairpin curves and blind intersections carved over the weeds and native growth
kept her speed slow and her driving cautious. Pot holes were so deep and rocky that several times she was worried that her tires would have a blowout. Fifteen long minutes later, Rich entered a property well hidden by old dying cottonwoods amongst discarded tires, carcasses of dead automobiles, wheelbarrows and a sundry of large construction equipment. When Rich’s truck stopped in front of a mobile home Gloria backed in toward the area where she caught sight of several dogs, hovering under the cars, trying to stay out of the New Mexico scorching heat.
“Is this where all the dogs…exist?”
“I brought the ones I told you about, here, from the dump. They were constantly in danger from the bulldozers and all the other heavy trucks…and the coyotes, always hungry, always hunting.”
“Aren’t they feral? Do we set traps? Are they friendly? How many puppies? Are they old enough to be taken from their mothers?”
“Most are pups, about 3 months old. We will take them first.”
“Show me how.”
Rich lifted a metal trash can lid from the debris, placed it about ten feet from us and filled it with kibble. “I just fed them this morning, but these pups are always hungry. Watch.”
Suddenly from underneath all the abandoned and rusting machinery and automobiles scurried puppies and more puppies, who pushed their little bodies, tails wagging, for position as they gorged on the kibble. Rich simply reached down, picked them up and placed them in the waiting crates. Soon all three crates were crowded with 17 puppies, their appearances identifying them from three separate litters.
Next Rich offered kibble from his hand to the adult dogs. Two easily identifiable mother dogs came forward as Rich easily circled leashes around their necks and placed them inside Gloria’s SUV. Both were tame and easy rescues. Gloria picked up Alan, who texted Katherine to phone Mirasol to alert the staff.
After their initial hours at the shelter, Alan texted Katherine an update. “We are absolutely amazed by the efficiency and sensitivity shown by the shelter staff. All the pups were put in fast track status, evaluated, chipped, vaccinated for DA2PP and Bordetella, dewormed and treated for fleas. Each has been photographed and licensed, which means they are being put up for adoption as I text. The two young mommas, age estimated about 18 months old, are being evaluated as the ears of one were ripped by another dog or possibly a coyote. Signs were evident of both having borne multiple litters. The staff’s TLC brought tears to Rich’s eyes. He just didn’t expect such concern from a county shelter for these throw aways.”
By the end of the day seven of the puppies had already been adopted. The following day, Wednesday, Rich appeared at the shelter, and handed Mirasol two more squirming puppies, another mother dog, and yet another landfill stray, a elderly but handsome male hound cross. His latest acquisitions had brought the dump total to 23. Rich and Gloria made it 25 after a harrowing three hour chase the following day when one of their last rescues, two brindle mommas, slipped out of her collar and sent them chasing through nearby alfalfa fields for almost two hours.
On Friday Rich appeared at the shelter, flanked his final rescue, an emaciated black and gray Shepherd cross, whose enormous tail could not stop wagging. As he left he reminded his favorite staff worker, Rocky, “I will call to check on these dogs every day. You have my phone number and Gloria’s, too. Please let us know if there are any problems with any of the dogs. We will take them home and care for them. Thanks again for taking such good care of these guys. No one except me has done that for a long time.”
That evening Rich phoned to give an update and confess to Gloria. “I am relieved to know that I can trust this shelter with these poor abandoned dogs.”
Gloria hoped she hadn’t burst his bubble when she revealed that she had made her daily call the shelter, inquiring about the puppies and mommas and dads. She learned that because of their extreme overcrowding, the county shelter had asked Watermelon Mountain Ranch No Kill Shelter (WMMR) to accept for adoption the remaining ten puppies and one mom. Gloria, Alan, and Katherine had immediately driven to WMMR for a visit with the intakes. They were pleased with their care.
Later that week Gloria received a call from her friend, Suzanne, who lived east of Albuquerque in the small village of Edgewood. “Gloria, Ross and I just lost our beloved Rottweiler, Stanley, last month. We are hurting bad and hoping that by adopting another, we can quiet some of our pain. I was impressed with a Rottie on the Valencia County Animal Shelter’s (VCAS) website. Do you know anything about this dog?”
Gloria emailed Suzanne a photo of one of the mommas rescued on Tuesday. “It is a shame you want a Rottie, because this adoptable, sweet girl is absolutely stunning. Let me tell you her story.”
Suzanne was dazzled by a rescue of such numbers, but continued her query about the Rottweiler so Gloria agreed to check with VCAS supervisor Patty, who explained that the shelter had been bombarded with inquiries about this dog. “Come very early,” was her advice.
Gloria immediately called Suzanne and asked them to meet her at VCAS, early Friday to register as interested adopters of the dog. “Ross and I will be there, Gloria. Thank you for making this happen. Ross has always had a soft spot for this breed and he is delighted. Oh yes, I have decided to also adopt the beautiful momma whose pic you emailed. I have always wanted a dog that looks just like her…how did you know? She reminds me of a golden retriever-Bernese mountain dog cross. How do we handle the second adoption from BCAC?”
I will ask if they will hold her for me, since I am the one who brought her in. You will fall in love this sweet tempered dog!”
When BCAC shelter opened that Thursday morning, Gloria, Ross and Susan were waiting. Rocky brought this beauty into the common room. The first thing she did was to jump onto Susan’s lap and shower her endlessly with kisses. Her long, fluffy tail was wagging nonstop. So charmed was Susan that she was both laughing and crying. Gloria was sure that the momma was asking, “Will you please be my mom and dad?”
And if in response, Susan announced, “We will call her Baby. We were meant to be.”
As Baby was led from the room to begin the necessary adoption paperwork, Baby paused in front of Gloria, placed a paw on her lap and gave her a long, wet kiss, which Gloria interpreted as a soppy “thank you.”
Susan fondly describes Baby’s acclimation. “When we first brought her home, she was so nervous and frightened. Her behavior indicated that she at one time in her short life had lived with humans, who cared enough about her to take the time to housebreak her, to teach her to sit, down, stay and shake hands.
“Because Baby’s needy nature is so intense, it has taken away much of the sting associated with our loss of Stanley. She is in constant need of reassuring, of being touched, and of knowing that she will not be abandoned. Her adjustment has been amazing. “She was meant to be. We were meant to be. We had lost one soul, but saved two,” A very content sixty pound Baby now resides on the five acres of the Kacinas, spending her days playing with her pals, Max (the VCAS Rotterdam) and Julie, the friendly three-year-old, 40 pound dog who had been adopted two years previously.
During the following week, Gloria had been contacting even more friends and rescues, trying to find homes for those yet adopted at the shelter and WMMR. So when Katherine’s caller ID read “Gloria,” she intended to hear Gloria crowing with another rehoming story. Instead she heard an unsteady, quaking voice. A grieving Gloria was telling her, “You know, Rich and I called regularly and visited both the shelter and Watermelon to check on our rescues. I know you did, too.”
Pause. Sobbing. Choking.
“Sorry, I just can’t seem to take this in. Well, this morning Andrea, an assistant kennel keeper, answered my call and told me that last night they euthanized one of our momma brindles because she was not responding to shelter employees. She wasn’t aggressive. I don’t know. She said the dog just ran out of time. No one called Rich or Alan or me. Did they call you?”
“Evidently there is a ten day limit for all dogs, although we both know that exceptions are made constantly; policies are never carved in concrete but are bent daily because of unusual or mitigating circumstances. The staff had access to our phone numbers. We would have adopted her and spent the time waiting for the dog to adjust. They knew that. My gosh! What did they expect from a two year old recurring mom who had spent her years abandoned and fending for her life and those of her pups in the city dump?”
I could tell her pain was turning to anger as she spit out her last two sentences. “One phone call could have saved this brindle’s life! One phone call! Were they too busy to deny a marked dog a final phone call?”
She calmed down and continued, between sobs, “Why? This betrayal makes me wonder…why do we put our hearts and souls into rescuing when even our shelters disrespect and betray our actions, our requests?”
Stymied for any suitable input, Katherine instead volunteered one of her favorite quotes. “Tennessee Williams once said, ‘We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal.’ ”
County officials held a meeting regarding the complaints of Gloria, Rich, Alan and Katherine. The unsaid, understood fact was that government shelters are forced to euthanize for room. What was discussed was that these three animal lovers had pulled off the kind of heartwarming rescue depicted in fairy tales, involving danger, astonishing numbers and trust in the shelter, a shelter whose kennel capacity was 120 and monthly intake exceeded 800. The individuals in this room put aside their grief and emotions to produce the beginning of a solution, which, when tested over time, will improve.
“When surrendering a pet, not as its owner, an individual should provide the shelter administration two copies of a signed statement (the signature of the rescuer (with phone number and email) and that of a shelter administrator) stating the conditions, time and place the animal was rescued and their promise to take possession of the dog (within 24 hours of notification) if the shelter cannot place the animal. Leave with one copy.
This is not THE solution, but it IS the beginning, a work in progress. And it will surely save a few lives. And isn’t that what rescue is about…a few lives at a time?