01 May Day 4: Service Trip 2019
Jackson County Humane Society
By: Lauren Fopiano
Assistant Director & Foster
On the last “work” day of the service trip, my van of five volunteers and about ten others traveled to Jackson County Humane Society. Jackson County is a new shelter for Last Hope; however, this shelter isn’t new to me and holds a very special place in my heart. One of my own dogs, Vinny, was adopted from this shelter seven years ago. Vinny spent the first nine months of his life living in this shelter before he was adopted by me and transported up North. I was so excited to get to Jackson County and meet the women, Rita and Ann, who saved Vinny when he and his littermates were dumped in front of the shelter back in July 2011. I wish I could say this is a rare occurrence; however, this is the fate of many litters of puppies in Arkansas where spaying/neutering dogs isn’t commonplace. Vinny and his siblings were lucky that their “owner” abandoned them in front of a shelter and not in a ditch or worse, which is also a common fate faced by unwanted puppies in this state.
Upon arrival, I leapt out of our van to meet Ann and Rita in front of the shelter. I gave them the biggest hugs and we walked inside to meet the rest of the volunteers waiting in the back of the shelter. As I entered the building through the front office and down the rows of dogs in kennels, I was overwhelmed. There were so many dogs here. Between the front building and barn out back there are approximately 70 dogs that reside at Jackson County. I gave them a smile as we walked through the row of kennels and out to the back where I was greeted by nine of the most adorable terrier pups I have ever seen. Our group went over the projects for the day and divided into smaller groups to tackle our assigned tasks.
My team was assigned to cleaning out the front of the shelter – the office, puppy room, and hallways. The shelter is overrun with mice due to the condition of the building and, as you can imagine, there were piles and piles of mice feces and urine everywhere. Due to lack of resources, the condition of the physical shelter building is in rough shape and, thus, has become home to hundreds of mice. You can hear the mice squealing in the ceiling and walls and see them under every table, chair, bin, and crevice. Everything in the front of the building was moved and put outside so we could thoroughly scrub the floors and walls with a bleach solution. While we were cleaning, the other teams worked on setting up outdoor kennels, repairing fencing, and cleaning kennels in the back barn. Since we had a smaller group of volunteers and there was so much to be done, we didn’t get to tackle everything on our project list but we did our best.
Towards the end of the day, we spent time with as many dogs as we possibly could. As a lover of all things small, I was immediately drawn to a Chihuahua mix named Oscar. Oscar wasn’t afraid of anything and confidently marched around the yard on his leash. After spending some time with him, I put him back in his kennel and visited with another dog that pulled at my heart strings, Sister. Sister is about as a sweet as they come and was so happy to receive extra affection and belly scratches. This girl is heartworm positive – a completely preventable disease that she got due to human neglect – and recently received her third injection to rid her body of these nasty parasites. This girl completely stole my heart and I hope that she will be able to travel to Boston once she kicks those nasty worms and is ready to be adopted.
By the end of the day, my feelings had drifted towards appreciation and motivation. Appreciation for Rita and Ann – two of the only full-time volunteers that dedicate their time to the dogs at Jackson County and truly love each and every one of these 70 dogs – and the work they have accomplished. And motivation – to work with this shelter to help transport more of their dogs up north and tackle more projects on our next service trip – and try to repay them for what they did for Vinny and countless other dogs.
By: Stephanie Amancio
Foster & Volunteer
As I looked out the van window at the bluest sky I had seen in since our arrival in Arkansas four days earlier, I couldn’t be sure if I was looking at a beautiful hue of blue or if it was because we thought the hardest day, and shelter visit, of the trip was behind us. Unbeknownst to me, this would be the hardest day. Monticello is a small city of less than 10,000 residents located in Southeast Arkansas where the median income is $25,000.
The morning started off with a usual coffee run and chatting excitedly about the day ahead with my van mates. We talked about how this was our last shelter visit and how there wasn’t a lot of manual labor to do at this location, so we were all excited to cuddle and love as many dogs as we could.
As we pulled up to the Monticello shelter, we were met with a small building that looks like an old autobody shop, including two large garage-style doors on either side of the building. The volunteers have been doing their best to try to make it as welcoming as possible as there were unfinished paintings on its exterior walls. When we exited the van, we were greeted by the enthusiastic and positive women who run the shelter and use their heart and gut to make the heaviest of decisions more often than I like to think about. This shelter is near and dear to my heart because my own foster fail was saved by one of these women, Kelly, and to this day a piece of her heart belongs to him.
After getting our assignments, I entered the building and was stunned by what I saw. 10-12 dogs in large, makeshift kennels made out of chainlink fencing with sharp wiring or bungee cords used to keep the “doors” shut. The kennels that were shorter in height had large wood pieces placed on top to keep the dogs from jumping out. Now, I think its important to note that Last Hope K9 has pledged funds to this shelter specifically to have a professional come out and build safe, actual kennels where these dogs can reside.
Even after all that these dogs have been through, they were all incredibly sweet. While all the dogs were bathed and attended to, there were a few that really pulled at my heart strings.
There were two enormous Great Pyrenees siblings in the same kennel who had recently come for the second time in a year from a hoarding/breeding situation and had other siblings still at home. These poor dogs were so covered in ticks it took multiple people to check for them all. There was another dog with nails so long they had grown around and embedded themselves in the paw pad. The neglect of these dogs by their “owners” had me choked up.
There was a beautiful pitbull with the biggest blockhead I’ve ever seen named Big Dub. This is the kind of dog that would make even the biggest dog lover wince in fear if he was running towards them just because of the shear size of him. However, Big Dub should be named Big Softy because of his gentle disposition. When he was introduced to a puppy, he gleefully took a play stance and licked the puppy’s face in the utmost happiness. Yet another dog was so terrified it took hours for her to warm up to us.
Then there was Mama. Mama was medium white and brown pittie mix that has clearly been used for an extensive breeding operation. Her fur was patchy, skin was red and raw, her nipples so overly used and infected that they hung to the floor. Now, I had witnessed neglected and abused dogs during this trip, but Mama’s case was by far the worst. Her teeth were brown and ground down, ears were piled up with dirt and filth. This is the reality of dog breeding. It’s likely that Mama had never seen the sun or felt the grass on her feet before she was dumped at the shelter when she was no longer of any use to her “owners”. After testing her with other dogs, we knew there wasn’t anything we would be able to do for her and with her medical and dog-related behavioral issues, rescuing her just wouldn’t be an option. The right thing to do in this particular case was to stop her suffering by euthanasia, unfortunately. A few of our volunteers decided that even though we couldn’t save her, we could give her the best day of what was likely a lonely, miserable life. Mama got a new name, Soft Taco. She also got to eat her heart out with roast beef sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs, and even ice cream. She got to enter a house for likely the first time ever, sleep in a comfy bed, and took turns snuggling with each of the volunteers. While saying goodbye to Soft Taco was hard, it would have been harder to let her deteriorate and suffer in a shelter.
As my van mates and I drove back to our respective host’s residences, we saw the unimaginable. There was a dead dog that had clearly been dumped, lying in the middle of the highway. The image of the dog with all four legs sprawled out, but laying on its side with it’s bloated body is burned into my brain and will haunt me the rest of my life. As I swerved to miss it, I also pulled over to the side so I could cry. My tears weren’t just sadness for the unfortunate death of this dog, but anger at the people who did this, anger at myself for not being able to prevent this, and most of all confusion of how someone could treat another living thing so horribly.
Today was the day I learned that I can’t save them all. It’s the day that I thank the universe that I do not have to be the one to choose which ones can live and which ones have to die. It’s the day I learned that by some slim chance, my dogs got out and I need to be thankful for that everyday. It’s the day I chose to turn my sadness and anger into action. It’s the day I chose to continue to dedicate my life to helping as many dogs as I can because they deserve more than this… we all deserve more.
Stuttgart Group 2
By: Judy Boxer
Foster & Volunteer
Today a smaller group went to Stuttgart Animal Shelter to finish up what the first group had started. We were met by the gorgeous mural created the day before by the first group of Last Hope volunteers. I had the more mundane job of painting the beams and poles around the mural.
Once again we were met with warm southern hospitality from the grateful workers and locals at the shelter. A group of local residents came over after church to pitch in on the work. Even the Mayor stopped by to thank us!
Today’s group built a run outside for the dogs, painted the puppy room and some kennels, drilled a drain in the floor (a very thick concrete floor), and finished up lots of other tasks from the day before, such as fence installation. The Animal Control Officer went home to get her tractor to aid in the fence installation, making that back breaking work a whole lot easier! And of course – we held dogs (the best job around!) while other volunteers worked in their kennels.
This was my first Service Trip with Last Hope K9, and I’m going home a changed person. The work being done by all of the volunteers is inspiring, although the need feels endless. Now I understand what it means to say that fostering or adopting a dog is saving a life.
By: Kelli Leahy
Day 4 of the 2019 LHK9 service trip brought us to one of my favorite partner shelters, the Warren Animal Shelter in Warren, AR. This is an outdoor shelter located next to the town trash compactor with a handful of kennels and a team of incredible volunteers.
Our day was a busy one, washing dogs, cleaning and scrubbing kennels and assembling insulated dog houses.
I feel like this goes without saying, but all of the dogs at Warren Animal Control were an absolute delight, truly amazing beings. Our volunteers had a wonderful time spending the day with these babies relaxing in the shade while the pups dined on bully sticks.
My nephew may be small but he has a giant heart and a giant love for dogs. Each year he looks forward to our service trip, loving the pictures, videos and stories. He is also a creative little guy and loves when I message him from the trip asking for help with a dog name.
As a Labrador Retriever and Labrador Retriever mix girl, one nameless pup instantly stole my heart and I just had to ask my nephew for name inspiration. He chose ‘Dash’, after a character from his favorite show Paw Patrol. I added my nephew’s last name and with that, ‘Dash Benner’ was welcomed into the Last Hope family. My nephew was thrilled and is hoping Dash’s new family will keep his last name.
I love sharing this story because in the long haul, education is critical to continuing our mission. Not just educating adults, but educating children as well. Our children are the next generation of rescuers (or, as we not-so-jokingly say, fosters in training!), they will follow in our footsteps and continue our work. Teaching children the importance of rescuing and caring for homeless, abused and neglected animals will (I hope and I pray) someday get us to a time when we no longer need to rescue. A time when all dogs have a loving family and the happily FURever after they deserve.
“My mission is to rescue. My dream is that one day, I won’t have to.”