Thursday, September 24, 2009

The End of the Beginnings

Honey and Minnie Pearl, about to make English shepherd history,

On July 29 at 08:09 mountain daylight time, the first dogs walked out of the Yellowstone County Sheriff's evidence perimeter fence for the last time.

Honey and Minnie Pearl were on their way to be spayed at a private vet's office, and from there to home and freedom. See the animal control truck behind them? They were still bound by a chain of custody until they were spayed -- they had to ride to the hospital in this unlikely ambulance.

But they rode home from the vet with their owner, like real live dogs.

Most of the Operation New Beginnings dogs had to wait at least a little while longer, for the spay-neuter clinic. Many waited to be adopted or assigned to foster care. Nineteen waited interminably for the sentencing hearing, and three endless days beyond it, until they were released by the judge, never to return to their abuser. Those had to wait a few weeks more, until they could also be neutered -- a relief to the old bitches, care-worn with the work of producing litter after litter of puppies destined to die of parvo, worms, and hunger, or, if uncommonly lucky, be sold over the internet to anyone with the cash. If desperately unlucky, to survive a spell and remain behind in a canine Lord of the Flies.

Once neutered, each dog became the property of National English Shepherd Rescue, sometimes only for a putative millisecond before transferring to his or her adopter. Others stayed on, waiting for a placement, and significantly so did the volunteers. The best ones kept coming, taking on new dogs as projects as the ones they had already helped were launched into new lives. As the crowded kennel emptied and quieted -- and as NESR authorized the most skilled volunteers to take the dogs exploring outside the hated fence -- the "hard-to-place" dogs became the success stories, progressing with lightning speed, changing more in a month than they had in the previous eight.

We had until September 30 to find a foster or adoptive home for each of 240 dogs -- three pugs, one Labrador, seven big mixed-breeds (six pups, one mother), one ES-Lab mix, eight 3/4 ES-1/4 Lab pups, and 220 English shepherds.

About three-quarters are in forever homes, leaving about sixty fosters. Some are in what may be foster-to-adopt homes. Others are in high-skill foster for extensive rehab and training meant to address their special needs -- whether that need is "I must learn to trust humans" or "I need to find challenging and fulfilling work commensurate with my considerable talents." Some just didn't have a match with a forever home, but did have a foster family available to help. Some will doubtless become "failed fosters" -- beasts meant to be temporary boarders who proceed to set hooks into the hearts of their "interim" families.

Baby, touched down tonight, but still not at her final destination.

It is September 24. At 11:20 EDT tonight, the last Operation New Beginnings dog touched down at an airport in Pennsylvania. The Metra, once home to five barking barns, has been empty for ten days. There are no dogs at the Moore Lane facility. Even the cats and the cockatiels are gone. We beat the deadline by six days.

Baby will be fostering until we figure out some kennel issues that she started to show in the last month. If she needs to, she will come here after one of my three current fosters moves on to a forever home.

After I hit the orange button that reads "PUBLISH POST" I'm going downstairs and indulging in a snort of the highly addictive peat-bog and iodine extract that Douglas introduced me to on July 25 -- the day before we started the joyful labor of evaluating every dog and clearing them for placement.

I hope my friends in Billings are gathering tonight to celebrate an astounding accomplishment, something none of us envisioned ten months ago. (May I suggest this fine establishment -- not just a world-class restaurant, not just the best place to eat in Billings, but indeed, the only good place to eat in Billings. Try the shiitake with homemade pasta and smoked tomatoes.)

A home for every dog. No "this one is too old" or "too scared" or "too many medical problems." We made a promise to the dogs, and to the humans who grew to love them. No euphemasia.

And no rest for the wicked. We've sixty dogs to place, and some of them are ready for forever homes today. Foster humans need help and advice. Adopters ask for guidance. A dog must come back, often for totally unpredictable extraneous reasons, and a place must be found for him. Shit happens, and we are holding the scoop -- not for the next few months, not until my fosters are launched, not until every dog is adopted, but for the rest of these dogs' lives.
And English shepherds live long, interesting lives. There are fifty puppies who were born in custody.

I expect my commitment to the welfare of the ONB dogs to expire some time around 2027. But for tonight, Sláinte!


  1. Today is the first week day since February I'm not wearing overalls. Today is the first week day since February I'm not hopping in my car to see my girls and boys. Yesterday I cleaned the last stall from the puppy barn move to Moore Lane. I wasn't there from the beginning, but felt I should be there until the end. Today I have the whole day spread before me and yet I'm sad. No sweet faces and wagging tails to greet me, they are all home and safe...finally. My heart rejoices for that and yet I'm crying, how I miss each and every one of them. Most especially my sweet Apple who waits at the Rainbow Bridge. Thank you and NESR for making sure each and every one of these noble hounds is somewhere wonderful.

    P.S. I'm glad Barry White is enjoying the Faery Queene. :)

  2. Heather:

    It is well to celebrate with 'Uisquebaugh' or 'Water of Life' and it is satisfyingly addictive. Congradulations to all of you who brought this selfless labor of love to fruition.


  3. Thank you everyone for this awesome indevor. I am honored that I was a small, small part of it. I look forward to years of connections with other ONB dog owners and the NESR folks that worked so hard on this.


  4. Heather, I'm partial to Laphroaig myself - I'm happy to have someone to share it with. (Keith prefers The Macallan.) Come by any time!


  5. Baby looks way out of proportion...her head and body are too big for those little legs! Looks like a sweetheart though.

    You have no idea how hard it is for me to not adopt or foster one of those dogs right now. If I weren't living at home, I'd so do it...but the agreement was that until I move out, I can't have any critters other than the family dog.

  6. I have been a reader of your blog for several months now and I just wanted to extend a thank you for all the love and hard work you have devoted to these dogs. Rescue is a task not suitable to most people. I live in New Zealand, but was born in Montana. The story of these dogs hits me in my soul. Thank you again for sharing.

  7. A wonderful job by all concerned. Helen and I don't have words enough for what everyone has done to make ONB a success.

    And Honey looks suspiciously like our Maddy.

  8. Thank you for all your hard work on the behalf of these dogs, both all you have done and all you continue to do. The ES breed is lucky to have you as one of its tireless guardian angels.

  9. My hat's off to you and your crew, Heather. Fantastic work.


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