Peter Zheutlin is a freelance journalist and bestselling author, whose work appears regularly in national publications, including The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor. Zheutlin has also written for The LA Times, Parade Magazine, AARP Magazine and numerous other national newspapers and magazines. Here, and in his latest book, Rescued, he makes the case for adopting rescue dogs.
Just after Hurricane Harvey dumped fifty inches of rain on Houston, I e-mailed a man named Tom English in Texas City, Texas, about an hour southeast of Houston. I first met Tom three years ago while working on my previous book, Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway. Tom is a math professor, but almost all his spare time is devoted to rescuing dogs – getting them off the streets or out of shelters, vaccinated, socialized, and adopted, typically to homes in the northeast.
Tom’s house was undamaged, so he left to see if he could be of help at an animal shelter operated by Bayou Animal Services in Dickinson, Texas, some five miles way. Dickinson is the town where that famous photograph of nursing home residents sitting in waist deep water was taken. The shelter was inundated beyond capacity with dogs and cats caught on the storm, some of which had been abandoned. One of those dogs was a little pit bull mix puppy found in a shoebox near a local school. She wasn’t eating and appeared sick. She was taken to a veterinarian where tested positive for parvovirus, which, in a dog that young, is often fatal. The vet started treatment and came up with a treatment plan and the pup went home with Tom.
Tom’s house is well-equipped for caring for rescue dogs – had has built multiple kennels on the property and he stocks dog food and medical supplies — so he took her home to try and make her comfortable and, if he got lucky, nurse her back to health. Her prognosis was poor. But if she made it, Tom, as he has done for thousands of dogs, would then use his contacts with rescue organization in Texas and beyond to try and find her a “forever” home. He named her Stormy.
Remarkably, Stormy responded almost immediately to treatment and started eating, just tiny bits at first. Her lethargy began to lift and she started showing signs of life, playing joyfully with one of Tom’s other dogs. I followed her progress on Facebook where Tom and his companion, Lisa, were posting pictures and videos regularly. In a few weeks, Stormy will be ready for adoption by some lucky family.
There are, literally, more than a million Stormys in Houston alone, strays and abandoned dogs that struggle to survive on the streets, principally in Houston’s poorer neighborhoods. Throughout many parts of the south, the west and the Caribbean countless dogs suffer, and many end up in high-kill shelters where they face daunting odds of survival. Our first rescue dog, Albie, was in such a shelter for five months – kept alive by a volunteer who took a shine to him and kept buying him time – after being picked up wandering alone on a rural road in central Louisiana. Nine out of every ten dogs that go through the shelter’s doors never come out. These “rescue” dogs are the neglected, the abused, the lost and the abandoned, true underdogs in every sense of the word.
When people ask, why adopt a rescue dog, for me the answer is simple. In a world with millions of Stormys and Albies why buy a dog from a breeder when you can save a life? Before we adopted Albie I shared many of the misconceptions that make people reluctant to adopt a rescue dog: they’re temperamentally unpredictable, sick or scarred for life. In the vast majority of cases, that’s not so and a reputable rescue organization will vet dogs to maximize the chances for successful adoptions.
As eight year-old Teagan Sparhawk said to me when I interviewed her for my new book, Rescued: What Second Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living with Purpose, Loving with Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things, “if you get a dog from a breeder it’s just a random dog. It’s not in danger. The dogs in The Bahamas [where Teagan and her father have adopted seven dogs from] are dying.”
Adopting a rescue dog may not be for everyone. I understand that. But it makes the experience of living with a dog so much more poignant and gratifying. When I look at Albie curled up on our bed, safe, sound and at peace, and I think of him sleeping for months on the cold concrete floor of a shelter, or wandering, lost and alone, through central Louisiana, it gives me great satisfaction to know that we have set the world right for this gentle, loving creature. When I see Tom English’s videos of Stormy, left to die in a shoebox during a hurricane, playing with another dog and about to have a home she can call her own, I see the angels of our better nature at work.
Why adopt a recue dog? Because there are millions more like Stormy and Albie waiting to be loved and ready to repay that love a thousand times over.
Stormy is looking for her Forever Home and is available for adoption through Southern Comforts Animal Rescue. She will be available for adoption in about two weeks. An adoption application can be found on their website.