Angie Heringer renews her soul in a pair of running shoes. The winner of many races and an Olympic marathon trials qualifier, Angie has long relied on the sport to care for her mind, body and spirit, but recently those runs have taken her through the burned-down, torn-down and abandoned houses in the struggling town of Hughes, Arkansas where hundreds of dogs take shelter under decaying porches, rusted out cars and even holes in the ground. Angie, who leads the Arkansas branch of Emerald City Dog Rescue some 90 miles away, might just be tempted to turn in those running shoes for a pair of ruby slippers if only she could take the dogs to a place called home.
It’s been about three months since Angie first stumbled upon the stray dog crisis in Hughes. She was just wrapping up the rescue of dogs from a hoarding case, where more than 40 were removed from a single residence, when a fellow volunteer Lauren Yoekum mentioned that there was an epic population of stray dogs. Angie’s first thought was, “I’m exhausted. I’m just finishing up on this case. I need a break.” But when she saw it with her own eyes, there was no turning back.
“It just took one visit,” Angie says in a tone that conveys a mix of determination and desperation all at once. ” If you saw what I saw… Well, how can I not help?”
For out-of-towners accustomed to an environment of more active animal welfare, Hughes is a bit of a Twilight Zone. Dogs can be seen running everywhere. They cross the major thoroughfares. They run up to people getting out of their cars at local store parking lots. Some give birth in drainage ditches. This is truly a new dimension in animal welfare and one that some are determined to change.
What’s remarkable is just how much Angie has done over the last 90 days. She has already organized the rescue of 57 dogs from this town and is devoting the month of April to taking in as many as 30 more. It’s done with light cooperation of other rescue groups in the area, sometimes groups who can only take one or two dogs at a time.
Some of the dogs will travel north to Wisconsin and Minnesota with the help of two sisters who operate under the banner “Bark and Ride” and transport the dogs to shelters with the capacity to provide care and adoption.
Hughes is not even Angie’s primary jurisdiction. Just last week, she rescued 40 dogs in another town. Some of them were taken from a puppy mill and were allowed to “retire” to the safety of her rescue program. They were joined by a couple of mother dogs and large litters of unwanted puppies and all are now on their journey to find permanent homes.
Angie is working with the mayor in Hughes, as well as the city council, who are highly cooperative and eager to find a solution for the dogs. The idea of a temporary shelter is being tossed around and Angie will continue to organize spay/neuter clinics for residents in a “pay what you can” program. Feeding stations for the dogs are now set up across town, but the food vanishes as fast as it’s put down.
“I just took 15 bags of food there last week and they’re already running low,” Angie said. “We’re coming to the end of the food that was donated so we have to cut back to one bag a day.”
And if you wonder who pays for all this, well, it’s a combined effort. Some supporters make donations on a fundraising page . Angie, a former elementary school counselor, also spends a lot of her own money and, last month, the Harmony Fund provided a small grant for the dogs. Funds are going directly to the cost of dog food, fuel for the long distance transports, veterinary care and spay/neuter clinics for low income residents.
“We’re just going to trust,” Angie says. “One can do so much, but many of us together can do so much more.”
To follow the work of this project on Facebook or to get involved, visit the Forlorn Dogs of Hughes, Arkansas page here.