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


Anonymous said...

Just freaking amazing.
Kudos to all.
And I`m sure Nelly knows she`s safe now.
Once you`ve been awarded Antlers there`s no going back.
Don`t you wish they could speak for just 5 minutes?

Thank you to the Sheriff,the person who made the first call,BF,MABBR,the Vet and BadRap for answering that call.

I`m sure HSUS and PeTA were just too busy counting the money they rake in by duping people.
Quit donating to them folks.
That might open up some free time for them to actually help animals.

CaitlinsDad said...

Tim and Donna, You and the crew are simply amazing. I'm looking forward to the updates on this story, I'm sure nothing but good things will be forthcoming. Best wishes to you, the assisting rescue agencies and the sheriffs. If you need help on the next trip, just call.


Anonymous said...

Hankie, please.....

Despite an unbelievable situation and under unbelievably harsh conditions, you've pulled off yet another miracle. It's good to know there are good people that will come out of the woodwork to help, when that help is needed most (note please: it ain't PETA nor HSUS).

The photos and video clips are heartbreaking. It is amazing, and a testament to the breed, that any of the dogs were able to survive such neglect in such a hostile environment.

We are indebted once again to the kindness of many on behalf of our dogs.

Anonymous said...

We should do our best to save Animals and Birds as they also have the right to live in this world just equal to humag being. Animals and Birds Life can be saved easily with our little steps.

Unknown said...

Thank you forever for your love and dedication. The next time you need help in the middle of the night call me --- I'll drop everything and come to help.

As my 50 lb. rescue Dani puts her head on her 10 lb. brother and sighs that sigh we all love I am overwhelmed by the far to often unrequited love only a pit can give.

Thank you so much.


Unknown said...

Bless you & THANK you Oaklahoma Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis, BADRAP's Tim & Donna(you 2 are angels sent from Heaven) for saving so many bullies in such difficult situations.

SHAME on you PETA & HSUS!!

Dear Donna when you feel that big cry coming on remember all those bully angels are huggging you, along with all of us who feel so much for you and what you do for the bully breed.
Anytime, anyplace in an instant we are here to help you.

Leila said...

Thank God for people with hearts and souls of kindness. Thank you to EVERYONE and I mean EVERYONE who took the time to answer the call.

Sheriff Landis and Under Sheriff Kelly will be getting a belated Christmas card from me to show my appreciation for their heart.

As always I support my organizations however I can.

There are never enough words to express the thanks for your time and love towards theses amazing dogs.

Peace and Joy.

Anonymous said...

I can hardly wait to see the first video of this little dog playing or even attempting to play.

Anonymous said...

Wow. What you did is so amazing. Thank you for your compassion. You are truly an inspiration.

Also, do you happen to have any contact information for either Sheriff Kelley/Landis and Dr. Wunker?
They need to get all of the letters and recognition they deserve for all their efforts.


Donna said...

Wow- thanks for the offers of hands-on help for future situations like these. Let's hope these kinds of disasters will be few and far between in '09.

I hope that you can help us CELEBRATE in '09 ... We're getting ready to end our tenth year of doing this work (April Fool's Day) and need to plan us a big phat party. We haven't begun any brainstorming yet, but sure hope people here will find their way to the bay area for a toast of champagne in honor of all the survivors once those plans gel.

Thank you also for the virtual hugs during the crying jags, Ena. Much appreciated.

Donna said...

anon - the sheriffs will be able to receive mail here:

Under Sheriff Kelly and Sheriff Landis
Kay County Detention Facility
Newkirk, Oklahoma 74647

thank you for taking the time to acknowledge their efforts.

Boris said...


You reflect what is so wrong and so RIGHT in this world in one bundle. Those loving eyes make-up for any flaw (and you look way prettier in Antlers than I do).


What a story of unbridled faith, hope and love. Add my family's blessings and my virtual head on your lap when the crying starts.

Our thanks to all involved,

Anonymous said...


As always, the work that you do inspires me and reminds me once again why I wanted to be an RVT. If you need an extra tech next time, you know where to find me-although we obviously missed class due to unexpected holiday guests-I will be right beside you in the trenches, even if it is to just save one life.

Can't wait to see you again, and will get a thank you card out today to the good sheriff.

You folks are amazing, and my heroes. Osa loves you too!


One voice counts said...

You are that star light and star bright that Grandmother Earth and Grandfather Sky sent to light the sky and give hope to us all. When you hear that sappy music in an inconvenient setting natch just go outside. And look up.

Donna said...

Thank you all.

Anonymous said...

Donna, Tim & everyone at BadRap,

Between this OK update and the SI news, I'm once again sobbing and speechless at your incredible ability to keep up with this heartbreaking and wonderful work. "Thank you" seems so small, but from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all you do.
A small donation has been made (I wish I could give more), both to you and to Best Friends. They are amazing people as well.

Love & hugs to you all, and best wishes for 2009.
Now I have to go have a good cry, and hug my pittie (and my rottie too).

-catherine (Zeus's & Hattie's mom)

Donna said...

Thank you for the support as much as the donation, Catherine. You don't even know how valuable kind words are and how much they keep everyone in the group on track and motivated. We'll keep pushing for change for in 2009 - We have some brilliant partners and supporters. How can we stop?

Best Friends is poised to be a valuable ally in 2009, btw. Thank you for acknowledging their incredible assistance with the Oklahoma case.

Anonymous said...

Hey Donna,

Is there an address to send a thank you to the good vet and his tech? I think that we should be sending our love to him too. It is so nice to see a vet that is actually in the business to save lives, not to make a buck.

Donna said...

I was unable to get an address for Dr. Terry and Nancy, but will try again. Good for you for wanting to make sure they're acknowledged.

Anonymous said...

I think it's ridiculous that you constantly bash HSUS. Just because they can't be everywhere at once is no reason to take constant shots at them. I follow their work, and I notice that at the same time you were in OK they are doing a big dogfighting raid in NC with 127 dogs. Yes they are a big group, but only a few of their staff are available for pit bull issues. After all, dogs are just one of many species they are concerned about. Even a big group has limits. All of our efforts would be more successful if groups like yours didn't bash everyone that doesn't say "how high" when you call out "jump!"

Anonymous said...

OMG, for the first time in my life I'm speechless. I can't find the words to express what I'm feeling, only tears of gratefulness for the enormity of your hearts and souls. What a happy new year this will be for the survivors of this horrendous tragedy.

Cornelia & Jim
PB's Misty & Buddy

Donna said...

Hey now William. There was absolutely no 'bashing' in this post. Readers deserve to know which orgs are willing to support pit bulls in crisis. To be perfectly clear, I should've noted that Noah's Wish and the ASPCA both agreed to send help in addition to Best Friends and Homeward Bound.

As far as the NC case is concerned, the bigger question is whether or not the HSUS is advising Wilkes County to destroy the Wildside dogs.

What do you think ...Dead dogs walking or no?

Anonymous said...

It`s one thing to put dogs from fight busts or cruelty cases down after assessment and to state that although they passed with flying colors there simply weren`t enough places for them to go.

It`s quite another thing to put them down without assessment and to either state or by omission leave the Public with the impression that they were simply too aggressive.

In both cases the dogs end up dead but the message is very different.

That`s my take.

Kirsten said...

Well, I think this was a wonderful effort on behalf of these dogs, that stretched the definition of 'community' in all the right ways. :)

Anonymous said...

i love you guys for doing what you do. thank goodness for you and best friends and everyone who helped these dogs and who continue to do so much for the breed. it brings to tears to my eyes and i could cry for days over the joy and sadness i feel all at once when i read of your rescue missions. i will write thank yous to the sherriffs as well. as for the hsus i lose more respect for them every day, for their lackluster efforts toward saving this breed. and peta, dont get me started on them. i will focus on the positive things and on the hope that people like you give me everyday.

love, leigha and her two pitties in richmond va

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

After reading your story, I will NEVER support anything Peta does ever again. Aren't they supposed to be for the ethical treatment of animals? What a crock!!! Im glad that those loveable pups are now in your wonderous hands. Keep up the good work. Im going to fire off a nasty letter to Peta... Morons!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna,

Nelly is such a lucky girl, her happy little attitude almost had me in tears, I hope she liked the yogurt biscuits. If I felt like a big cry after meeting her and seeing how she can forgive us humans so easily, I have no idea how you're holding up. But thank you!

Also thanks for letting us know who helps these dogs. It isn't fair in my eyes that HSUS continues their crusade to bust dogfight/breeding operations with no other goal but to euthanize the dogs they "rescue." Doing the right thing some of the time, as I know they do, can in no way make up for the horrors they are participating in.

Best Friends helped out some Hurrican Gustav pit bulls recently as well when they helped with transport and new kennels so it's not just high profile times that they step up.

But truly, the efforts of you, Tim, and everyone else are so inspiring.

Donna said...

> effort on behalf of these dogs, that stretched the definition of 'community' in all the right ways.

Absolutely. Well said, Kirsten.

Becky, Nelly LOVED the dog cookies. Thanks again for being Santa to the dogs.

Many of the dog beds donated by blog readers are being used by Oklahoma dogs right now. Towels too, since these guys are still working on the house training. Your gifts came right on time and are making life a lot easier around here. Danka, danka!

Anonymous said...

Getting to know Effie, who sleeps in the tiniest ball her body can possibly put itself into, whose tail remains between her legs and whose eyes remain wary until something inside her says "this person can be trusted" --- and then she burrows her sweet head up into the small space between chin, neck, and ear, has been such a GIFT. Thank you for saving Effie, and for doing your very best to save as many as possible in what sounds like truly punishing environmental conditions, with few resources available to call upon for help.

Anonymous said...

Glad the towels and blankies are coming in handy. Guess you wouldn't mind another box or two shipped in? I've converted flannel sheets into doggie beds/blankies...nice and snuggling, according to Bunny, my official tester!

Unknown said...

Donna ... you are so incredibly amazing! I am astounded at what you and Bad Rap accomplish. I just finished the SI story and just can not thank you enough for the advocacy you are doing for these dogs. I sent a thank you to the sheriffs and e-mailed the OK vet board for Dr. Terry's info. Will post if they reply.

-Josephine Morris

Anonymous said...

Wow....just wow! Donna, I e-mailed you back on Dec. 6 about this case. When I did that, I knew in my heart that the wheels were already turning for Badrap to play some part in this horrible situation. Every day when I visit this site I am more in awe of the love and dedication that you, Tim and the rest of the BR team display every day for this breed. I am only happy to help in a small way by volunteering a few (very few, as of late) hours per month at OAS. I hope to see some of the OK dogs there at some point. In the meantime, what's the best way to help the cause? Monetary donations to BR, of course...but what other groups can we send money/toys/blankets to? If so, please post the contact info for them. As always - Dog bless you guys - you are my heroes!!

BTW - walking thru Oakland airport on Christmas Eve, carrying the SI issue - some guys asks, "Is that a dog on the cover of SI"? I say yep, and proceed to tell him the whole story, whether he liked it or not. :) Just my way of spreadin' the gospel of the bullies!

Luv you guys!

Marie (and Nellie aka Nelson - the brindle BOY dog).

The Foster Lady said...


Your story leaves me ashamed of myself for feeling even slightly over-burdened with my own two pibbles and four pibble fosters here in this small house! I'm sure my fellow rescuer with 4 of her own and 4 fosters will feel the same when she reads this story!

Sounds like it was 'Katrina in the Cold' and you did another awesome job.

I hope that stories like this will also induce people to contribute to BadRap on this last day of the year. Please everyone, pitch in if you can.



Donna said...

Oh you have every right to feel overburdened Dina -- I do! LOL

But you can muscle through because you have your eye on the prize right now. I do hope you find some help though including some time to start that blog you've been needing to tell to teach us about your own "disaster" on the east coast.

Hang in there and keep the faith and all that.

By the way, the vet's name is Yunkers not Wunkers! (blush) Still trying to track down his address.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to all involved in this amazing effort! While I'm amazed at and thankful for everything you all managed to accomplish, once again, my joy is tempered by dismay at the utter uselessness of HSUS and PETA in these situations. Where, I ask, IS their humanity?

Anonymous said...

Just imagine how many more of these dogs could be saved, if they have not already been too damaged by the people who have let them down in so many ways, if more rescues worked together in their common goal. Too many cooks? OR perhaps the more the merrier? Maybe there's actually a happy medium...

Donna said...

Hey anonymous.

Re: the numbers game. We play it all the time ... "If only" the weather wasn't burning frostbite into the dogs' ears and the perp wasn't hours away from bonding his way out of jail and the dogs weren't in danger of being stolen off their chains and the sheriff wasn't ready to close out the case and the vet didn't have to catch a quick plane on the heels of his surgery marathon, etc etc ... Then just MAYBE we could've put out alerts and made more phone calls and saved a few more. But you can "if only" yourself all day long in any rescue situation and it will drag you right down. A good rescue team recognizes its abilities as well at its limitations.

In the end, a really incredible group of people came together to work under very difficult conditions and Oklahoma created a precedent that will - with a little luck - open the door to helping more dogs in the future. I'm still so happy about the number of dogs that made it out of that situation alive - a true miracle.

This rescue was worth celebrating, and we're ever-grateful to the wonderful cooks that said yes to the dogs. Let's hope for more 'Yes's' in 2009.

( by the way - if anyone has concerns about the numbers of dogs rescued from this case, feel free to contact me to discuss: )

Anonymous said...

ah yes..."if only" this world would be a much better place indeed...

Anonymous said...

Dr. Terry Yunker and Nancy, the vet tech, are with Volunteers for Animal Welfare in Oklahoma City. The address is:

Volunteers for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 20061
Oklahoma City, OK 73156

Anonymous said...

Just read the story. Wiping tears away as I type this. You guys make me proud to be a member of the human race.

Rebecca said...

I've been vegan for 9 years, and I am constantly embarrassed, ashamed, and outraged by the antics of organizations like PETA and HSUS--please don't think either of these organizations are in ANY way affiliated with legitimate animal rights--none of us real activists like them at all.

Thank you so much for all the wonderful work you do, and thanks to all the wonderful organizations who helped in this rescue! I have 2 cats, 7 rats, and a rescued pit bull/American Bulldog mix--we all love you and say thanks! :)