Sunday, January 18, 2009

Baby Steps

Someone has to clean up this mess.

First, I love you all.

The concern that readers world-wide have shown for the plight of the English shepherds in Billings Montana has been heart-warming.

But please understand, I can't tell you everything I hear and see and know.

Inclusion comes with the expectation of discretion. And the volunteers here are not public figures; they are just hard-working folk who are doing all they can for the animals, with no expectation of any extrinsic reward.

Second, here's what's up:

There are no more of these ES being held at the Billings animal shelter, and few at the veterinary hospital. Most of the special needs dogs -- including pups, new Mommas and those about to be -- are now being housed in an old veterinary hospital on Moore Lane in Billings that the county has gotten the use of.

So it has been several hectic days of moving dogs around, cleaning, reorganizing, pipes bursting, and fires (metaphorical) to be put out.

I have to conclude that the bitches were on synchronized heat cycles (think women's dorm during PMS week), as we are having a bit of a puppy boom, with a litter every day now. Mostly small litters, for which we are thankful.

True to their breed, the Mommas are devoted and attentive.

Also at the Moore Lane facility -- one Momma pug and two babies, several cats, and a flock of cockatiels.

Today the seven pups formerly at the Metra took a trip across the parking lot to the new hospital for baths. Then we let 'em rip.

They swarmed. The volunteers deserve a bit of puppy fun. They work so hard. The scores of volunteers who missed this moment will get many opportunities for puppy fixes in the days ahead. Some are fixing up part of the old lobby as a giant puppy dayroom.

Here's our IC from the sheriff's department, Mike, falling under the spell of the little girl pup I think of as BP:

BP = Baby Pip. She reminds me of my SAR partner at that age. Cocky little thing.

While some of the grown dogs have advanced quickly, other handlers have had to count their victories in the most patient increments. Every hour, a handler will come to me to tell me about the dog who touched him today for the first time, the one that is coming just two feet out of the corner, the one who will creep up behind the chair and lie quietly while listening to her handler read aloud now.

Here's a first for this guy:

Which brings me to a question that keeps coming up in emails and comments on news sites -- why did the dogs in the news photos look, you know, kind of okay in the pictures?

The news cameras were catching the dogs who free-ranged -- about a third of the total -- not the ones chained or penned in their own waste.

English shepherd coats are not only naturally full and care-free, naturally shedding junk and resisting mats, they cover up a multitude of sins -- ribs, hipbones, wounds, scabs. They are like chows in that last regard; by the time the neighbors know that a yard-chow is starving, he's already dead.

Most of these dogs are still not at the point of function where we normally begin rehab with a neglected pound dog.

Many people have expressed such worry about Harry, the dog who would not take his head out of the corner.

He has two handlers who are working hard with him.

I made it a goal of mine to get Harry to just look at me before I leave Montana.

Talk about a baby step. But he has taken it. Proof:

I was shocked to see that he looks like Gary -- Gary my foster dog, who was launched to his new home just yesterday by my better half.

Feels better, seeing his face, doesn't it?

Finally, I'm getting inquiries about adoption.

First, remember that these dogs are still the property of Linda Kapsa, and are being held in evidence.

We have no way of knowing if and when they may be released for adoption, or how, by whom, and with what strings attached.

I can almost guarantee that the majority of these dogs will require rehabilitative foster care before they are adoptable -- including the ones that have advanced the most at the Metra. They've never lived in a house with people.

National English Shepherd Rescue
is making lists of potential foster and adoptive homes. If you are interested, please contact NESR to start the paperwork.

The volunteers at Operation New Beginnings are also taking names and numbers of those interested in adoption, particularly those who live in the Billings area.

Finally, all dogs will be spayed or neutered prior to any placement, no matter who places them, or with whom.


  1. Thank you Heather for your eloquent blog. Anyone wanting to foster or adopt please go to the NESR website and access the forms. Please send the filled out forms as soon as possible. We need to speak to each person and check references. We can only send dogs to home foster or forever that have passed our approval process.

  2. Heather --

    The link to NESR doesn't work in this post (it does in the previous one, which I used to get to the website).

    I copied the NESR flier and sent it out to my farm lists (PASA, Northest Food Security, Women, Food & Agriculture Network in Iowa, plus a few collegues who are into dogs) so hopefully, you'll get some growers who can give these dogs "jobs."

    ES sound like the perfect dog for a CSA, so I'm hoping the word gets out and all you have to worry about is rehab and hopefully, having more good homes than dogs! :-D


  3. Dorene --

    Fixed the link.

    Thank you so much.

    As Kathi said, it's crucial that potential foster and adoptive families get into the pipeline as early as possible -- hurry up and wait.

    I'll be putting together written material on the physical and emotional/mental needs of these specific dogs, in order to help people decide whether they can handle the continued rehab, and help them do so if they decide to make that commitment.

    But those are mid-term projects, and my time in Montana is limited, so I spend as much of it as I can hands-on with the people and dogs.

    ES in general ARE ideal for the sorts of small farms you are networking with -- if the farmer has decent animal skills and understands the needs and capabilities of these dogs.

    The adult dogs at the Metra and Moore Lane have, for the most part, not been able to show me who they are yet. They are still figuring out how to be dogs. Finding their way to becoming English shepherds, working partners, pets must come after they have achieved that.

    The puppies are puppies, and temperaments are already showing quite clearly in individuals.

  4. Heather, bless you for your work, and for keeping us informed.

    I've updated my foster info, in case any of the dogs come out East. Dandelion says he'd be happy to have a sibling, even if only for a while.

    I've donated some to NESR, and as more comes in, more will go out.


  5. Heather,

    Thanks so much for your wonderful updates, and for the PICTURES! It made my day to see Harry's face, and are those puppies adorable, or what?

    Thanks too for the reminder about getting onto that foster/adoption list early! The number of dogs that NESR will be able to take, assuming that they're released to rescue, will be limited by the numbers of homes that are waiting for them.

    Finally, thanks to all the wonderful dog people out there who care and are doing what they can to help make a future for these dogs - regardless of their own personal breed affiliation. Dog people are just the best!


  6. THANK YOU for posting a pic of Harry's face...that picture has been haunting me.

    I'm currently rearranging my planned summer in the expectation of fostering. We've been off the foster roster (oops. sorry) for some time, but for this, we HAVE to help. you know who I can contact about the cockatiels? We might be able to offer space to a few birds, too.

  7. Heather,

    Thank you! Your time and expertise are so much needed and appreciated (especially by all those little fur-faces). And as Kathi said, thank you for your blog. It is of great value to to all of us who csn't be there.

    Also a big thank you to all the volunteers who are there daily. It's amazing to think of all the people that have to pull together to help this many dogs/cats/birds.

    Getting to see Harry's face was so heartwarming. Baby steps with big rewards!


  8. Thank you so very much, Heather. you have made these dogs so very personal. I think about them all the time and love hearing of their progress and accomplishments. I will help improve their lives if the chance arises.

    Ann Cassidy

  9. Heather,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything you are doing. I have, and please pass it on, the utmost respect and appreciation to all the volunteers and especially to you. Words are just not enough.

    Thank you for the newest pic of Harry and a big thank you to everyone that is working with him.

  10. Heather,

    A belated thank you for taking Erin and I around last Saturday in Billings to show us all the dogs and all that you and the volunteers and law enforcement were doing to take good care of them. Getting the chance to see how well some of the dogs were doing in such a short time was very encouraging.

    David Wilford
    New Richmond, WI

  11. Heather,

    From rescuing people - with dogs, to rescuing dogs - with people.

    If I've never told you this before, let me use this forum to tell you now that I have been proud of your life choices without fail, but no prouder of them, and you, than I am now.

    Love, Your Mother

  12. Heather,

    I am sorry I did not meet you while you were here. I was at Moore Lane on Sat, playing with the puppies, of course. I will be helping out more there than at Metra on weekends, since Carla says so. :-)

    Nice photo of Mike (we call him Turtle- LOL). He really did like that puppy.

    Thanks for coming out, I hope you are happy with what we are doing with the dogs.


  13. This came through my community garden list -- it's probably more for Ken since it's about how to train your dogs to find truffles in the American forest and I don't even know if PA has truffles, but I figured you guys are going to have a bunch of fosters and maybe you'd like to teach them something fun and away from people to start.

    Plus, truffles. Yum!

    *The Field Guide to North American Truffles makes the treasured and very expensive truffle accessible to all. Published through Ten Speed Press , it was written by *Frank Evans


  14. The HSUS is using the Montana Rescue situation as a fundraiser. Check out

  15. HSUS has actually provided or persuaded others to provide some significant material resources for this operation. We hope they will continue to do so.

    They do not have care, custody, or control of the dogs in any way.

  16. I suspected as much, and financial and material support is great. But there are folks on some email lists that have stated that the HSUS is acting as an enforcement body, and the article on the HSUS website reinforces that belief --

    From their article: "The Yellowstone County Sherriff’s department contacted The HSUS for assistance collecting evidence, removing animals from the property and transporting them to an emergency shelter set up at the local fair grounds."

    Patti S.

  17. Hi, I too had a celebration after seeing/reading that Harry turned his face just a bit! So I wasn't the only one that lost sleep thinking about this one especially? I just FAX'd my foster paperwork tonight! (Sorry for the delay)

    Heather, Kathi, everyone working on this THANK YOU for the work and the updates and the pics!
    - Barbara


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