Happy endings for pound pooches
By COLLEEN ARMSTRONG
Islands Sounder Publisher, Editor
August 10, 2010 · Updated 2:09 PM
When your motto is “there’s always room for one more dog,” life can get a little hairy.
Visitors to Thayne and Chris Hamilton’s five-acre spread are met by a pack of dogs. Some are nearly blind and have trouble walking, but that doesn’t hinder their greeting ritual of woofs and tail wags.
The couple has adopted 12 dogs over the course of their seven-year marriage, flying in pooches from as far away as Texas and Arizona.
“We look for old dogs who don’t have a chance at a forever home,” Chris said.
The Hamiltons work with Old Dog Haven in Arlington, the Great Pyrenees Rescue Society in Texas, and AZ Paws and Claws in Arizona to bring dogs to their home on Orcas Island. Chris has lived here for 20 years, and when Thayne moved here seven years ago to marry her, they almost immediately took in a neighbor’s dog that was about to be put down. Ever since, they have been bringing home the canines that nobody wants, which most often means they are elderly. They call their home “Grey Muzzle Rescue.”
Their current dogs range in age from six to 17, and many of them experienced neglect prior to living on Orcas. Their mix Goldie Hawn was kept chained for 14 years; Luke, a Great Pyrenees, was found abandoned in the desert; and Tom, a German Pointer, lived on a concrete slab for most of his life.
Once in their care, the pooches are cleaned up, put on healthy diets, and given big doses of love.
“Some we get only last a year ... but we tell people, ‘the joy of having them is worth the pain of losing them,’” Thayne said.
Thayne builds beautiful coffins out of recycled materials for every dog. There are also markers for each dog in the cemetery behind their house.
Chris and Thayne will soon be bringing home Mac, a 15-year-old West Highland Terrier from Oak Harbor. Thayne says they would rescue more dogs, but their fixed income is limiting.
Mary Parkerson at Eastsound Kennels helps the Hamiltons with bathing and cutting the dogs’ toenails, and friends and community members have donated to their cause.
“You can get any kind of dog you want from a rescue,” Thayne said.
“Most have had some training and are past puppyhood. You don’t have to spend $1000 to get the dog you want.”
He also advises against buying from pet stores, which often carry dogs from puppy mills. While the fluffy white pup you see in a store window is precious, if it was bred in a puppy mill, its living conditions were likely to have been horrendous. According to the Humane Society, the breeding animals, once their fertility wanes, are often killed, abandoned or sold cheaply to another mill, and the result of all that breeding is millions of puppies, many of which have behavioral and health problems.
Thayne and Chris recently found a home for their first foster dog, Bo, a Great Pyrenees who was on a shelter kill list in Texas. It took close to four months, but he found his forever home with a widow in Bellevue.
“When you foster a dog, you save two because it opens up a spot in the shelter for another dog,” Thayne said.
Orcas Islander Susan Weber strongly agrees.
Shortly after Weber started her non-profit dalmatian rescue in Florida, she had 27 dogs living in her house.
“I couldn’t say no,” she said. “But you learn.”
Weber launched Dalmatian Rescue of Tampa Bay in 2003, and has been running it from Orcas since she and her husband Patrick Shepler moved here five years ago. With an operating budget of only $30,000, the organization is kept alive by a group of 20 volunteers who do everything from providing foster homes to facilitating rescues to organizing fundraisers.
“I thought it would die when we moved here, but it’s going stronger than ever,” Weber said.
Weber is on the phone “all day, every day” working with shelters primarily in the Southeast. Most of the dogs they rescue are from Florida and Georgia. She says dogs in that part of the country experience some of the worst living conditions.
“A lot of the dogs are kept chained up,” Weber said. “Almost all of them have heart worms ... The dogs I see photos of just break your heart.”
Ninety percent of the rescue’s funds are used to care for the neglected dogs they receive. Their $225 adoption fee doesn’t even cover the cost of providing health care to one dog. While most of the canines stay in foster homes or kennels in Florida, dogs that are rescued in Washington are often transported to Orcas.
One woman who adopted a dalmatian from Weber was so moved by the experience that she started her own rescue organization, Dalmatian Rescue of Puget Sound.
Weber and Shepler recently welcomed Pecas Marie into their home, a 12-year-old cutie pie who is deaf and nearly blind. She is the seventh member of their pack of senior dalmatians. The couple came to Orcas with 17 dogs, and like the Hamiltons, they have a pet cemetery on their property.
Weber conducts a thorough vetting process with prospective homes that includes a house check and talking with the family’s vet. If Weber finds the perfect home for one of her hard-to-place senior dogs, but the new owners can’t afford vet bills, her rescue will pay for medical care.
“We’re seeing so many seniors, and they’re just wonderful,” Weber said. “We’re getting more and more seniors adopted.”
While Weber takes both purebred and dalmatian mixes, she says mixed breeds often have better temperaments and less health issues than purebred dogs. Part of her mission is to educate people about the danger of buying from pet stores and the joy of adopting an abandoned dog. For those who do not want a mixed breed, Weber pointed out that around 35 percent of dogs in shelters are purebred.
“After you walk through that shelter and see their faces ... we’re killing needlessly,” she said. “I don’t think people understand the extent of the problem.”
Weber’s love affair with dalmatians began in her early 30s. She started out volunteering at shelters, and now saves 90 dogs a year with her non-profit.
“It’s a very dedicated group of people,” Weber said. “It takes a lot of people to make this happen ... we’re all like family now.”
Weber isn’t the only one coordinating canine rescues from afar.
If the word “urgent” is featured next to an ad for a shelter dog, it means one thing: the end is near. And that’s where Carol Parks comes in.
From her home on Orcas, Parks has been coordinating with a network of animal advocates to help save dogs being held in under-funded rural shelters in southern California.
It all began with the Wasco Animal Shelter in Bakersfield. When Parks found out that 27 dogs were to be put down in April, she and a friend in Bellingham quickly sent out emails to rescue groups.
“Within that week, the networking saved every one of those dogs,” Parks said.
She is now in contact with five rural shelters in southern California, connecting rescue organizations with shelter dogs in need. Parks and her friend help coordinate transportation and locate foster homes, adoptive families, and rescue groups.
“The shelters out there have no money, no staff, and no foot traffic to even come by and see the animals,” Parks said.
She calls herself an independent animal rescue coordinator, and over the past few months, their networking has saved hundreds of animals.
“But we’ve lost a lot, too,” Parks said. “One of the hardest things is that when you’re losing a dog, you think, if I’d only done a little bit more. Rationally, you know you’ve done everything you could, but it’s still extremely hard when you lose a dog because there was just not enough time. And those dogs are usually the pit bulls ... Rescue work is not for the faint of heart.”
She says pit bulls are always the last to be adopted, due to a stigma about aggression – and it doesn’t matter how wonderful their personality. Black dogs are also hard to place.
Small dogs, especially poodles and chihuahuas, are easier to adopt out. A group of poodles were just flown to France to several adoptive families.
Parker has three chihuahuas at home, all of which came from shelters. One was bred in a puppy mill and has permanent anxiety problems.
“When people go to buy a dog, most of the dogs they are going to get from a pet store are puppy mill dogs, and they can come with all kinds of problems,” Parks said. “And you are perpetuating a plethora of dogs that are going to end up in the shelter and put to sleep ... I am not saying there are not reputable breeders, but why not save a life, instead of adding another life to a society that doesn’t make its animals a priority?”
Parks is always in need of transportation assistance in California. She says she’d love to bring animals to Washington if she had more drivers, pilots, foster homes, and rescue help.
Learn more about animal rescue
To reach Chris and Thayne Hamilton, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 376-3084.
Contact Susan Weber at email@example.com or 376-8559. Visit www.dalrescuetampabay.org for more information about her rescue. Weber always welcomes donations, and locally made “I love my dog” bracelets are for sale at Bucking Doe in Eastsound; all proceeds go to her non-profit.
Carol Parks can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. The southern California shelters she works with have Facebook email@example.com or 1-360-376-4500.