Archives for August 2014

Support Your LOCAL Humane Society

southernprose_cover_AANOYesterday was allegedly celebrated as “National Dog Day,” so I posted a succession of photos on Facebook of pack members, past and present.

Having written the book shown on the left, it shouldn’t be a secret that I love animals. My dogs are all spoiled rotten, and they should be.

All of them were rescued.

Once upon a time, every one of our dogs and even the cat were homeless strays or abandoned, surrendered by former owners: purebred German Shepherds, a Dalmatian…this list especially includes Blossom the Maine Coon.

In return, the pack have rewarded me with their stories. The majority of them came through our connections with our favorite “local” Humane Society, the Humane Society of Forsyth County.

Lisa and I volunteered for that organization over a number of years fostering animals, working at adoption events, walking dogs at the shelter, helping raise funds, and doing anything we could that would save another life. The HSFC operates as a no-kill animal shelter, but has limited capacity.

Please don’t confuse the local Humane Society for animal control. When no kennel space or foster homes are available, animals to be surrendered must be turned away.

In my opinion, no domesticated animal should ever be unwanted. For that reason, animal activists like my wife and me put magnets on our cars that preach messages like “Adopt, don’t shop.”

Adoption from a shelter is a win/win situation, and even cheaper than taking a free dog from a neighbor.

Don’t believe me?

Listen to this real world example: Sheba the German Shepherd was given to me as a “free” puppy — but she cost more than $500 at the vet to be fully vaccinated and spayed.

In contrast, Amazing Gracie, her story immortalized in my short story collection titled Always a Next One,  was adopted from the Humane Society of Forsyth County. We spent a grand total of $150 and that included the adoption fee, all of her vaccinations, and being spayed.

Furthermore, if you purchase a dog from a breeder, you’re going to pay several hundred dollars for the animal, and you may be helping someone operate an unethical business in the process.

For example, a “puppy mill” was recently raided in the Atlanta area, and 357 dogs were rescued from some truly deplorable conditions that would break your heart, make you angry, or both.

And where were all these horribly treated and neglected dogs taken? To the local Humane Society in Cherokee County, of course.

Now if you’re like me, when you read a story about the mistreated puppies at a puppy mill, your instinctive reaction is to want to help, so you reach for your wallet.

Perhaps you don’t live close enough to the shelter to adopt one of those puppies, but you still want to make a donation. You don’t know how to find the website of that specific shelter, in this instance the Humane Society of Cherokee County, but you want to help the animals.

Your heart is definitely in the right place.

You decide to make a donation instead to the Humane Society of the United States, probably assuming that your money will help those dogs you were reading about.

And there would be your mistake.

The Humane Society of the United States has virtually nothing to do with your local animal shelter. The HSUS is a political and marketing organization who are expert at raising funds, but they have very little to do with actually helping or saving animals.

Only one percent of their total budget is redirected to local shelters.

Sure, for a $50 donation they will probably send you a cool t-shirt that says something like “Club sandwiches, not seals”, but they aren’t going to stop anybody from actually clubbing a seal.

However,  they will show you pictures of a seal about to be clubbed in their commercials, so you’ll be sure to open up your checkbook, or pull out that credit card.

It might be true that the Humane Society of the United States might invest some of your donation taking some great PR photos of an actor wearing body armor petting an allegedly abused dog on a chain, but nobody is in any real danger in this obviously staged photo op — except maybe the puppy.

Between spay-or-neuter clinics and vouchers, operating a food pantry for people who can’t afford dog food, reuniting lost pets with their owners, and helping homeless animals find forever homes, even our small and struggling no-kill shelter in Forsyth County manages to help a few thousand animals per year on a small fraction of the HSUS advertising budget.

Now I’m not as familiar with the inner workings of the much larger Atlanta Humane Society, which serves the metropolitan Atlanta area, but I’m cure they help many thousands of animals every year. They’re still local to the community.

I don’t know about their financial needs, but I do know how painful it was when we asked for donations for the Humane Society of Forsyth County, only to be told money had already been given to our “parent” organization, the Humane Society of the United States.

The HSUS make us volunteers with the HSFC feel like orphans. And nobody likes begging for money.

But unlike the Humane Society of the United States, your local Humane Society can’t afford to waste money on expensive commercials during prime time. With the economy struggling, we have had to get very creative with our efforts to raise money, because the really big bucks seem to go to all the wrong people like the HSUS, or PETA.

For example, the Humane Society of Greater Savannah operates a thrift store that now provides a significant portion of the operating budget for the animal shelter.

It’s a win/win situation for the community.

People without cash to donate can donate gently used items to the thrift store, bargain hunters have found their idea of heaven on earth, and all the proceeds go to help homeless animals.

Following their example, the Humane Society of Forsyth County opened its own thrift store, but we remain light-years behind Savannah in terms of being established in the community.

But it’s young, and growing.

Your local Humane Societies are all independent organizations, but they do share several things in common. For example:

  • Most of the staff, and their board members of your local Humane Society are unpaid volunteers. There are a few full-time shelter employees who report to the volunteer board of directors, but staff are typically underpaid — not because they don’t deserve more, but local Humane Societies have limited resources. And the full-time people rarely get time off on major holidays.
  • Local Humane Societies are very frugal and often struggle to raise funds.
  • Virtually all of the money donated to your local Humane Society goes directly to help homeless animals. As little as possible is spent on staff salaries or overhead.

In contrast, the HSUS don’t operate animal shelters or directly help any animals.

Instead, they pay for expensive television commercials that play on the viewer’s heartstrings and siphon off funds that are desperately needed by these local organizations.

The next time you see one of the commercials for the Humane Society of the United States, think about how many homeless animals that your local Humane Society could have saved with a fraction of the $15.75 million the HSUS paid to settle a racketeering lawsuit.

If you want to donate money to a national organization, you might want to consider giving something to the HSUS watchdog organization, HumaneWatch.org, currently campaigning to get the designation of the HSUS as a charitable organization revoked by the IRS.

Amazing Gracie’s terrible ordeal

southernprose_cover_AANOIn my book Always a Next One, I shared the story of how my wife and I came to rescue Gracie, a skittish little Norwegian Elk Hound pursued by a dedicated group of animal rescue volunteers for more than a month before someone finally caught up to her.

Today, I’m going to tell you the story of an even more harrowing rescue attempt that happened only yesterday.

This is Amazing Gracie.

As this picture suggestDSC_0009s, she’s not a very big dog, perhaps slightly overweight for her size at around forty pounds.

Of course, every member of our pack is special in their own right. But Gracie has endeared herself to the point she is the only dog in the pack with more than one nickname. She’s also the baby of the pack.

Depending on the circumstances, she has been called my sunshine because she brightens my day, our little butter bean because of her somewhat rotund body, the Chupacabra because of her feigned aggression at mealtime, and she’s even been called snicker doodle, for some strange reason — by me.

I can’t begin to explain how or why those words occasionally come out of my mouth when I’m talking to Gracie, so I won’t even try. However, her whole body wiggles with joy when I say her name.

How could anyone not love a dog that looks like a little grey German Shepherd and acts like she loves them with every fiber of her being? How could I help feeling a little more protective of her than I would, say, of a ninety pound German Shepherd who would eat you if you posed a threat to me, or my family?

Compared to the mighty Ox or big, ferocious-sounding Shiloh, Gracie doesn’t appear to be even mildly intimidating. Strangers most often use the words “cute” or “adorable” to describe her.

So without further ado, this was yesterday’s big adventure…

*           *          *          *         *         *

Now it’s a very good rule of thumb, when you have more than one dog, to periodically conduct a head count to make make sure that the pack members are all present and accounted for.

But yesterday my impromptu head count of the pack came up short one dog.

Gracie was missing.

A quick check of the backyard proved fruitless. She didn’t come when I called her. I checked and double checked the house, but Gracie was nowhere to be found.

I was completely baffled as to how she could have gotten out of the yard. Both fence gates were securely closed. There weren’t any fresh holes dug under the fence where she might have escaped.

Nor could she have escaped through the house without my knowledge.

Nevertheless, Gracie was definitely gone. It was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth. And in one very literal respect, she had.

On those few, rare occasions in the past when Gracie had somehow managed to get out the yard off leash, it had always been pretty easy to figure out how she escaped– invariably, one of the two fence gates had been accidentally left open.

Yet on those rare occasions, it always proved to be relatively easy to find her.

Gracie never wanders very far from home. Her behavior in that regard has always been quite predictable.

In the past when the gate was left open, Grace simply walked around our neighborhood by herself, following the same route I take her on leash.

However this time, there were no obvious answers to the question of how Gracie could have disappeared without a trace yesterday from our backyard.

For a guy who writes detective novels and takes some pride in spending most of his waking hours trying to think like a private detective, I’m ashamed to admit that I was baffled by her disappearance, completely stumped in fact.

It was a mystery to me as I wondered how Gracie could have disappeared like she had in broad daylight — unless someone had deliberately snatched her.

My wife Lisa immediately joined me in the hunt for our missing dog, repeating my methodical search of the backyard. I decided to get in the van and circle our neighborhood to look for Gracie, even though I had no idea how she might have possibly escaped from the yard.

I rolled down the windows so she could hear me as I called to her, but only managed to back out of the driveway when I heard the most heart-wrenching sound in the world as my wife screamed in sheer panic at the top of her lungs: “Gracie…Oh MY GOD! JOHN! COME QUICK!”

Mere words cannot describe the full range of emotions I experienced as I ran for the backyard. Dread filled me with the ugly thought that I was going to be helping Lisa recover Gracie’s lifeless body.

I harbored no delusions that our story might have a happy ending at that moment in time. After all, I had searched the backyard  rather thoroughly only a few minutes before and had seen no sign of Gracie. She hadn’t made a sound as I repeatedly called her name, never barked or even whimpered loud enough for me to hear.

At that moment in time, I could think of no reason for optimism. However to my shock and amazement, Gracie didn’t appear to be seriously hurt. But she was in a terrible predicament. The torrential rainstorm overnight had gouged out a deep sinkhole in the side of a small hill in our backyard.

Somehow that sinkhole had swallowed Gracie alive. Her head appeared to be at least four feet below the surface of the earth.

Remembering that scene in retrospect, we now realize that we might never have found Gracie in time,  if Ox hadn’t found her for us. Ox stood vigil over the sinkhole until Lisa went to investigate, curious why he refused to budge from a vantage point where there was nothing to see…except, of course, Gracie, at the bottom of a very deep hole.

That ugly little sinkhole turned out to be nothing more than a narrow crevice, a mere sliver in the earth. Backyard_hole_1

But it was really deep.

In fact, it proved to be so deep that our rake almost disappeared underground when placed in the hole handle-first, as shown in the picture below. Backyard_hole_2Gracie seemed to be going into shock.

She was panting rapidly, obviously confused and afraid.

To make matters worse, Lisa became convinced that the hole kept getting deeper.

Normally I’m not one to panic, but I admit that seemed to be the most logical and appropriate reaction under the circumstances.

One of Gracie’s front paws was tangled in some tree roots, and appeared to be the only thing keeping her from slipping deeper underground. The earth all around the hole was extremely soft.

It looked as if the hole might cave worse if I even breathed on it too hard. A couple of landscaping bricks were precariously perched in loose soil, right above Gracie’s head.

Before I completely lost my composure, I dialed 9-1-1 and asked for help.

Within minutes, the Alpharetta fire department had answered my call and began to assess the situation.

One of the firemen pulled out the loose landscaping pavers from the dirt just above Gracie’s head and tossed them out of harm’s way.

I tried to grab the remaining brick but it slipped from my fingers and fell into the hole, narrowly missing Gracie’s head.

Acting on instinct, I dove on the ground near the hole in a hopeless attempt to catch the brick before it fell. I only managed to widen the hole as the shelf of dirt caved in, burying Gracie up to her neck.

Her nose, ears and eyes were about all that remained visible.

The rest of her body was almost completely covered by dirt and mud. At that point, I finally realized that I was part of the problem, not the solution.

I was convinced that my well-intentioned efforts to save Gracie were going to kill her. After doing the smart thing and calling for professional help, why hadn’t I just let the firefighters do their job?

I got out of the way so the other firefighters could assist the man at the hole just when he said, “She’s trying to climb out!”

Apparently, as Gracie wiggled around, the dirt that fell on top of her then fell under her feet, and she began inching her way up toward freedom.

She soon had scrambled and clawed to get within reach and a second firefighter reached in and grabbed Gracie by the scruff of her neck.

“I’ve got her!” the lady firefighter exclaimed.

In the blink of an eye, Gracie was running around in the yard, celebrating her moment of freedom before going inside for a desperately needed bath.

I barely had time to shake hands with the men and women who quickly and professionally saved my dog’s life before they were headed back to the station to wait for the next emergency call.

My wife and I cannot thank the Alpharetta fire department enough for their cheerful assistance in our time of most desperate need. They seemed almost as happy about the happy ending as we were.

Postscript: it took 800 pounds of concrete to fill that sinkhole. It’s really scary to think how a hole that deep and dangerous could develop so quickly, literally created overnight by the erosion caused by heavy rainfall.