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Finding the Perfect Home for Dawn

dawnsnow

(Dawn, March 2015)

We met Dawn in June 2014. She was a feral stray living on the streets of a run-down, low-income community in Springfield, TN. When I say feral, I mean until last December a human had never touched her. ICHBA heard about her after she had a litter of eight pups under a pile of brush and trash.

I clearly remember seeing Dawn for the first time. She walked with her head hanging low, as though exhausted, tail tucked, teats sagging from so many pups sucking on them. Mud stained her paws and nose. Her coat was dull and ragged. She moved within a few feet of us, close but not close enough to touch.

Dawn didn’t trust humans because when she was six months old, the Springfield Police Department massacred her entire pack. We first heard about the incident from residents on Smith Street and later confirmed the report with the police department. After several complaints about twelve feral dogs harming property between Smith and Josephine Street, the S.P.D. set chickens loose in a field. When the dogs ran after the live bait, the police department opened fire with shotguns, sometimes shooting the animals two or three times. The only dog that survived was Dawn.

Sometimes, I imagine what it must have been like for Dawn during that terrible day, hiding in some drainage ditch or hunkering behind a tree while the whole world exploded and her pack screamed, the scent of blood thick. Dawn had lived through a war zone.

Mason, Donna, and I tracked Dawn – mostly by foot – down every back alley and through every abandoned lot in Springfield during a soupy hot Tennessee summer. We tried catching her using sedatives, tranquilizers, catchpoles, and nets but we failed each time. We even had Springfield Animal Control engaged in our efforts, but Dawn’s a supremely intuitive creature. She outfoxed all of us.

During the course of the next six months, Dawn had nineteen puppies, all of which ICHBA rehomed. But we were never able to get our hands on the mother until Christmas Eve morning 2014, when we trapped her under an ink black, pre-dawn sky in a crumbling shack where she had birthed her last litter of puppies. For Donna, Mason, and I catching her was like winning the Super Bowl. We were fist bumping, ass slapping, high-fiving every which way. Even now, we all still consider catching her our greatest achievement yet.

Dawn didn’t trust us fast. It took weeks before she allowed me to touch her without bolting for a corner. In fact, we discussed getting her fixed, then releasing her back to Smith Street because we never thought we’d be able to socialize her. We rationalized that if she had a collar, she wouldn’t suffer the same fate as her former pack.

But we just couldn’t do it. We couldn’t give up on a dog that had already suffered so much. Instead, everybody pitched in and my whole posse – Mason, Donna, Nancy, Charlotte, Lino, Jim, and most importantly my pack – taught Dawn that being touched by humans isn’t so bad.

Watching Dawn a year after I first saw her is like seeing a different dog. Her coat is sleek, black, and shiny. Her eyes are happy and thoughtful. She wags her tail, suns on the deck, and walks on a leash just like any other dog. She’s still shy, timid even, but once in a great while, she’ll kiss my cheek.

The other day I told Mason about someone interested in adopting Dawn. The gentleman said that he doesn’t have any other animals and that she would need to be crated for eight hours a day. Mason immediately shook his head no.

“If anyone deserves a perfect home, its Dawn,” he said.

The Rainbow Bridge: Meet Nigel

On Sunday, Kaye texted, telling me about a dog with a broken leg on Gunn Road in Robertson County. I’ve known Kaye for almost five years. She’s forty-something with a quiet sense of humor and soft heart. She had named the dog Nigel.

Kaye had tried to catch Nigel, but he wouldn’t come near her. After her last failed attempt, she asked, “So do I just pretend I never saw him?”

It took me two days to get to Gunn Road. I had a lot on my plate, and to be honest, I rationalized there wasn’t much I could do for a dog with a busted leg that wouldn’t come near a human. Finally, on Wednesday morning, Mason and I drove through countryside filled with acres of grazing or resting cattle, searching for Nigel, a black mutt that might have gotten hit by a car or attacked by a pack of coyotes.

A cold front had moved in the night before and the drizzling sky was slate gray, buzzards gliding over farmland.

Kaye’s directions had been spot on, and it didn’t take us long to find him, sitting against a garage, resting in a mound of leaves. At first, from afar, when I saw a medium-sized, furry dog with a face like a teddy bear, I thought he was too cute to be sick or ignored, but the closer we got, the easier it was to see something was severely wrong.

Mason approached the dog, calm and steady. Nigel stood up, wobbled, but couldn’t make it more than a few feet. My husband scooped him up as easily as an empty bucket, carrying him without an ounce of effort. On top of everything, he was emaciated. He’d been on the street for a long, long time.

As we settled him in the backseat, I saw the dog’s busted limb, a gash so deep the bone and muscle were clear as day, pus oozing out the sides. Everywhere, his hair was clotted with blood, mud, and shit. Nigel’s black eyes were sunken in his skull, like he was trying not to see anything anymore, like he was done trying to live.

**

Thirty minutes later, Nigel lay on the stainless steel table at the vet’s office. Donna, ICHBA’s head honcho, had called ahead, warning them we were bringing in a beat-up dog found on the roadside.

For a few ridiculous, hopeful moments, I texted Kaye, asking if she would foster him, thinking that he had a chance of recovery. That he’d get to smell something besides that metal table. That he’d get to experience something besides suffering.

But the infection was too deep. He was too dehydrated. Even if we tried to save him, his front right leg, from paw to shoulder, would have to be amputated, and the chance of Nigel surviving surgery was slim.

Euthanizing him was the humane decision.

Mason and I stayed with him until the end, touching him, loving him. I’m not a religious person, but right before Nigel died, I bent close and whispered in his fluffy, matted ear that one day I’d see him on The Rainbow Bridge.

Dogs Born in Perry County Have Problems

PC8(The Perry County 8)

Click here for the background story on a homeless mutt named Lucy that had a litter of 8 puppies under a back porch in Perry County.

 **

The problem for animals born in Perry County is that they live in one of the poorest, meanest places in Tennessee. In the words of one woman residing in the county seat of Linden, “there’s an underlying meanness thick enough to chew on.”

One of the reasons folks are pissed off is because they’re broke. In 2009, the economic situation got so bad that our government invested federal stimulus money in the area’s rebirth, and it helped, but the employment rate still doubles the national average.

Another hurdle for stray animals in Perry County is that their home has the lowest population density in the state, totaling a sparse nineteen people per square mile. That means lots and lots of wilderness filled with heaps of predators – think coyotes, black vultures, bears, and hunters.

A remote area inhabited with poor, peeved folks has yielded an animal overpopulation epidemic. Over and over again, dogs like Lucy – pregnant, penniless, and speechless – are ditched on secluded roads, left to figure life out on their own.

For a long time, I held a lot of know-it-all, self-righteous anger towards people that committed such crimes, thinking they were despicable, but I was humbled pretty quick when I learned that sometimes dumping animals is a necessity and not a desire.

A while back, trying to understand why people abandon animals so frequently in my own struggling Middle Tennessee county, I had a few beers with a neighbor’s girlfriend, a woman named Betty D. that confessed to dropping off a litter of kittens on a country road. When I asked her why, she vehemently defended herself, saying that she had recently lost her job as a cook at the Springfield Middle School and was having trouble feeding her four kids, let alone seven kittens. Besides, it hadn’t been her cat to begin with and wandered uninvited onto her rented property. Lastly, she had proclaimed, cigarette hanging from her mouth, callused finger waving in the air, she had tried to take the kittens to the Robertson County Animal Control, but the shelter didn’t have room.

I’m not defending animal abuse of any kind, but I couldn’t really argue with Betty. If it comes to feeding children or feeding stray animals, the answer is clear. Plus, when there’s no place to safely surrender cats and dogs, particularly the ones that arrive pregnant, what are a poor family’s options? I have a feeling the same situation is going on in Perry County.

Right now, the Perry County Humane Society is fighting just to keep their heat on and might have to close the doors, which means Lucy and the Perry County 8 could have ended up surviving in the wilderness or euthanized if it hadn’t been for a handful of rock stars: thank you so much Wayne and Pamela Thing, Geoff Reed, Danita F., and as always, ICHBA.

P.S. If you have an extra 5 bucks and want to donate to a worthy cause, why not help the Perry County Shelter keep their heater running this winter? Click here for more information.

Do Dogs Have Souls?

collage(Mellie at twelve weeks; Mellie at ten months)

Seven months ago Mason and I left Mellie at her new home; it was February, a cold, cloudless day with unfiltered sunshine glaring off car hoods, roofs, and windows. I’d like to blame the blaring sun on my bad choice that day, but I know better. It was an old wives’ tale, a long-held but untrue belief that got in the way of clarity.

Mellie had been twelve-weeks-old, a black, brown, and white border-collie mix with a perpetually happy disposition that we had fostered and trained for several weeks. She still had puppy breath, only a whiff, but it was there.

I distinctly recall the family: a pretty, youngish mom with four untamed toddlers springing off the couch like it was a trampoline, quiet dad, bible verses stenciled on walls.

I’d seen the home before, not exactly, but a similar house with similar characteristics. It had been over a year before at Laura’s, the woman that had adopted Bentley when he was a six-week-old adorable puppy and didn’t socialize him, calling me eight months later when her husband’s job couldn’t pay the bills, saying they couldn’t keep Bentley and had to move in with her mother.

By the time Bentley had returned to the Farnival, he was an un-socialized and aggressive fifty-pound pit-lab mix that tried to take a chunk out of my thigh every time he saw another animal and sometimes people, particularly if skateboards or bicycles were involved. Thankfully, in the end, we found Bentley a home with a dog trainer, but there had been a few excruciating weeks when we thought we’d have to euthanize him.

Laura had only had one out-of-control daughter instead of four, but she had the same stenciled bible quotes, same quiet husband. On both occasions, it was the male family figure that had the final say about adopting the dog. The wife, playing the submissive role the bible recommends, always deferred to her husband’s decision – even though she was the one responsible for the animal’s care.

As Mason and I rode back to the Farnival, I compared Bentley’s situation to Mellie’s, and all the fibers in my gut started to constrict like wool in water. For a while, I wrangled with my unease, telling myself that my instincts were wrong. I was just upset because I had to say goodbye to a puppy. Bentley had been a fluke. Religious people did the right thing. I recited these arguments like a vocabulary list, until the list became a clattering chant, and I couldn’t keep quiet a second longer.

“Those kids were out of control, Mason,” I said.

“They had a puppy in the house,” he answered.

“They also had John 3:16 painted on their walls,” I countered.

 ***

Autumn has arrived in Cedar Hill, Tennessee, cool evenings with even cooler mornings that reveal more and more color: like nightly someone takes out their paint gun and randomly shoots tree limbs and bushes with blotches of purple, yellow, brown, and red, color bombs among walls of greenery.

Right now, as I type, Mellie is wrestling with Meadow in the Mosh Pit under a sky as blue and clear as that day in February when I left her behind. She came back to us several weeks ago. Four-month-old Adriana tries to keep up with her buddies, but Mead and Mellie are as sleek and fast as racecars. Ade is still a bumbling puppy.

At the Farnival, surrounded by her foster pack, Mellie acts happy. Nothing like the dog her family described.

Seven months after I had said my goodbye, Mellie’s family called us, claiming she’d bit the children, nipped at a gardening neighbor through their chain link fence, and terrified an entire community after she’d gotten loose. When I inquired how often they took Mellie off the property, they had answered “maybe once a week.”

If I had listened to my intuition on that other clear afternoon many months ago, I wouldn’t have left Mellie behind. I wouldn’t have made a decision that has cost a handful of people, children, and an animal a whole lot of heartache, but I didn’t.

What got in the way of clarity was a superstition, an old wives’ tale, a belief that families who follow Jesus will be the kindest, most devoted families.

News flash: They aren’t.

It’s counter-intuitive and ironic, but over the past year of rescuing animals, I’ve come to realize that the most devout families – meaning people who follow a literal interpretation of the bible – nettle my unease more than any other person that adopts one of ICHBA’s dogs, which makes rescuing animals in rural Tennessee so unique.

I’m aware that people abuse animals in every part of the world, but I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. It’s a place where gargantuan churches dominate landscapes, businesses close on Wednesday evenings for worship, and literal interpretations of the bible are as common as pulled pork, but it’s also where authorities respond to the animal overpopulation problem by massacring homeless dogs with shotguns and families surrender their abused or neglected animals right after handing over their church’s business cards.

It’s the kind of place where people believe animals don’t have souls.

Since Mellie came back to us, I’ve been thinking about the link between biblical diehards and animal abuse. Is it because they think being soulless devalues worth? Does it make an animal undeserving of time and commitment? I ask because I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me.

So, how will I know if it’s the right fit next time I take Mellie to another home? How will I know when to tell an interested family no? That’s another mystery, but I can make one promise: If the next house Mellie and I walk into has bible quotes stenciled on the wall, we’re doing an about-face.

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Adriana + Frida = Best Buds

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DSC_0035(Adriana trying to win over Frida)

For the majority of Frida’s fourteen months on this earth, she lived outside in a kennel, like an animal at a petting zoo that no one wanted to see or touch. She didn’t have a name because nobody gave her one.

Eventually, Frida, a thirty pound chow-mix, grew bored with her confinement and dug out of her pen, running loose in a rural agrarian town on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, staying close to the only home she had ever known.

You’ve met Frida’s family on this blog before. They are the same people that abused and neglected Buddy, the dog without a tail. Click here for a refresher. Since January, ICHBA has rescued four dogs from this family’s property, all littermates, and we’ve managed to have the mother fixed.

Unfortunately, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent this family from taking in another animal. So, the cycle will continue. I promise.

 ***

On Frida’s first afternoon at the Farnival, she crawled under Mason’s broken down Honda Accord station wagon – parked in the fenced backyard – and wouldn’t come out, even when we kneeled on the gravel drive and tried coaxing her with a tasty morsel of grass-fed ground beef.

Over the next couple hours, most of our pack ignored Frida, keeping a wide berth, barely investigating the wagon or the area around it.

But Frida’s aloof behavior didn’t faze Adriana, our three-month-old puppy, because the moment Ade spotted Frida, she scurried under the wagon, snatched a lick and a sniff, then charged back out, floppy ears flapping every which way, as though she thought Frida would chase her.

Instead, Frida returned Ade’s affection with a nasty snarl. Ade cocked her head, paused, then, undeterred, scampered back under the car. Each time she visited Frida, she stayed a little longer until finally I got tired of standing in the ninety-plus degree heat and went inside to work.

From my office, I have a clear view of the wagon and after twenty minutes, when neither dog popped out their head, I checked on them.

They were still under the car, side-by-side, Frida peering out with an anxious, bewildered expression, which was in stark and almost comical opposition to Ade’s happy little face, pink tongue hanging out, tiny nose covered in dust from a hole she was digging. It struck me that Frida has never known anything but hardship, and Ade has never known anything but love.

It took a few hours, but eventually Ade managed to lure Frida out from under the Honda.

Now, they’re inseparable.

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Kenny’s Story: When Dogs Scream

M8 were born(Dawn had the M8 in a bramble patch. ICHBA covered it with a tarp. We also built a fence behind it.)

Dawn(Dawn)

While searching for Dawn in one of the seediest sections of Springfield, I ran across a middle-aged gentleman called Kenny. He was eating a can of Beanie-Weenies under the carport of his church-sponsored halfway house. I asked if he’d seen a black dog with milk-bloated boobs that hung almost to her paws.

“Do y’all mean Buckwheat?” he answered.

Kenny and I talked about Buckwheat a.k.a Dawn for almost thirty minutes. Kenny stood well over six feet, had light brown, sun-streaked hair and sunburned cheeks. He sat on a lawnmower, gas can chained to the railing. He said Dawn grew up at the old bus terminal with a pack of dogs. She loved fried chicken and napping in drainage pipes.

Kenny had also known her mother “Heinz” and a sister he called “Biscuit.” With a thick southern accent, the kind where two syllables turn into three, Kenny explained how last year he bought 100 pounds of Dog Chow a month to feed eight strays. He proudly described how they had lined up “military-style” and patiently waited for him to put out a few bowls of grub.

I asked Kenny if he ever touched Dawn. He paused, swished the flies away from his Beanie-Weenies. Then he looked me straight in the eye, as though sizing me up, as though wondering if I could handle what happened to animals in his neighborhood.

“No, but she been abused real bad,” he said.

“By one of your neighbor’s?” I asked.

“By the Police Department.”

According to Kenny, last summer a pack ran between Josephine and Smith Street. Springfield Animal Control tried capturing them, failed, and called the police department. The officers showed up with shotguns and live chickens. They set the birds loose in a field and opened fire when the dogs chased them. It took a week. Sometimes they had to shoot the mutts two and three times, but eventually the police killed all of them except for one. Dawn was the only animal who survived the massacre.

Kenny said he heard the dogs’ screams long after the shooting stopped.

***

A month later, I walked into the Springfield Police Department hoping Kenny had misconstrued what happened, hoping the good guys really were good. Kenny’s story had been haunting me like the dogs’ screams haunted him. It finally got to point where I had to verify it or disregard it. I found it hard to believe such cruelty existed, let alone that it was legal. Looking back, I realize the pitfall for many activists is our eternal optimism, like hope is programmed into our DNA. No matter how many times I see or hear horrific animal abuse stories, I keep wanting the next time to be different.

Unfortunately, I realized Kenny was telling the truth as soon as I shook hands with Lieutenant Marner. He didn’t mince words. The lieutenant said animal control had exhausted every resource to seize that pack. He explained the animals were “vicious” and “harming property,” so the police “set up a situation” and “destroyed” them. He made it very clear this sort of extermination happened before and that it is legal in Robertson County, TN.

Before I left, he said the S.P.D. ordered a net gun that would help them capture feral dogs in a more humane way in the future. He also agreed to help us catch Dawn when the net arrived at the station.

***

Over the next couple of months, ICHBA reached out to the police department numerous times. They never returned our calls.

M8 pre Farnival(Dawn’s litter)