Almost is such an ordinary word. We use it every day to describe near-misses like, “I was almost late for work today” or “I’m almost finished packing.” But the word takes on a far deeper meaning for the dogs who ride away in the back of a van after they were almost put to their end in a gas chamber.
“When you walk into the rabies control center you’ll hear a barking like you’ve never heard before,” explains Chris McLaughlin, Founder of Animal Rescue Front who rescued 197 of those dogs from an animal control center in South Western Louisiana last year. “It’s not an ‘I’m happy to see you bark.’ It’s not an ‘Are we going for a walk?’ kind of bark. Instead what you’ll hear is an ‘I’m scared to death’ kind of bark.”
Though I am unable to divulge the precise location of this facility for fear that it might jeopardize the delicately negotiated permission to rescue dogs there, I can tell you that it’s about as bad as it gets.
“The dogs have nothing but concrete floor,” Chris explains. “There are no dog beds, no blankets, no toys. It’s cold in there and the floors are often wet. You’d really have to see it yourself to fully appreciate the depth of the dog’s condition.”
In 2013, a state law banning the use of the gas chamber goes into effect in Louisiana, but until then, a mad dash is on every time the phone rings.
“A call comes in that the facility is full and the chamber is about to be used,” Chris explains. ”Then it’s a drop-everything, we’ve gotta roll situation as the rescue vans rush over to pull the dogs who are in line for death.”
The Heart of the Matter: Money for Medicine
Chris’ organization moves the dogs up North to rescue groups, shelters and foster homes. This weekend, in fact, 31 dogs will be arriving in New Hampshire to begin their wait for adoptive families. But of greater concern are the ones who couldn’t ride along because they’re infected with heartworm.
“It’s an epidemic here,” Chris explains. “Heartworm is rampant in the South and sadly, the treatment is very, very hard on the dogs’ bodies. It’s essentially a poison that is given by injection in order to destroy the worms. But you have to be so careful with the dogs while they’re under treatment because their hearts are in such a fragile state and they aren’t allowed to run or get too excited. We have to keep them still for 90 days or more. And even though we’re sometimes forced to board them at $8 a day when we run out of foster homes, we can’t bring them North until they’re completely well again.”
What Waits for these Almost-Gone Dogs
My own almost-gone dog Cricket was rescued from that very animal control facility just hours before she would have met her end in a manner I dare not contemplate. She’s about 10 months old now and we’re still seeing signs of her early hardship. It’s only been a few weeks since she stopped falling over on the floor every time someone approached her. She still makes pitiful sounds in her sleep and views any cage with great suspicion. But today her life is as charmed as can be and before she goes for her daily walk in the woods, she likes to warm up with a little wrestling match with her favorite friend Brambleberry, our orange tabby.
That’s the kind of life we want for all the dogs and my charity, the Harmony Fund, is working with Animal Rescue Front to gather enough funds to treat the dogs who have heartworm and to secure transportation to move at least 300 in the coming months. We’re in it together and not a day goes by when I don’t imagine what might transpire if we can’t get enough foster homes or medicines to treat the heartworm.
“I dream that one day animals won’t die from carbon monoxide,” Chris says wishfully. “I dream that they’ll all have warm homes where they are loved and pampered – where they all sleep on the bed. I dream that we have thousands of people who send us $10 every month so we can more easily save the thousands of animals down South who need us. I dream we’ll have our own van so we don’t have to worry when Enterprise doesn’t honor our reservation just two days before we are to drive 20 animals 1,600 miles to safety. I dream that we can save more because they are all worth saving, every single one of them.”
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