Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
The realities of life for a shelter dog can be grim. Often abandoned by their owners or collected from the streets, most aren't the healthiest animals in the world, riddled with ailments ranging from worms to mange. For most dogs that wind up in a shelter in Arkansas, their end consists of a some basic medical care, a few weeks of food while waiting for a new owner who never comes, then the long walk to the euthanasia room.
While many would like to see that changed, one group — Last Chance Arkansas — has been able to find a way to throw a handful of dogs a lifeline. For the past four years, the group has been rescuing dogs from Little Rock Animal Services, giving them three weeks of training and medical care, then driving them to a cargo dock at Memphis to catch a plane. From there, they fly out to new homes in places as far flung as Boston, New York State, and British Columbia.
Carrie Kessler is the executive director for Last Chance Arkansas. She said that while animal shelters in the South are routinely overflowing with dogs, shelters in the North actually don't have enough dogs to meet demand. The reason? For one thing, winters can be brutal in the North, and most stray animals and new litters just don't survive. Too, said Kessler, animal control laws are much more evolved in the north.
“They have a different mentality regarding spaying and neutering, and they have spay and neuter laws,” she said. “These are places that don't have an overpopulation problem.”
Kessler said that about twice a month, volunteers drive five dogs to the airport in Memphis. Prior to their trip, the dogs have been sterilized, vaccinated, and subjected to tests to make sure they're temperament is right for placement with families, children and other pets. After being taken from the shelter, the dogs are boarded with a foster family for three weeks. During that time, they are crate-trained and socialized.
Because there is a limit on the number of dogs that can fly on a single aircraft, Kessler said Last Chance Arkansas sometimes foregoes the flight, and drives dogs to a partner shelter in Rondout, N.Y. in a van or horse trailer. Kessler said the group has transported up to 27 dogs at once.
“Over the last four years, over four hundred dogs” have been transported, Kessler said. “These are dogs that a good percentage of them were facing euthanasia. We don't just pick the cute little fluffy dogs. We focus on just common dogs with good temperaments.”
Kessler said the group runs completely on donations. Designated a non-profit by the IRS, they have a button to make online donations at their website: www.lastchancearkansas.org. The group is currently looking for board members, foster families and volunteers.
One of those volunteers is Susan Shaddox. Shaddox and her husband, Conway veterinarian Ken Shaddox, often provide a foster home for Last Chance Arkansas dogs that are the most medically in need, nursing them back to health before they catch their flight. She said that since the economy went south, she and her husband have seen a spike in the number of sick animals dropped off anonymously on the doorstep of the veterinary clinic.
“Over the years, you have some of those every once in awhile, but not anything like it started to happen when the economy really started slumping,” Shaddox said. “Almost every one that we would find on our doorstep was sick.” Since Shaddox contacted Last Chance Arkansas, many of these unwanted animals have been able to find new owners in other states.
Just a few weeks ago, Shaddox said goodbye to Cinderella, a Labrador mix puppy who'd come to Little Rock Animal Services covered with mange. “I went in there to buy tickets to a charity event, and I heard this little puppy in there just screaming her head off,” Shaddox said. “Somebody had brought her in, and she barely had any hair at all. They didn't have any choice but to put her down, because the type [of mange] she had could possibly have been contagious to every pet in the shelter.”
As sick and unattractive as the puppy was, Shaddox said she named her Cinderella because she knew she would be beautiful someday. After several weeks of treatment and care, the mange cleared up, and Cinderella's black coat came back thick and full. Shaddox caught a ride with the van taking the dogs to Memphis and a new life. Though Shaddox said she knows Cinderella will be loved in her new home, it was still tough to let her go.
“I cried all the way to Memphis and all the way back,” she said. “It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. … It's really, really hard to let them go once you've given so much time to them, but I have to just grit my teeth and do it. The things in life that matter are hard.”