Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Barney Beagle

Barney- Beagle 1998-2013

As far as I am concerned, Barney was the finest damn beagle who ever lived. I fell hard for him when we met in 2004, and have long contended he is the reason I agreed to move to Herndon- I wanted to live with Barney! But Barney’s story began long before I met him, back when everything was different and so much was yet to happen. Barney had the privilege of being Pam McAlwee’s dog, for which I am certain he was eternally grateful, and the story of their journey together is a story worth telling.

In a way, it all started with Barney. He wasn’t Pam’s first rescue dog, but he was the first one she had to fight for, and the first one who needed a whole lot more than a new home.

Barney was brought into a rural shelter after being hit by a car. When Pam first laid eyes on him, he was lying on the concrete floor of a shelter kennel with broken legs, lacerations and in severe pain. When she asked why he hadn’t seen a vet, they told her there no funds for vet care in the budget. He also wouldn't 't be euthanized to put him out of his misery. Barney would have to wait 5 days- the county holding period for stray dogs wearing a collar when brought in.

Five days. No pain meds, no antibiotics, no relief.

Pam was in her early days as an animal rescuer and Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation was not yet incorporated as a 501c3. She had no resources other than her personal credit card and a passion for animals. None of that mattered when she looked at Barney, a brown-eyed beagle/basset with long ears, a big chest and short, broken legs.

It may have been in that moment that Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation found its soul. What happened next with Barney illustrates better than any explanation I could give what lies at the center of an organization that has grown thousands strong in its twelve years of existence.

Pam offered to take Barney to the vet, but was told she couldn’t- against regulations. He would just have to wait until his owners came to claim him, or his stray hold ended in five days when he would be euthanized.

That wasn’t an unacceptable answer.

And so she bundled Barney up and walked him right out of the front door, promising on the way out to surrender him if his owners ever appeared to claim him. Her helper for the day, another fierce animal advocate named Virginia Kincheloe, held the door for her and told the shelter staff to go ahead and call the sheriff’s department if they felt it necessary, and to direct them to the closest vet’s office because that’s where Barney would be.

To complicate matters, Pam was due on a flight leaving in just a few hours and would be gone several days- another obstacle that might stop most of us in our tracks, or cause us to say, “I would if I could, but I can’t.” If you ask Pam, however, “Can’t” is also an unacceptable answer. She left Barney with the vet, gave them her credit card number, told them to give him whatever he needed, and to expect her back in four days.

As it turned out, Barney needed a lot- including amputation of one back leg and surgery on the other, in addition to many weeks of strict cage rest to allow his broken pelvis to heal. During all of that healing, Barney settled in at Pam’s house (or more accurately in the yard he loved) and became a permanent resident.

That was 1999 and Barney went on become manager of security, champion deer-spotter and an
This was Barney's standard greeting.
accomplished escape artist. For the most part, everyone forgot he was missing a leg and Barney never let it slow him down. He was just a beagle with a keen nose, long ears prone to gunk, and a deep, impressive bay that never failed to inspire the household (human and canine) to join in.

For almost 13 years his only vet visits were routine, but in the fall of 2011, Barney opened his mouth to howl and we noticed something that didn’t look right. It turned out to be oral melanoma- cancer. The tumor was removed and Barney visited the oncologist for melanoma vaccines. Research promised the injections would give him an extra year to lie under cars in the driveway, paw at us for belly rubs and hold his white-tipped tail high.

We got almost 2 years, and during that time Barney learned to wag his tail when he heard the word, “cancer.” It usually went something like this: “Barney, you’ve got cancer, you can have my pizza crust,” or “Give that beagle an extra carrot, he has cancer.” Thump. Thump. Thump.

In the last few months we watched him fade- choosing more and more to remain on the porch, and spending most of his time sleeping. The day he lost interest in carrots, was a particularly sad one and the giant Costco bag of carrots still sits in the fridge because nobody yet has the heart to give them to the other dogs. Sorry guys, give us a minute to grieve.

In spite of his fading, Barney was content and calm until his very last day. He wagged his tail, searched out the best dog beds and ate canned food with some measure of excitement. Even on the last day, he didn’t skip a meal. He was, after all, a beagle.

The moment we were dreading came suddenly, and was not one ounce less painful than we anticipated, but it was over quickly. After a day of uncharacteristically nervous behavior, Barney began to have a series of grand mal seizures and it was abundantly clear that it was time to let him go.

And so he is gone, and with him a piece of our hearts and a chunk of LDCRF history. It has taken me a week to write this and it will take a lot longer for me to stop expecting him to greet me by flopping onto his back at my feet when I come home, or to stop listening for his unique, 3-legged clickety-clack of toenails on the bedroom floor at night.

We won’t forget Barney and neither will the organization he helped to find its soul. Barney will live on in every lost or broken dog or cat who finds its way to a new life through Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation, inspiring us always to do more and do it better.

Thank you, Barney, for making us all better people, for showing us what we can do, and for bringing me here. It has worked out pretty well.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


You get these emails when you are a "rescue person." They have varying subjects, but generally boil down to "Save this dog or it dies" and they are always accompanied by these heart-wrenching photos. That's Cowboy's story, in a nutshell, of how he came to be with Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation (LDCRF).

Pam McAlwee, founder of LDCRF, had just lost a beloved dog, one she rescued as a senior who was a pitiful case from the start. She was feeling a little down and when the email from a crowded shelter landed in her inbox, it squeezed her heart.

"I just wanted to save every pitiful, broke-down dog they had," she says.

And so it was that Cowboy and a few friends made their way into the hands of the Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation. It was a motley crew, to be sure. Many were missing hair from mange, several were heart worm positive, most were very thin. Cowboy actually looked pretty good in comparison to some of the others, but that was soon to change.

Within a few days of his arrival, Cowboy became ill. He had signs of a typical upper respiratory infection, but just couldn't shake it. He stopped eating, he lost weight, he didn't respond to medication. But he kept wagging his tail.

We soon learned that Cowboy had canine distemper, a horrible disease that can be prevented with an inexpensive vaccine. Unfortunately for Cowboy and many dogs in very rural areas, vaccines are rare and their vulnerability is high.

Distemper is bad news, and a common response to the diagnosis is to euthanize the dog in question. Survival is iffy at best, treatment is lengthy and expensive, and managing the contagion factor is difficult.

But then there were those eyes. Cowboy has the most soulful, expressive eyes you will ever find in a dog. And they were full of light and hope even in his darkest days. He clearly wanted to live and had something to offer the world. We wanted to give him the chance.

Thanks to the Pepsi, Griffen, Sprite Legacy Gift (a special fund established to help dogs who need extra medical care) we were able to commit to Cowboy and provide him with months of supportive care and medications. He spent a lot of time in isolation at Blue Ridge Veterinary Associates where he got amazing medical treatment and all of the moral support (and cheese) he needed to survive.

There were dark days, to be sure. At one point, just as he seemed to be heading for health, he lost all of his hair and we weren't sure it would grow back. On other days, he had no energy and no appetite. But  every day- every single one- he had light in his eyes and a wag in his tail. He never gave up, and neither did Lost Dog Rescue.

Today, Cowboy is the picture of health. He has a beautiful coat of fluffy blond hair and will take on any dog in a game of tug-of-war. He loves everyone he meets and is excited about any adventure that comes his way. He makes a slight jerking motion with his front leg when tired- a side effect of the disease- but it never slows him down or gets in his way.

Cowboy is a contender and now he is in contention for the top prize in Best in Shelter. A vote for Cowboy is a vote for all the hopeless and homeless dogs languishing in overfull shelters. Cowboy would like to be the face of what they can become. Please help.

Cowboy is a contender in the Best in Shelter Competition. If he gets the most votes,  he wins $50,000 for Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation- money that will be used to help other dogs like him get a second chance. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

From Life on a Chain to a Wedding on the Beach

Hagrid with his human sisters and new wife. 
He was the most unlikely of candidates for a bridegroom. Big, hairy and in need of some manners, Hagrid (aka Angelo) didn't seem like he was going to be going anywhere near the high life and nuptials ("puptials") on the beach were certainly not in the cards.

In fact, the only life Hagrid knew until last year, was life on the end of a chain.

Hagrid would be there still, but for the kindness of a young woman named Angel.

Angel lived in Hagrid's neighborhood in West Virginia and her heart broke at the sight of him on the end of that chain, wagging his tail at the sight of any human, constantly filthy, painfully matted and always lonely. Angel moved away, but she didn't forget Hagrid, not at all.

Last year, on her birthday, Angel decided to give herself a birthday present. She drove to Hagrid's home where he was still chained up in the yard, and she knocked on the door. She told the people who answered that it was her birthday and what she really, really wanted as a present was their dog. Could she please have him? They said yes.

So the big, smelly boy was loaded in Angel's car and she drove her birthday present directly to the vet. He got his vaccines, a much-needed and super painstaking shave-down, and the all-important neuter surgery. She called him "puppy" because the previous owners had never given him a name.

"Puppy" now needed a place to go. Angel did not live in a home where he could stay for long, and so she needed some help. She came to Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation and her story so touched my heart that I had to say yes. I mean, who could say no to the woman who freed a dog from a chain as a birthday present to herself? He was big and I was worried about the personality traits of a dog who had never been unchained, but I thought it was worth the risk. And it was.

When "Puppy" came to Lost Dog we named him Angelo in tribute to his rescuer, but as it turns out, he wasn't Angelo for long.

Puppy aka Angelo got scooped up within a couple of weeks of coming to Lost Dog and began a brand new life with a loving family as Hagrid.

And part of his brand new life included a trip to the beach where he was officially married to the resident canine of his new household, Sasha, in a lovely ceremony on the beach. That's right, Hagrid, formerly chained up 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no vet care or human attention, was married this summer on the beach. His human Mom officiated and his human sisters were in attendance complete with beautiful dresses and Leis.

And there was cake.

Monday, September 12, 2011

People Power

If you have anything to do with animal rescue, chances are better than good that you have said it at least once along the way and it is a certainty that you have heard it more than once.

"I hate people."

It's a common phrase and one that hardly raises an eyebrow.  It's an understandable sentiment. When your email inbox is full of variations on the theme, "We don't want our old/sick/ inconvenient/ expensive pet anymore," it's hard to maintain a positive outlook on the human race. When you see animals suffering because humans neglected or abused them or were simply irresponsible, hate for the human race wells up easily.

But there's a problem with that attitude, a big one. If we want to help animals we NEED the people. We need volunteers, fosters, adopters,  and donors. We need to welcome the people with open arms and sometimes issue a second chance or two. And guess what? There are some AMAZING people out there.

This weekend, Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation adopted out 59 dogs and cats, placed 24 puppies into foster homes and staffed 8 adoption events with  100 + eager volunteers. That's people power!

Colin, Nancy and Sassafras.
On Saturday at our Fairlakes event, a little dog named Sassafras slipped her collar. An army of volunteers and bystanders took off to catch her and she was finally rescued by Colin, a high school senior who has volunteered with us every weekend since he was 12. Nancy, who gives every Friday night and Saturday afternoon to the dogs, injured her ankle and her knee in the chase, yet continued to conduct adoption interviews with an icepack on her ankle. Two strangers offered rides to volunteers who were chasing Sassafras and the manager of Jason's Deli went the extra mile to make sure Nancy was okay. People Power.

At the Alexandria event on Sunday, there was a bomb scare in the parking lot complete with bomb sniffing dogs and heavy machinery. The volunteers kept on working and adopted out 8 dogs. People Power.

Perhaps most importantly, 59 families made the choice to adopt this weekend rather than purchase their new companion animal. That's 59 dogs and cats who were just recently on death row now on their way to becoming beloved family members because people made the right choice. People Power.

So, I'm starting this week filled with gratitude for the amazing efforts of some amazing people, and I'm gonna end it that way too. This people power is a repeat performance and next weekend, although I hope it's free of runaway dogs and bomb scares, I am sure I will be wowed again by what an army of volunteers can and will do.

A happy adopter who took a chance on an older dog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Big Gulp of Puppies

Their combined weight is just over 32 ounces. That's the size of a big Gulp and not even one of the new "super sized" ones, just a plain old-fashioned Big Gulp. All seven of them could probably fit easily into one of those waxy Big Gulp cups as well, with their tiny little feet tucked into their bodies and miniature tails wrapped around their back ends like a ribbon on a present.

Paws down, at an average of just 4.5 ounces each, these are the tiniest puppies I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of puppies. I just can't stop staring at them and watching their itty bitty chests rise and fall with each breath and their tiny little mouths go about the business of nursing. I can't quite fathom the perfect functionality of such miniscule creatures, but despite my incredulity, all seems to be as it should, only smaller.

Frankly, I'm also still reeling from the surprise. Based on x-rays of their Mom and information passed along by the owners who surrendered her, we were not expecting puppies until about 10 days from now. We were not, in fact, expecting puppies until after our vacation, which begins tomorrow.

It's a SNAFU alright, and having a Big Gulp's worth of puppies born in my bathroom today definitely did not aid in trip preparations. I didn't get my pedicure and I'm not sure what all I actually packed, but, of course that stuff doesn't matter much when you take a look at a healthy momma dog and 7 tiny fighters.

I'm looking forward to my vacation, but I also can't wait to get home in a week and see if the puppies got "SuperSized" while I was gone. If all goes well, they just might each be the equivalent of a grande cappucino by then!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Running with Dogs??

Whitney and her foster dog did a great job!
Okay, now that last night is over, I'll admit it. I was worried sick about Lost Dog & Cat Rescue Foundation's first ever race series. I mean, it seemed like a great idea this winter when I met with the fine folks at Pacers about co-hosting a 5k race series at a park in Arlington. What a great idea! 250 people, half of them with dogs running alongside? Great! Providing shelter dogs for strangers to borrow for the run? Why not? Pulling this off with a team of volunteers at the same time as a weekly adoption event for which I am the primary support? No problem!

But, then, suddenly, it was August and the details began to weigh heavily on my mind. What if we don't get enough volunteers? How am I going to get dogs to both the event and the races?  Who is going to make sure the adoption event runs smoothly? What if our "Rent-a-Mutt" dogs misbehave, trip their runners or attack somebody's dog? What if, what if, what if!

I needn't have worried and I should have known. The Pacers crew is AMAZING and could probably organize a takeover of a foreign country without much trouble, and the Lost Dog volunteers? Equally amazing, of course. The runners themselves were an incredibly friendly group and very supportive of our rescue efforts. Even the dogs (chosen with so much angst for this special duty) outdid themselves. Although one flat out refused the opportunity to run, and one chose to meander down the trail, they were all super well-behaved and were perfect rescue ambassadors.

Nathan was the first "Rent a Mutt" to cross the finish line.
Our "Rent-a-Mutt" program was so popular that the line for them formed the minute they appeared and they were all assigned to runners within 15 minutes.  I felt like instead of 9 homeless and formerly hopeless dogs needing homes, I was handing out tickets to the hottest concert of the summer! It was a wonderful experience to see these dogs be superstars for a night.

Pullman and his runner friend.
I think the moment I finally relaxed was when I saw Pullman, formerly a stray living by a railroad track in WV, trotting so proudly down the trail, head and tail high, absorbing the crowd's adoration as if he were a Westminster champion.

One race down, three to go and I am no longer worried sick. In fact, I am busy composing the list for next week's Rent-A-Mutt program and trying to figure out how to bring more dogs to be champions for a night. :-)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Miracle and a Faceplant

Two interesting things happened to me today and they both involved a little orange pomeranian named Molly. 

Molly arrived with a group of dogs from a rural shelter a couple of weeks ago. She's a tiny orange thing with perfect fluffy triangles for ears and great big expressive eyes that are hard to ignore. Molly also has congestive heart failure (big deal) and a thryoid condition (not so big a deal.) Her time will be limited due to the heart failure, but her interest in living and exploring has shown no signs of flagging. 

Last week, Molly sustained a back injury that left her paralyzed in her back end. She just suddenly couldn't walk. Three times we visited the vet and three times I came close to putting her down. Three times, however, I saw in her eyes she was not ready to give up, so I decided to give her this week to get literally get back on her feet. On the advice of the vet, we have administered pain meds, done physical therapy and last night started swim therapy (more on that later.)

This afternoon I returned home and invited all of the dogs out into the yard with me. I  left the front door open so the shy, old and slow ones could meander out at their own pace and waited for everyone to conduct business. A few minutes into the action, something orange caught my eye. It was Molly. The dog who had not walked a step since Friday had walked out the front door, down the driveway and found a patch of grass upon which to relieve herself. I felt like I had seen a miracle, like the whole world should have burst into song, like balloons should be released from the heavens. I cheered, I jumped up and down and I told Molly she was one strong cookie. I truly had just about given up hope for Molly, but she hadn't given up at all. 

So, tonight, it was back into the jacuzzi tub for Molly's swim therapy. I bundled her into her life jacket, placed her in the tub and pulled her around by the handle on the vest encouraging her to move those back legs. She hated it just as much as she did the night before and paddled away from me. I reached to guide her back and that's when it happened. Both of my feet simultaneously slid out from under me on the wet floor. In rapid succession, my knees hit the tile, my ribcage crashed into the side of the tub and I executed a perfect faceplant into the tub full of water.  

It took me a moment to right myself and cough up the water I inhaled on the way down and figure out I was all in one piece. Then I did the only sensible thing a person can do in situations such as this-  lay on the bathroom floor and laugh. 

Luckily, Pam was right there to rescue poor Molly and to join me in hysterical laughter, but we are both really sorry there was no video camera involved to record my shining moment for posterity or at least for YouTube and some exposure for the rescue... 

All in all, it was a big day for me and Molly and even though my back is already telling me I will be paying for my little spill, I am still grinning from ear to ear at the sight of a little orange dog on four feet.