Thursday, April 22, 2010

New Age of Rescue

A few weeks ago Calvin, a silver pug with wobbly legs, left a puppymill for the first time in his nine years of living and came to stay at my house.

When I left home that morning, I did not know that Calvin existed. A friend of mine - who acts as a kind of clearing house for puppymill suvivors - had invited me along on a rescue mission. The rescue was conducted jointly by Best Friends, a Utah shelter perhaps best known for the NatGeo series, Dogtown, and the North Shore Animal League, a huge shelter that has been around as long as I can remember.
The location was a huge horse barn on a ranch outside St. Louis. When I arrived, volunteers had just unloaded a van full of crates containing very smelly, frightened dogs. I was instantly astounded by the breadth of the operation. There were at least 50 volunteers there from all over the country, many wearing "Best Friends" t-shirts. Three times as many dogs already occupied crates in the horse stalls. Rescuers were in a constant pattern of cleaning, sorting, loading and unloading - the place reminded me of a bee hive. As vans were unloaded, rescuers inspected the crates for vomit, urine or feces and removed dogs as needed. Sick and special needs dogs were relocated to a stall with a huge Red Cross symbol on it - sort of a canine MASH unit. The rest were sorted and made comfortable. One person with a laptop logged in every new arrival. Other folks were filming the entire operation as it went down. I couldn't believe how well-organized and professional the whole operation was. The next day, a vet was due in to see every single dog - easily an all-day job.

In the midst of all this hubbub were the objects of all this activity - the dogs themselves. Most were small breeds - chihuahuas, yorkies, shih tzus -  but there were a couple of boxers, and one very happy hound. Some seemed to know they had gotten lucky - they wagged their tails and looked around excitedly. Most were either numb or fearful - the more typical demeanor of puppymill survivors. For them, this was sensory overload. One little older female chihuahua in a wire crate stood and shook the entire time I watched her. She had probably never before seen anything outside the three or four cubic feet of her breeding cage.

Normally, I'm the type of person who keeps her emotions under wraps. But on this day, I found myself wiping away tears over and over. Rescuers see the dregs of humanity, i.e., people who abuse and neglect the most helpless and vulnerable creatures among us. Here I was seeing the antithesis. I was completely overwhelmed. Here were humans giving their time and skills, paying their own transport costs, renting vans for local rescuers who spent hours driving from city to city to free these animals, to provide care and comfort, to escort them to safety and a future as beloved pets. I had never seen anything like this. I was deeply moved.

As I walked from stall to stall observing all the dogs and activity surrounding them, I thought about how different rescue had become today. I'm in my fifties now, and I can name the names of rescue folks who sat beside me in dingy auction barns spending whatever funds we had left from the season to buy the dogs the breeders did not feel were worth feeding through the winter. We'd walk the rows of wire cages, choosing which ones to try to take home with us, knowing most of them would go to other, worse puppymills. The dogs we bought for a pittance were sick, old, blind and no longer producing. These were my favorites because they responded with such gratitude to the smallest act of kindness.

Those barns were a far cry from this clean, brightly lit shelter. Lost in thought, I barely heard the last van pull up to the garage door entry. I crossed the roadway in a chilly drizzle, stepping over puddles, waited by the van to help unload. The big side door slid open. The first thing I saw was an old pug in a wire crate. The driver, who knew me, said, "He's nine years old. You don't have to take him".

"I'll take him," I responded. In fact, I would have fought anybody for him.

 He stiffened up as she handed him to me, eyes blank, despondent. I put him in my van, and gave him his first and only name. Calvin. Later, I would work hard to put a spark back into those eyes, to strengthen legs weak from disuse, and to instill a thimble-full of trust between us.

As Calvin and I headed out, the rain picked up. It was getting colder and everyone was tired, yet I felt energized. I felt both affirmation and inspiration. I had seen the future, and it looked really, really good. For both of us.


majik said...

This is a great story, Melanie. I love this part-
<<"I'll take him," I responded. In fact, I would have fought anybody for him.>> You rock!
Thank you for all you do- Karma may have an adopter (thank you for sending Tammy my way!). When she finds her forever home, I will be ready to foster another for you. Anything else I can help with? I'm making a donation right now, as I know that is what is most needed and I finally have the funds!
Pug Hugs, Mary

Linda Boston said...

You are an angel! Thank you for taking in this wonderful little guy. We know he'll be loved.