rescue people

Dog Rescuers

Almost 8 million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters each year, and almost 50% of them will not come out alive. The cycle is horrific.  Dogs come in abused, neglected, heartbroken, sick, old, pure-bred–with one thing in common…they are unwanted and unloved.  It is hard on the animal-lovers who work for the shelter. It is hard on anyone who loves animals.

What many people don’t realize is that about 35% of abandoned animals are pulled out of shelters by rescue groups. Rescuers go deep into the shelters looking for adoptable dogs. They find foster homes, they provide food and vaccinations and spay/neuters. Their own homes are usually brimming with wagging tails. They sell t-shirts for medical care fundraisers. They network to find just the right family for each dog. They organize transport to move dogs all over the country, to get them to homes where they will be loved and taken care of. Their phones buzz with incoming texts, emails, messages…about the dogs they’ve saved, or about dogs that are urgently in need of a place to stay before time runs out.

Rescue groups operate all around us.  Rescuers seem to lead double lives…working full time jobs, raising families and giving the rest of their time, hearts and homes to the dogs they save. It takes a great human to traverse through this bittersweet cycle. Rescuers experience extreme joy when opening a shelter cage to save a dog, only to turn around and have their hearts broken when they look into the eyes of the desperate dogs still in their kennels. And there is pain–anger–when they walk to the front of the shelter, only to see a line of people dropping off unwanted pets. It takes a hearty soul to care so deeply, to do so much, to function so effectively around “humanity” and to give so much of their lives.

This is the story of Kelly and Judy: special souls who are dog rescuers in this never-ending stream of unwanted and abused animals.

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Animal Welfare in Cuba: Aniplant Cares for and Protects Dogs and Cats

Animal welfare in Cuba is a daunting challenge.  On my recent trip to Cuba, I had the honor of meeting Nora Garcia Pérez, the founder of Aniplant, an animal care and protection organization in Havana.  Nora has dedicated the past 28 years of her life to the animals of Cuba:  from big ventures like founding Aniplant and promoting animal welfare on Cuban radio and TV, to smaller efforts like traveling around Havana in a little yellow Fiat with the passenger seat removed to make room for two street dogs who sleep in the car every night.

Aniplant, or Asociación Cubana para la Protección de Animales y Plantas, is located in Centro Havana, not far from the University and only steps from the beautiful Malecón sea wall.   Aniplant seeks to eliminate the suffering of Cuban animals through sterilization campaigns to reduce the number of strays, public education to promote the need for good veterinary care and animal health, facilitation of dog/cat adoptions, and hands-on intervention in cases of animal abuse.  

If you’re a dog lover and have ever been to Cuba–or to any third world country for that matter–you know the helpless heartache of seeing painfully thin and sick animals on the streets.  And while Cuba is a highly educated, healthy and empathetic population, their lack of resources is a tremendous problem.  Often, people simply do not have the means to properly care for animals.  That means that many dogs/cats go without spaying/neutering, resulting in unwanted animals roaming the streets in search of food and shelter.  The Cuban government collects strays from city streets, and almost all of those dogs/cats are immediately euthanized by poisoning or electrocution.  Aniplant’s main mission is to reduce the number of strays by providing as many spay/neuters as possible.  They have performed nearly 5,000 sterilizations each year since 2012 and are currently trying to expand operations throughout Havana and all of Cuba.   Like everything related to Cuba, it is complicated.  While Aniplant is the only animal protection organization permitted to function in Cuba, there are ministries and permissions to deal with and there are the obstacles of getting medical supplies and donations around the U.S. embargo.

The Aniplant location at 128 Principe is home to 19 dogs:  16 adoptable ones and 3 waiting to be on their way to homes in the UK and the USA.  The dogs have the run of the back areas of Aniplant–the kitchen, a play area outside and a little room just off the courtyard.  There are employees at Aniplant who work to train and socialize the dogs, and to prepare their meals of rice and meat.  A veterinarian and vet tech are also on staff for routine procedures and emergency care.  And every Friday, hundreds of pounds of meat for dog food are delivered to Aniplant to be sold to the community for fundraising.  The place is immaculate, colorful, lively and upbeat–the receptionist sings on occasion and offers tiny cups of strong coffee to those waiting patiently for services.  Dog and cat owners chat with each other and hold their pets close in the tiled lobby.  Potential adopters check in at reception and discuss the adoption application process.  And every now and then, the dogs break into barks or whines as a visitor makes their way back through the courtyard.

I spent several days at Aniplant, photographing and videotaping and will have a short multimedia piece to share with you soon.   In the meantime, if you are moved by this story, please consider a small donation to the Aniplant Project.   Considering that veterinarians in Cuba make only about $250 a year, any amount of money donated will go a long way to helping the animals.   Donate to Aniplant.    Nora’s wish list also includes a truck or large van to take the Aniplant spay/neuter clinic on the road and a small animal ventilator.  If you, or anyone you know can help with those items, please contact me.

Aniplant lobby
The reception area of Aniplant, located at 128 Principe near Hospital in Centro Havana.
Veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, cleans dog teeth
Aniplant veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, cleans the teeth of a sedated Beagle in Havana, Cuba.
cat awaits surgery at Aniplant
A cat has been sedated and cleaned by the veterinary technician and awaits surgery at Aniplant.  Havana, Cuba.
Training a dog at Aniplant to walk on a leash
Aniplant houses 19 dogs currently up for adoption. These dogs get training–like leash walking and basic commands–from the trainers on staff at Aniplant, in Havana, Cuba.
Disposable surgical gloves washed and drying in a window
Disposable surgical gloves are washed and dried for re-use at Aniplant. Medical supplies are precious and nothing is wasted.  Havana, Cuba.
Potential adopters visit Aniplant dogs
The dogs at Aniplant are available for adoption. Guests are allowed to visit with the dogs and encouraged to apply for an adoption.  Havana, Cuba.
Dog rests in a built-in space in Aniplant kitchen
Aniplant moved into their space about 5 years ago. Renovations included building cave-like spaces for the dogs in the kitchen. Havana, Cuba.
Man carries a dog in for veterinary care
A man brings a Husky in to the Aniplant lobby for veterinary care. Aniplant is open 6 days a week for veterinary services, workshops and the sale of fresh meat for animal food.  Havana, Cuba.
Dog in a bathtub at Aniplant
This sweet face was always the first to greet me…and anyone else at Aniplant.  Havana, Cuba.
Dog in shopping cart awaits care at Aniplant
This dog had been hit by a car and was carried into Aniplant in a shopping cart for follow up care.  Havana, Cuba.
Cuba Aniplant Veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, checks his messages
Aniplant Veterinarian, Edgar Llorente Llano, checks his messages while waiting for the clinic to open in Havana Cuba.
Nora Garcia Pérez with Carol Fletcher
Founder of Aniplant, Nora Garcia Pérez (left), and Carol Fletcher following our interview.  Havana, Cuba 3/13/15.
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Rescued Dogs of Havana Cuba: Sheltered by Museums

As many of you know, I’m a dog lover and have an on-going project documenting the work of people who rescue dogs.  And I love Cuba.   I love walking in Havana, photographing the elegant decay and witnessing the extraordinary changes happening there.  I love meeting the people, getting to know their hopes and worries, and always admiring their persistence, creativity and resourcefulness.   So this month, I decided to overlay these passions and dig a little deeper into the stories of the rescued dogs of Havana, Cuba and those sheltered by museums.

Street dogs are commonly seen in Havana, picking through the trash or teetering down the sidewalks.  It is heartbreaking and frustrating.  But in a country where food can be hard to come by for people, perhaps it is not unusual or unexpected.   One thing that has surprised me is that many museums in Old Havana have taken on the role of sheltering dogs.

On my first trip to Cuba I saw a fat little dog wearing a business card and sleeping near Fototeca in Plaza Vieja.  On subsequent trips, I saw more of these dogs with business cards…in front of other museums, in front of Havana’s University, and wandering around the old plazas…dogs who generally looked healthy and happy.  So, on this trip, I went looking for these card-carrying dogs to find out more about their lives and the people who care for them.

These are the five dogs of Museo de la Orfebrería (Museum of Metal/Silver Work), a quiet courtyard museum on Obispo near Plaza de Armas.  They are cared for by Margarita Garcia and Odalys Valdéz, who work at the museum as guides and security.  The dogs spend their days napping in the shade of the courtyard, or lazing on the sunny bricks in front of the museum.  During the day, they greet visitors politely–without fanfare or dogged attention.  And they keep Margarita and Odalys company during their 6 day shifts working 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  In return, Margarita and Odalys feed them and keep fresh water on hand.  The dogs are sheltered in the museum– partially in the role of protecting the museum from thieves–but most definitely to save the dogs from a hard street life.

After noticing a few strays outside who seemed to pace by regularly–as if looking in…one more time…for an opening, for an invitation, I asked Margarita if there were ever more than five here.  “No.  Only five.  We cannot feed or have more.  But these five?  Good for them.”  And good for Margarita and Odalys and all the guides who care for these precious little souls.

Entrance to Havana's Museo de la Orfebrería
Margarita Garcia stands at the entrance to Havana’s Museo de la Orfebrería, where she works and cares for the museum’s five rescued dogs.
Aparicio wears an identification card
Dogs under the care of Cuba’s museums wear cards identifying them. The cards have the dog’s name, where he/she lives and that he/she has been sterilized. These cards are intended to protect the dogs from being picked up by Havana’s dog-catchers.
Odalys and Margarita
Odalys and Margarita stand in the doorway of the Museum while dogs sleep in the background.
Dogs in the Courtyard
The five dogs have full access to the museum’s courtyard.
Preparing the meal
In a back room of the museum, Margarita prepares a meal of rice and a few bites of chicken for the dogs.
Dinner for Five Dogs
Margarita sets out a meal of rice and a little chicken for the dogs in the courtyard of the museum.
Sleeping Dog
Canelito enjoys cat-napping in the courtyard.
Vladimir at the front door of the Museo de la Orfebrería
Vladimir’s favorite place is at the door, greeting the many tourists walking past on Obispo near Plaza de Armas.
Odalys and Dogs
Guide Odalys enjoys passing the hours with the dogs.
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Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary / Rescue in New Mexico

In March, I spent some time at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary, a rescue located on 100+ acres outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.   Founder and Director, Natalie Owings cares for, and lives among, over 200 animals–dogs, cats, rabbits, wedding doves, horses, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks, llamas, alpacas, goats….  If any animal in the area needs a home, a meal, and some compassion, this is the place.

For the abused, neglected, sick or starving animals who have found safe haven here, this can only seem like heaven.  Many of the animals are rescued from shelters in the area.  And will stay here until adopted or transported to another state for adoption.  Some may live out their days here.

About 30 dogs have the run of the Giant Doghouse and surrounding grounds.  While they are fenced out of spaces for some of the other animals in order to keep the peace, they have ample selection of beds (inside, outside, in the sun, in the shade) and can help themselves to kibble anytime they are hungry.  There are no cages, no leashes… and no fights.   Every creature here is loved, respected, and safe …and they know it.

Please take a minute to visit the website:   http://www.animal-sanctuary.org/

Dog beds on the Porch
Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary’s Giant Doghouse porch has beds for everyone.
Feeding the dogs
Food and water dishes are always full for the 30+ dogs.  They can eat whenever they get hungry.
New Mexico dog walk
Every afternoon, Natalie takes the dogs on a hike.  It begins with a chaotic cacophony of dog voices as Natalie leads the way to the trail…surrounded by little feet and wagging tails.  Once on the trail, some dogs run ahead, some stay close and others wander out to the sides…dashing back along the way.
dog tired puppy gets a lift
 On this hike, the puppies got so tired from keeping up with the big dogs and all the exciting activity, that they started falling asleep in the sun because we lingered too long…and a couple needed to be carried back.
memorial urns dog cremation
There is a quiet chapel with a shelf of urns–each with a photo.  Gone, but never forgotten.
chicken with Natalie Owings
Natalie brings a chicken into the barn.
Rabbits, heat lamp and space heater
On a cold day, rescued rabbits huddle under a heat lamp.
white doves peace birds
Some people release doves at weddings or funerals, not realizing that the domesticated birds cannot survive without their communities.  Doves will often be killed by other animals or starve after the release.  Natalie has built an aviary to give homes to rescued wedding doves.
Heart and Soul Animal Rescue gate
The dogs wait to see where Natalie is going. She almost always stays with them, not going beyond the double-gates.
Horse Chihuahuas puppies
The white horse, Jasmine, was abandoned at the Sanctuary a few years ago. Today, she wanders freely around the place, often with little dogs following her.
Thorn in dog paw
Natalie removes a thorn from a puppy’s foot during one of the afternoon walks.
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“Are you ok?”: Giving hope to shelter dogs

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about going with Judy early one morning to transport 10 rescued dogs on a 60 mile segment of their journey to Minneapolis.  A rescue mission that felt good…happy…exciting.  I had held a parvo-surviving puppy.  She was lucky to be alive.  Lucky to be out of the shelter on that sunny day and lucky enough to be healthy and on her way to a rescue.  I felt her little heart beating, felt her tiny breath–felt her sigh as she gave in to a few minutes of sleep.  I was happy and full of hope holding that little dog…so, so full of hope.

Later that day, after the transport was complete, we went to animal control…a place where hope is hard to feel.  This is the place where almost half the dogs who walk in never come out alive*.  This is the place where so many people who love animals have the sad job of collecting unwanted, lost or abused dogs and cats.  This is the place where volunteer doctors and staff work tirelessly to save animals, and yet have to euthanize many healthy and treatable animals simply because there is no more room.  This is also the place where rescuers go to begin their work, where saving a dog begins.  They identify dogs for rescue, posting and sharing snapshots to network the many homeless faces, hoping that just maybe someone somewhere will fall in love and they can pull a dog out of there.  Rescuers go to Animal Control often, especially when they know their fosters have room to squeeze in just one more.

The place is a maze of “pavilions”, rooms separating the animals into those ready for adoption, those being held as “evidence” for court cases, those in medical care, or those simply doing their time in hopes that someone will come looking for them before their 5 days are up.  There are no outside windows in these rooms full of cages.  The rooms can be loud with echos of barking, crying dogs.  Or the rooms can be silent…like the air has been sucked out of the place, like dementors have been there.

Today, we were there to look for a couple of dogs that had been posted online for potential rescue, to temperament test another.  I followed Judy and her scrap of paper with the cage numbers.  All those sad eyes on us.  All the life behind those bars.  Some of the dogs desperate for you to slow down, to look, to touch, to acknowledge that they are alive.  Other dogs cowered in the cages, terrified, trembling, lost and confused, and maybe broken forever.  These dogs seemed not to want anyone to look at them, to see them, matted and dirty, shrinking into the bright orange tile and concrete corners.

It is hard to witness.  I tried to concentrate on photographing Judy with the dogs, on learning what she was looking for when she studied their paperwork.  I followed her–her golden ponytail, her scrap of paper with the cage numbers, her voice.  And I watched her…I watched her muster her spirit, her smile, her hope in this hard place.  I watched her giving hope to each of those shelter dogs.  “Are you ok?” she asked each of them with a smile.  “Are you ok?”  Sometimes it was a question.  Sometimes it was a statement, willing them to be ok when options looked bleak.  Whatever it was, even if she spent only a second with each soul–it mattered.  That little heartbeat of a moment, a smile, a kind voice…It means everything…to the dogs…and to Judy.

It is a cruelly hard job for animal lovers to work in this place, to remain hopeful, to not give up at the sheer magnitude and the never ending streams of needy faces. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the dogs.

"Are you ok?"
“Are you ok?”, Judy asks. Judging from his scars, he may have been used in dog fights.
Reading this dog's kennel card while he waits
Kennel cards tell you a little bit about the dog’s history…maybe a name, maybe a former address or where he was found, maybe a bit about his tolerance of other dogs, cats or children.  The cards also tell you how much time he has left.
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Pearl was scared and angry. Judy waited, talking to her about nothing in particular.
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This smiling baby watched me as I watched Judy…After 30 minutes, Judy was still trying to convince Pearl to come out of her cage. Pearl would eventually get out of her cage for rescue, though this would not be that day.
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One of the aisles of cages, in one of the many pavilions at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control.
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“Unknown” name, found at an “unknown location”. Matted, dirty, terrified. This dog had 2 microchips and was waiting for the owner(s) to be identified and notified.
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Aisles of cages, and always…always…a waiting face.
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Judy noticed this mama had painted nails. “Who polished your nails and then abandoned you here? Where are your babies?”
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“Are you ok?”

*  Most current (2011) Asilomar Accords records from CACC:  “Jan 1 holding 863 dogs.  Thru 2011:  Took in 11,115 dogs.  Adopted out 943, Transferred out to rescues/other organizations 3,407, Returned to owner 1,355.   Euthanized/Died in care:  5,477.  Dec 31 holding 793 dogs.”  (corrected math on records shows 796 dogs remaining.)  Please see www.asilomaraccords.org for more information on shelters in your area.

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Transporting Rescue Dogs

Ever wonder what happens with the dogs saved by rescue groups? Transporting rescue dogs gives many a better chance of adoption or foster in a new state. Almost every weekend, hundreds of rescuers move these precious souls miles in 1-2 hour bits of travel. It’s an incredible network, and a feat of organization and determination, and sheer love for the dogs.

Last Saturday, I rode on a dog transport with Judy, picking up 10 dogs in Merrillville, Indiana and driving them to Itasca, Illinois. This was just one leg of their 8-9 hour journey from Indianapolis to Minneapolis.

I arrived at Judy’s just after 7 a.m. as she was configuring the van with her crates and cages. Like a Tetris puzzle, she arranged the crates to maximize the space and to make sure there would be enough separation for the parvo survivors we would soon meet. There was a smell of fresh laundry–bleach maybe–from the clean padding, beds, and towels lining the cages. Some towels were strategically placed on top of the cages under the air vents, so no dog would get blasted with the AC. Behind the driver’s seat was a bag of slip-leads and collars, some towels, baggies, water dishes and water.

We had a list of the passengers to expect…

  • 1. Shelby – Poodle-x, 9y F(S), 30 lb.
  • 2. Goofy – Pomeranian, M(N), 5 lb.
  • 3. Maltese – F, 8 lb.
  • 4. Juno – Terrier, F(S), 30 lb.
  • 5. BeaglePup – 10 weeks
  • 6. Lil Bit & Skittles – APBT puppies, 8 lbs. each
  • 7. Frenchie – 10 weeks
  • 8. Dexter – 4 months
  • 9. Puppy – 8 weeks. WILL TRAVEL IN OWN CRATE

The list also told us the that these dogs were traveling with health certificates, collars and that all were up-to-date on shots. There was an updated e:mail with more specifics on the meeting places for each of the 7 legs of the journey and who would be receiving the dogs upon arrival in Minneapolis. We pulled out of Judy’s driveway around 7:20 a.m. with the crates, the list and the sunshine, headed to meeting place #1 in Merrillville, Indiana.

We arrived a little early to the parking lot where we’d make the transfer from one car to another. A text let us know that Tara and Gwen were 10 minutes away, coming in 2 cars from Indianapolis. While we waited, Judy reminded me to be careful not to touch another dog after touching a parvo-survivor puppy. The parvo-surviving pups would also have to take their potty breaks in a different place.

And then, they arrived! Two cars pulled up, on either side of Judy’s van. Introductions, hugs and brief chatter as we jumped out to make ready for the transfer. I think I laughed and cried at the same time as Gwen’s hatchback opened to reveal a carload full of dogs looking back at me. The next 30 minutes was a whirlwind…get the dogs out, walked, watered and then situated in Judy’s crates and car.

Puppies!  These pooches have just completed the first leg of their 8 hour journey.  Lil Bit and Skittles (on the left) have survived parvo.
Puppies! These pooches have just completed the first leg of their 8 hour journey. Lil Bit and Skittles (on the left) have survived parvo.
The belongings of a Pomeranian named Goofy.  Goofy's  person passed away 2 days prior.  Life shattering change, maybe eased by traveling with familiar things.
The belongings of a Pomeranian named Goofy. Goofy’s person passed away 2 days prior. Life shattering change, hopefully eased a little by traveling with familiar things.
Switching crates/cages and cars.  Everybody gets a walk and some water.
Switching crates/cages and cars. Everybody gets a walk and some water.
Handsome :)   All dogs have a tag with their info.  Calling them by name earns you a tail wag and if you're lucky a little kiss.
Handsome :) All dogs have a tag with their info. Calling them by name earns you a tail wag and if you’re lucky a little kiss.
Shelby/Peaches and Frenchie getting situated in the next car.  Waiting for the other dogs to finish their walks.
Shelby/Peaches and Frenchie getting situated in the next car. Waiting for the other dogs to finish their walks.
Patience.  Last one to be unloaded.
Patience. Last one to be unloaded.
Jema is a parvo survivor.  I got the honor of riding shotgun with this puppy in my lap...but Judy gets a hug first.
Jema is a parvo survivor. I got the honor of riding shotgun with this puppy in my lap…but Judy gets a hug first.

After all the walks, after all the crate moves, Judy and I got back in the car with our passengers. Lucky, lucky me–I got to ride with Jema in my lap! This little girl was recently spayed, and a parvo-survivor. She tried so hard not to sleep…she wagged her tail and smiled at Judy, at me, at the dogs in the back, at the scenery out the window and for a few minutes chewed on my hair. And those of you who know me, know that I was in heaven holding this little happy and curious girl with her sweet puppy smell. Everyone settled in. Some stared out the window–and I wondered what they were thinking, their lives so changed. Some slept peacefully, despite the one who cried and voiced her opinion about a few things.

On the road.  Some are too excited to sleep and stare out the window.
On the road. Some are too excited to sleep and stare out the window.

We arrived in Itasca to meet the next 2 cars who would take these babies on to Rockford, Illinois. Once again, walks, water and a transfer of crates and cars.

Stop #2.  Getting situated in another crate, another car for the 3rd leg of the journey.
Stop #2. Getting situated in another crate, another car for the 3rd leg of the journey.
Judy puts Goofy into Nancy's car.  Shelby/Peaches will be riding shotgun on this leg of the trip.
Judy puts Goofy into Nancy’s car. Shelby/Peaches will be riding shotgun on this leg of the trip.

It was only in the last few minutes that I realized how bittersweet transporting days were, as we petted and hugged these lucky dogs one last time. Saying our goodbyes, and wishing them safety on today’s journey and much love and happiness for the rest of their lives.

Transporting rescue dogs, from August 3, 2013.

Want to know more? Check out these websites for dog transports–and donate, volunteer, foster or adopt–anything and everything helps:

http://www.everydogcountsrescue.us/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Liberty-Train-and-Rescue/161898060592344

By the way, I had planned to write a little more about Avery, the beautiful pup who had 17 broken bones. Shortly after I met her, she had her last two casts removed. I plan to see her again soon and get some additional photographs and details. So, more to come. Thanks for your patience!

 

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