Friday, December 26, 2008
The anatomy of a rescue
Nelly here is adjusting well to life without a heavy chain around her neck ... and warm blankies and butt scratches and - dog help her - antlers. She's one special creature.
I'm still pondering the people we met last week as I throw in another load of laundry from our surreal mission to the great plains. Life likes to throw curve balls every now and then just to see if we're paying attention, and one of those came in the form of an email from an Oklahoma dog trainer in early December who wrote to let us know that nearly one hundred dogs had been found starving on chains in dropping temperatures. News Clip. Could we help? I wrote back, "Who's in charge?" The reply, "Who's in charge? They've never dealt with anything like this before. At this time they are trying to make it so the dogs stay living." Smack! Curve ball, right upside the head.
The sheriffs of Kay County were in a bit of shock still after watching dogs drop dead at their feet. Once the perp was in jail, they had the messy problem of deciding what to do with the survivors. Peta encouraged them to kill every last one - natch - while much of the public was crying 'Murder!' for headlines that suggested they were going to do just that.
Oklahoma has a sad history when it comes to animal abuse cases including hoarders and puppy mills. There are no licensing or inspection requirements, and zero agencies assigned to oversee large scale breeding operations. No wonder Jerry Southern set up shop in OK once he was banned from owning pit bulls in Kansas.
The Oklahoma Alliance for Animals knew that, based on prior cases, Southern's pit bulls could very well end up in all the wrong hands. So they smartly requested - and won - custody of all the surviving dogs. When Ruth Steinberger told her board they now owned several dozen homeless and starving pit bulls, their first question was obvious: "What are we going to do with them all?" Oklahoma had never saved pit bulls from a cruelty case before, and things started getting extra messy when local papers put out a general plea for help. Phones were ringing off the hook as well-intentioned folks from all corners offered to jump in and take dogs home. That was right around the time that we met Ruth, who was having a very bad couple of days. No, we can't take 90+ dogs I said, but we can help decide which lucky few can go into limited but reputable rescue slots.
The immediate problem was that Kay County doesn't have an animal shelter, the dogs were exposed and the weather was taking a turn for the worse. Local volunteers were essential in their survival: they trucked in food and straw to feed and insulate the plastic barrels the dogs called home. But theft and disreputable 'help' was as big a concern as the dropping temperatures, so decisions had to happen FAST.
This is where we call for disaster relief assistance. Could someone please (please?) bring in quick reinforcements so the dogs could get out of the cold, if only for a short time so they can be evaluated? Messages went out to all the large orgs. The HSUS said "No," citing a poor economy as their reason for staying home. Everyone's Best Friends waved a quick "Yes!" for transport help, and Homeward Bound Humane Society offered up a small but cozy spay/neuter van to help us get out of the wind. All we had to do was buy some winter gear and we were set.
We had to hop inside a small window of decent weather so we could get to know the dogs while they were relatively warm. Once selections were made, it was fast work to take them back off of their chains for good, weigh them in the screaming wind and spay/neuter them onsite in the crowded trailer. Since this rescue was such a precedent for OK, it was only right that OAA make sure the dogs were fixed before turning ownership over to rescue. This is when we witnessed the miracle of Dr. Terry Yunker and his vet tech Nancy. Yunker's an Oklahoma vet with a passion for curbing the overpopulation problem. He did a series of fast surgeries before our eyes in some of the most extreme conditions you can imagine: unforgiving winds, freezing temperaments, nowhere for the dogs to recover but our cars with engines running and heat vents set on full blast. I'm a huge new fan of the cool and composed Dr. Terry.
We're also big fans of the local lawmen: Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis. Both were honestly surprised to see so much fuss going towards helping pit bulls, but - we reminded them - that's what happens when you put out a call for help. Pit bull people are like that. To simplify this fast-track mission, BR accepted responsibility for all the rescued dogs from OAA, then transferred ownership over to three orgs: the up and coming Mid-America Bully Breed Rescue who helped immensely with the rescue; to a second rescue who's asked to remain nameless for now; and - a surprise - to open-admission Berkeley Animal Care Services (More later on the wonderful happenings in Berkeley that inspired shelter workers to say 'Yes' to Oklahoma bust dogs.)
I don't know how we managed to do what we did at the farm - the rescues as well as the euthanasias. The conditions were so horrible and the dogs were so brave despite their neglect and mistreatment. I'm still choking back that big ugly cry that needs to come out...(It'll probably wait until the Sports Illustrated buzz wears off and I hear some sappy music in some terribly inconvenient setting). Fearing more criticism from both sides of the fence, the authorities have requested that we not disclose the number of dogs that were rescued, but let's just say "an impressive number" of lucky dogs made it out. Let's just say that what happened was a miracle - because it really was. (Repeat: Slideshow)
Two sheriffs, a vet and vet tech, five rescuers, an animal activist from Oklahoma and two diehard drivers from Best Friends (left). We may never see each other again, but for that one weekend, the dogs made sure we were at our best. It's just another reason to fall even more in love with this breed.
Please consider sending thanks to the orgs that helped these dogs.
Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis would probably love getting New Year's greetings. They deserve to hear that they did the right thing.
Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis
Kay County Detention Facility
Newkirk, Oklahoma 74647