Rescued dogs hope ruff days are behind them

From left, Kim Height and Michelle Goodburn of Dreamers Dog Sanctuary, Dianne Cartmell of Niagara Dog Rescue, and volunteers Kathy Bovair and Barb Babyke. JANE BEDARD PHOTO

Niagara organizations work together to save Texas hounds

Special to the VOICE

It’s hard to imagine that the five curious dogs sniffing around their shelters at the Dreamers Dog Sanctuary in Fenwick were seized from a hoarding house in San Antonio, Texas just a few months ago.

Their journey began on April 4th, as part of the 49 dogs that were taken from a home by animal control officers. The conditions in which they lived were appalling. They were chained, mangey, matted, skinny, and covered in feces and urine.

This would make for a fine Disney story if all of these dogs were examined, treated, and adopted by special people with love to spare.

Unfortunately, the tale goes from bad to worse. Less than 24 hours after their transfer to a local Animal Control Shelter, 33 of them were killed, with the futures of the remaining 13 looking grim.

The news spread rapidly through social media, particularly among animal rescue and advocacy groups. There was outrage within these communities that no one had been given a chance to help. Once the information was out, things changed quickly.

Of the 16 remaining dogs, three were adopted, and three others were rescued by a couple of U.S. rescue groups. Which left ten dogs. Ten is a lot of dogs.

Enter Niagara Dog Rescue.

Senior resident
Charlie is still timid. JANE BEDARD PHOTO

Despite being a great distance and a border crossing away, the outfit committed to helping all ten dogs. Rescue groups like this one in Niagara are part of a network that runs globally. When news spread that the Canadians had swooped in to save the day, like the Underground Railway, a relay system of other groups rallied to help out and ensure the road to safety went smoothly.

Karma Kennels in San Antonio immediately took the dogs for the first two months until arrangements could be made to have the pups taken to Niagara.

Niagara Dog Rescue doesn’t board dogs, but works as a first point of contact for dogs in trouble. Dianne Cartell, who works for Niagara Dog Rescue, says, “We don’t pull these dogs from all over the world because they’re cute. We pull them because they are about to be euthanized.”

As soon as the volunteer-based organization receives the Bat Signal, from near or far, they begin work on finding places, like kennels or foster homes, to keep the canines until they are ready to be adopted.

“It’s difficult to find kennels to take them in because there is a stigma attached to rescue dogs that they are aggressive or dangerous or sick. Really, they’re just unwanted,” says Cartell.

When she heard about the Lone Star State group, Cartell began scouring, her resources and found a Welland kennel who would take four of the San Antonio refugees. She found immediate local foster care for another one. That left five. Five is still a lot of dogs.

Enter Dreamers Dog Sanctuary in Fenwick.

The Sanctuary is the product of a series of experiences, which occurred in Northern Canada where Michelle Goodburn was working. After witnessing numerous homeless dogs, in varying degrees of poor health, her heart finally broke when a puppy wandered out of the woods towards her, starving, freezing, and scared. She took the puppy home and discussed with her partner, Kim Height, ways in which they could help the homeless or abused dog situation.

The couple began searching for a property big enough to board many dogs. The first place they looked at happened to have belonged to a vet back in the early 1900s. There appeared to be an office used for examinations on the main floor as well as what is believed to be a crematorium in the basement, nicknamed “the Scary Room” by the new owners. The place also happened to have kennel houses. It was meant to be.

Goodburn and Height moved into their new Fenwick home with their own five dogs and discovered somewhere between nine and eleven cats squatting on the land. They all immediately adopted each other.

The couple had only just begun the process of preparing their new property, dedicated to rescuing dogs, when they received an urgent message from Cartell. She had dogs arriving. Were they ready to take in the Texans?

Ready, no.

But would they? Absolutely.

Four Paws Pet Resort in Fenwick offered to take the dogs for a few days to give Goodburn and Height some time to prepare. They hit the fast-forward button and worked with family and friends to make the shelter acceptable for accommodation, and three days later the new tenants arrived.

“They were terrified,” said Height. “They were broken. They didn’t even know to bite out of fear. There was nothing scary about them.”

Since their arrival a few weeks ago, the dogs have started to relax and increasingly come out of their shells. Where they used to cower in their shelter, they now wander around their enclosures, and some even come to greet Goodburn and Height. It takes a lot of patience to build trust after such mistreatment by humans, and there are many celebrations as milestones are achieved along the way.

At first, when they were given toys, the dogs didn’t know what to do with them. Now they play with them. They are getting used to people. Their tails wag. There is a prance in their step.

It was a big deal when one of them allowed Height to put a collar on him. Each baby step brings them that much closer to finding a permanent home with caring owners.

As the dogs decompress, their personalities slowly begin to surface. Charlie, a blond, medium-sized dog, is perhaps the most senior of the group, and seems to be the Godfather. He has scars on his face and wants closeness with humans but is still afraid. He is protective of the others and doesn’t like when his “family” is moved around.

The first day at the Sanctuary, he carried his massive food dish out of the shelter and into his yard then shook its contents out. To Height and Goodburn, it looked like he was trying to spread the food around to ensure the others could eat.

Henry is a small black pooch, who has become more playful and enjoys attention. He will tug on your shorts if he doesn’t get it.

Goodburn, Height, and Cartell get great satisfaction out of providing some R & R (rescue and rehabilitation) for their furry friends. What they don’t get is paid.

Dreamers and Niagara Dog Rescue are fully self- supporting entities. Everything they do is out of the goodness of their hearts. They have a small group of volunteers who also give of their time—some, like Ellen Rhora and Teresa Kciuk, come every morning to help out at the Sanctuary. Barb Babyk and Kathy Bovair are also faces which these dogs have come to know and trust. Babyk is coming up on the first anniversary with the rescue dog she adopted.

But it’s not cheap to do what they do and any assistance is always graciously received. While Dreamers and Niagara Dog Rescue do the front-end heavy lifting in making sure the dogs are found, transported, fed, and housed, there is so much more to be done to get them into suitable homes.

As the ladies list the names of people and organizations, which help them stay afloat, there are so many that the Oscar exit music begins to play. But a few examples are worthy of note: the Best Western, up in Thunder Bay, allows rescuers to stay for free with their newly acquired evacuees. Pet Value in Port Colborne donates expired food. Pilots for Paws will fly into remote areas of Northern Canada to rescue pets, no charge. PEPP K-9 and Sit Down and Stay also provide free training to help these dogs transition back into civilized conditions.

There is a global relay system, which aids in pulling the dogs from places like Iran, Korea, the United States, Northern Canada, and other locations where a meat trade still exists.

Cartell is traveling to Montreal next week to pick up a couple of pups arriving from Beirut. No one pays for her gas or time.

And once the dogs are here, the process of finding suitable homes for them begins. Volunteers work long hours through the application process, doing reference checks, home checks, transporting, taking dogs to vets, and helping with fundraising events.

At the time of this interview, it was 30°C, yet Goodburn was in her kitchen baking muffins for a Dreamers fundraiser, to be held in the Port Colborne Pet Value parking lot the following day.

Bake sales, however, only go so far. Their kitty (pardon the expression) gets filled from donations, events, and adoption fees. The fee for a puppy is $500 (the price goes down for older dogs), which includes shots and spaying or neutering. While some may balk at this price, it can still be less expensive than buying from a breeder.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t nearly cover the cost of bringing these particular dogs to an adoptable state. These hounds have baggage and, as we all know, extra baggage often comes with extra fees.

For Niagara Dog Rescue, just to bring the ten dogs up from Texas cost some $16,000 USD. Kennel stays alone added up to $5000.

Height and Goodburn both hold paying jobs to assist with their “hobby.” Goodburn is an RN for the Greater Niagara General Hospital, and Height works for Community Living Port Colborne. They, like everyone involved in this industry, obviously have a penchant for taking care of all creatures, great and small. As Height says, “If a dog needs help, it needs help.” End of discussion.

Cartell tells us that every weekend, Niagara Dog Rescue retrieves 20-25 new pooches. Over the past three years, they have saved some 3000 of them.

None of the women here have any formal animal training. What they do have is an abundance of compassion and love for these lost souls.

“You don’t need special training to help these guys,” Height says, as she looks at her current brood with affection. “You just love them.”

This community of heroes runs deep, but as there is no end to the problem in the near future, help is always needed and appreciated.

Anyone who can afford to donate a little extra cash or spare a little extra love, as a volunteer, foster care provider, or adoptive owner, is encouraged to contact the Niagara Dog Rescue at Niagaradogrescue.org or Dreamers Dog Sanctuary in Fenwick, at dreamersdogsanctuary.com

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The Voice of Pelham
Pelham's independent news source from the heart of Niagara.