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Category: I Could Have Been Adopted (ICHBA)

What Saying No Means in Rural Tennessee

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing my pack. I may not be able to foster dogs right now, but I can still help by giving a voice to the voiceless. I hope these stories change a few minds about adopting shelter dogs and most importantly, I hope they help the next Floyd and Sara.

(Floyd and Sara)

(Floyd and Sara, 2009)

(Sara, 2009)

When my neighbor, a forty-five-year-old farmer, first saw Sara, he asked, “Y’all want me to shoot her?” He wasn’t asking out of cruelty. He was asking out of compassion and ignorance. And because in rural Tennessee, the only place he had ever lived, shooting sick, stray dogs is a normal part of the culture. It’s even legal.

 

We were driving home after a four-mile walk with our mutts when we saw the abandoned puppies. Our dogs had their snouts pushed out the station wagon’s windows. They looked like wind-riders, ears flattened against their heads, noses slick and working overtime to investigate the cacophony of scents rushing past. Ancient trees edged both sides of the road. Red, yellow, and orange leaves glimmered like jewels in the sky, some raining downwards from the branch-draped ceiling. It was nine years ago, but I still remember that afternoon because it was a perfect October day, too perfect for seeing two starved dogs ditched on the roadside.

The potholed pavement on our isolated, country road snaked like a slinky, forcing my husband Mason to slow down, so when we passed the puppies crouched at the road’s lip, I got a good, long look. The copper dog caught my attention first. Then I saw the tinier black pup leaning against the red one, as though she didn’t have the strength to sit up on her own. Both dogs wore the confused expression of someone who had been dumped in a foreign country without a dime or a voice to ask for directions.

I didn’t know how long they’d been living on the street, but judging by their physical appearance they wouldn’t last much longer. In our society, canines exist in a strange purgatory, trapped between two cultures, existing somewhere along the continuum of natural instinct and domestication. Dogs’ behaviors can still be very wolf-like. But after living with humans for thousands of years, they are dependent on us for their most basic survival needs, particularly food and shelter. Surviving in the wild is often as difficult for them as it would be for me.

“Did you see?” Mason asked.

“Keep driving,” I said.

It sounds harsh, even now, but the practicality of taking home two sick dogs at that time was nil. We already had a pack of four, plus in seventy-two hours we would be flying to Dallas, Texas for work. And those dogs were obviously ill. They needed to be quarantined or they could spread worms, fleas, or worse to our mutts.

“If we don’t do something, who will?” Mason asked.

That was the crux of the problem. Animal overpopulation is an epidemic in the rural south and agencies like ICHBA were nonexistent in Robertson County nine years ago. Of the nonprofits operating outside our county, many had waiting lists or restrictions on health and breed. The bottom line was if we picked them up, they were our responsibility.

We drove to the Farnival in an uncomfortable silence. Mason brooded, pulled the brim of his Nashville Predators hat over his hazel eyes. Thirty minutes after we got home, he marched inside my office.

“I’m going back to look for them,” he said.

I felt the word no rise in the back of my throat. Push the issue, Melissa. Explain the complications and cost of taking in two sick dogs. Say no. Even with all these perfectly legitimate concerns, the word never left my mouth. I couldn’t shake the image of that pathetic black puppy slumped against her brother. If we did nothing, it would be too late.

Mason returned a few hours later cradling the copper pup, who we later named Floyd. Floyd was six-months-old and emaciated, fifteen pounds stretched over a skeleton that should have held twenty-five. We found Sara two days later. Mace said that when he reached for her, she feebly tried to bite him. That image haunts me still, a tiny mound of bones and mangy fur making one last attempt to survive.

Sara suffered from starvation and mange like her brother. But she also had a broken tail and pelvis, and a black vulture or coyote had attacked her. She wore numerous gashes on her paws and stomach that oozed pus. They tellingly resembled claw and bite marks.

When my neighbor, a forty-five-year-old farmer, first saw Sara, he asked, “Y’all want me to shoot her?” He wasn’t asking out of cruelty. He was asking out of compassion and ignorance. And because in rural Tennessee, the only place he had ever lived, shooting sick, stray dogs is a normal part of the culture. It’s even legal.

Needless to say, Sara had a tougher time recovering than Floyd. He regained his energy after twenty-four hours, but for five days Sara’s survival was questionable. We poured all our energy into nursing Sara back to health. Every achievement, from urinating outside her crate to walking across the yard, felt like a victory. Her integration with our pack was the Super Bowl. When Floyd and Sara regained their health, we talked about finding them homes. A few people were even interested, but we always found a reason for saying no.

Farnival Update: Never Say Never

Adriana and Meadow

I started this blog as way to raise awareness for the animal overpopulation problem in rural Tennessee. When I stopped fostering, I thought I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I was wrong. Over the past three years, I encountered situations unique to being a dog mom, so unique that I composed blog posts in my head, scrawled notes across that invisible notepad addressed to every dog-loving freak out there. For instance, one day I stared at my mutt’s nose sweat swirled across the Honda’s windows and instantly thought, that’s art. On another occasion, I pulled a tick out of Meadow’s clenched butthole with a pair of tweezers and thought, who could possibly understand?  Needless to say, I really missed y’all.

There is never any one reason for a big life change. In retrospect I can’t pin the end of our fostering days on Loubie alone. A big problem with doing any kind of rescue work is that it doesn’t pay. After fostering 30 dogs in two years, I had 53 bucks in my savings account. I had to return to a full-time paying job. So, besides being a dog mom to four fantastic, hilarious, and complicated rescue mutts, I’m an assistant director on a television crew that travels over 100 days a year with the NHRA Drag Racing Tour. Balancing a career in television sports with my pack presents a whole other set of issues we’ll address in the months to come. Have you ever had problems finding the right dog-sitter? Have you ever missed your dogs so much you walk through pet stores just for the smell?

Also coming up: we’ll check in with our friends at ICHBA, interview a lionfish hunter from the Florida Keys, and visit the Puget Sound Goat Rescue, where I’ll introduce you to Rosebud, a three-legged goat.

FYI: At the Farnival we treat animals with as much respect as humans and make no apologies for it.

A Permanent Hiatus

3way play(The best picture ever)

I think it’s appropriate I started fostering dogs with a pack of five and I’m going to end my volunteer work with a pack of five dogs. I’m sorry to report the Farnival is taking a permanent hiatus. There are a bunch of reasons why I made this decision but mostly its because I’m not nearly as tough as I thought I was. Every time I say goodbye to one of these dogs my heart breaks. There are only so many times my heart can be broken before it needs to heal. It’s time to heal.

Concerning our last foster dog Bee, she left yesterday afternoon. Donna worked her butt off to find other living arrangements. I’m happy to report when Bee left here, she was responding to the e-collar. As far as her future, I’m not sure if I want to know what happens. That’s one story that might never have an ending. I know Mace and I couldn’t have gone through with euthanizing her. For that reason alone, we aren’t cut out for this type of work.

I literally can’t put into words what these two years meant to me. It’s definitely been an emotional roller coaster. These mutts have made Mason and I laugh until our sides hurt and cry until we had headaches. We’ve saved the lives of thirty dogs in two years. I know it’s not much when you consider that 2-4 million animals are euthanized every year in the U.S., but I can’t help and feel some pride.

Although I won’t be updating, I’m going to leave the site up for a bit. Maybe talk to Charlotte about helping me set up a Farnival Hall of Fame during her winter break from college. I don’t know why but I feel like the stories of these homeless dogs need to stay alive for a while longer. Maybe I’ll try turning them into a book someday 🙂

I can’t thank y’all enough. You loyal freaks gave me the motivation to keep writing through this whole experience, even when I was grieving. I’ve made so many friends through the Farnival that listing them would take a whole other post. I have to give a special shout-out to Charlotte for designing the site, the numerous contributors for exposing their hearts, the Pidgeon’s for their unending support, ICHBA for letting us adopt three awesome dogs, and most of all, Mason. Mace, I don’t know anybody else that would have helped me chase a feral dog through a southern ghetto in the middle of July. You didn’t ask for any of it, but you’ve been by my side through all of it. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you, Meadow.

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Last week we took Meadow and Dawn to the Springfield library to visit a group of three to five year-old children gathered for story time. When we got there the focus became less about a character called Penny the Pig and more about fist bumping Meadow. After the ten plus children got their chance to high five Meadow, they started heading back inside for more popcorn. Kids’ attention spans are about as long as firing firecrackers.

But one little girl named Ana didn’t want to leave. She had shiny hair, pink shorts, and a dimpled smile. At one point, I handed her Meadow’s leash, and you’d have thought I pulled a star from the sky. She lit up. Ana had come to the library with her grandmother, who stood off to the side, quietly taking pictures. The older woman never stopped smiling.

Ana wouldn’t let Meadow kiss her, but she turned away from her licks with such an enthusiastic giggle it tempted Meadow to keep trying. After running up and down the sidewalk with Meadow by her side wasn’t enough, Ana asked me if she could walk Meadow and Dawn. She was a bold little girl, but she had a few problems managing both leashes. She finally conceded that as a beginning dog walker she should probably only handle one at a time.

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When we said our goodbyes, Ana’s smile disappeared. Her eyes widened. I swear a shadow moved over our heads. My heart melted right then and there. I asked her if she would mind helping me walk Meadow to the car. Miraculously, Ana’s smile returned.

Later that night, I wrapped my arms around Meadow – who had been snoring on the couch since we got home – and whispered into her shaggy ear, “Thank you for making a little girl’s day.”

P.S. Meadow and I are both hoping we see Ana again this week at the library. We also heard a rumor Rosie might be making a guest appearance at story time. We’re crossing our fingers and paws.

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Shady Update

eyelashes

I think our foster puppy Shady Shae might have found a home, and we haven’t even put her up for adoption yet. When we were driving up the Pacific Coast earlier this month, she stayed with Judy. Judy also fosters dogs for ICHBA. Like us, she recently lost an elderly pack member and another one isn’t far from the Rainbow Bridge.

In the five days I was away, Shady wormed her silly little self right into Miss Judy’s heart. Judy said having her around was like, “a breath of fresh air.” She asked me if I’d “mind” letting Shady live with her so our ear-licking, couch-pooping puppy can win over Judy’s husband. I told her that of course I minded. But I’m thrilled for Shady. I can’t imagine it’s going to take very long before we hear an official announcement. I’ll keep you posted.

Save Them All: A Kindred Spirit on 19th Ave

Shae(The Farnival’s newest flea-free foster puppy)

I drove down South Main Street, one the poorest sections of Springfield on a steaming hot Saturday night. The local news said the temperature felt like 100 degrees, even at 7 PM. I was on my way to Jamie’s house with a dose of Capstar, a short-term flea pesticide, for a two-month-old mutt I’m planning on fostering. I’d never met Jamie before and I wasn’t happy about meeting her on Saturday. All I knew about her was an incident of animal neglect. But she had a puppy that needed a home, and as everybody knows, I’m a sucker for puppies.

As I crept down the narrow roads, searching the road signs for Nineteenth Avenue, I noticed people – black, white, and Hispanic –everywhere. They were socializing on porches, grilling hotdogs, working on cars, playing soccer. I had all my windows rolled down and heard the musical chatter of children playing. If it wasn’t for the sad-looking houses and trailers practically piled on top of each other, it might have been a suburb on a movie set.

Earlier that day Jamie called Donna about a two-month old puppy a friend “dumped on her.” Jamie said if ICHBA couldn’t foster the pup, she’d keep or find her a home. Knowing Jamie’s history, Donna didn’t hesitate and agreed taking the mutt into our program. Last month, Donna had pulled Duke, a flea-infested mutt, from Jamie’s home. Duke’s flea infestation was so bad it permanently damaged his hair follicles, meaning his back end will probably be bald forever. After hearing about Duke’s prognosis, my first inclination was if Jamie couldn’t afford the basics, she shouldn’t have animals.

I pulled into a narrow gravel drive. Jamie’s house was as sad looking as the next. She must have been watching through her crooked blinds because she stepped outside onto the porch. She was a tanned, forty-something-year-old woman wearing a white T-shirt with an aqua bathing suit underneath. She carried an eight-pound ball of gray and white cuteness in her arms. As I got closer, I saw fleas crawling on the pup’s pale pink belly. Anger tightened at the base of my spine.

“Ain’t she sweet?” Jamie asked half-heartedly, wearing a defeated half-grin. She leaned against the rusting doorframe and cocked her hip, so it would be easier balancing the dog.

“Can you give the puppy this flea medication tonight?” I said and handed Jamie the small white pill. In twenty-fours hours, most of the insects should be dead, and I’d be taking the pup home.

“You got two more of those?” Jamie asked. “That flea stuff costs forty dollars at Wal-mart.” Still cradling the puppy in her arm, she opened her front door. I caught a glimpse of unfinished walls and scuffed wood floors. A fat Chihuahua waddled onto the porch, sniffed my Vans, and started itching. I rooted in the box, pulled out two more Capstar tablets.

“Thank you so much, “ she said, then continued talking for the next twenty minutes without stopping for breath. A story that started with an anecdote about pouring motor oil on Duke to kill the fleas turned into a laundry list of the numerous dogs that Jamie has either saved or helped while living on 19th street. Initially, I had hoped my visit would take five minutes or less, but I found myself passing fifteen without even thinking about leaving. I was drawn to her honest ignorance, her disarming shame. I found myself wanting to comfort her but not knowing how to do anything except listen.

As I heard Jamie’s many tales of rescuing dogs, all the anger I felt before meeting her melted away. I had judged her based on nothing but my assumptions, and I was wrong. Her stories about dogs without teeth and abandoned strays were so familiar I realized we really weren’t that different after all. We both had a hard time accepting love can’t save them all.