My cousin Karin has a heart as big as all outdoors. She dedicates her free time to Almost Home Foundation, an all-volunteer not-for-profit organization dedicated to rescuing stray and abandoned animals. A great number of their rescue animals orginally came from high-kill shelters--including our own beloved dog, Maggie, who turned two this month.
Karin has several cats of her own, but she always manages to find a little extra room in her home to foster other cats and dogs. A visit to her place can sometimes be a bit crazy with all the critters underfoot, but there's no doubt that the animals adore her. Many of them have never known a moment's love before. (Although these six-month old siblings, who are available for adoption, have been nurtured by Karin since they were born.)
On weekends, Karin brings the animals to Pet Smart for adoption day, and has placed a number of her charges in their forever homes. She keeps a scrapbook of all her fosters, which is fun to flip through. So many dogs and cats that might have otherwise met a very different, and tragic, end.
Unfortunately, the troubled economy has had an effect on adoptions, and it's taking longer and longer to find adoptive families for the animals Almost Home has rescued. Which means they can't rescue as many new animals as they would like to.
Sometime their individual stories just break your heart. I went to visit Karin at Pet Smart today, and got to meet her latest two fosters. They are Dachshunds, each 11 or so years old. They were used as breeders in a puppy mill that was raided.
Their entire lives were spent in cages. We think that their cages were next to each other, as the inside of their ears are tattooed with a number. Number 10 and Number 11. That's the only name these girls had for years.
My pictures are a little blurry, because I didn't want to traumatize them by flashing a camera in their faces, but even with the poor lighting you can't miss that grin--so happy to be in a better situation!
But there's a sadness about them. What must it be like to spend your entire life in a cage?
I try to imagine everything I've done over the last decade--moved back to Chicago, moved several times in fact. I've had jobs, I've quit jobs. I met Ted and have traveled the world with him. I lost my father, my grandfather, my dog, my cat in that period. And I bought a new house with Ted and my mom. And in all those years, these two sweet girls were in a cage, forced to produce one litter of puppies after another, bred every time they were in heat.
I'm not sure about the details behind the puppy mill raid, what happened to the other dogs, what happened to the greedy S.O.B. who was breeding them to excess. These two were probably a little shell shocked by the time they reached Karin, completely frightened by the new world around them. Because they were from a puppy mill and not a respectable breeder, I doubt they had ever seen a vet. They were so filthy, that when my cousin gave them a bath, the water ran black with grime.
But these two dogs, unloved for so long, seem to be adjusting quickly to the experience of having someone care for them.
Karin let them roam her mother's garden, and at first they were not sure what to do. They had never had a chance to play in their entire lives. They had never even seen grass before! They cautiously walked out into the lawn, and were amazed by everything around them. My aunt said it was a beautiful thing to watch them explore their new world, actually stopping to smell the flowers. They were more like puppies than senior dogs in their pure joy.
I had heard their story before I reached Pet Smart this afternoon, and I was unsure how they would react to me, to anyone, there. So many people and dogs. So much chaos. But while their eyes are haunted by all they have endured, there is a sweetness and gentleness about them. They reveled in the careful stroking I gave their ears, and closed their eyes in contentment as I scritched them under their chins. And they were very attentive of each other. My eyes got all teary as I saw the darker one carefully lick the left eye of the other, which is blind from cataracts. During their imprisonment, they were probably one another's only comfort. Because they are so close, they will need to be adopted together.
Puppy mills are evil places. It makes me so angry, and sad, that this kind of thing happens. I'm just glad there are people out there like Karin who are there to help. In fact, one woman who came to the adoption show today couldn't adopt these girls herself, but she wrote a $1,000 check to take care of their medical bills, clean and fix their teeth, etc. What generosity!
If you are interested in adopting these two beautiful souls and giving them a happy home to spend their final few years in, please visit the Almost Home Foundation web site. And take the time to look at the other dogs and cats; there are many wonderful animals in need of a good family.