Villalobos and #367rescue: Changing Lives

The busier I am, the happier I am.  Lately, you can find me on cloud nine.  There are quite a few new things I have gotten involved with lately, and I’m sure I’ll talk excitedly about them one day, but for now I wanted to share the first of two very exciting pieces of news:  I will be deploying the end of February for one week to help with the #367 dogs from the fighting ring bust last summer!  I am honored and excited beyond words to be part of this amazing experience.  Adding to the extreme awesomeness is the fact that my dear friend from And Foster Makes Five will be there at the exact. same. time!  Um, yea.  That’s happening.

A friend sent this link about the #367 dogs to me a couple of days ago and (if you have a box of tissues handy) I highly recommend reading it.  I was instantly transported back to my time at Villalobos Rescue in New Orleans (from the show Pit Bulls and Parolees if you aren’t familiar with the name.)  I’ve mentioned my time there in passing once or twice and many people have asked me to talk more about it, but I haven’t felt I possess the eloquence necessary to do the experience the justice it deserves.  I still don’t think I do I will do my best to sum it up in a couple of “quick” paragraphs:

Life changing.  If I could only use two words, those would be the ones.  I can’t honestly say that I remember much from my drive to NOLA but what probably sticks out the most in my mind was the drive home from NOLA.  I cried so hard that I had to pull over at one point.  I distinctly remember sitting at a rest stop and debating just turning around and going back.  Surely I could find a job bartending or something so I had food money and I was happy to just continue living in the warehouse that us volunteers had called home for the week.  All I could think about were the things I was so ready to give up just so I could be there doing what I finally realized, with stunning clarity, was my true purpose in life.  Obviously my head prevailed and I managed to make my way back to Florida and my regular life.

It was jarring to realize that sleeping on a cot, surrounded by strangers, showering (yes, showering) in a cold porta-potty, and eating processed crap had lead me to realize my purpose, but that’s exactly what it did.  Why did I ever think I cared about clothes, or shoes, or a real bed with real sheets?  So unnecessary and frivolous.  I had always loved animals and I’d volunteered or taken in strays here and there, but it was now blindingly clear that this is where my heart is.  I had a semester left of college, which I knew I had to finish, but it was clear that this was the only “career” I had any interest in.  Being flat broke and possessing nothing more than rain boots was all I needed to fulfill my purpose in life.  Fast forward to today and admittedly the drama of my drive home has worn off some, but my heart still beats to a slightly different drum, and I still view many things I previously thought were oh-so necessary as frivolous.

Home Sweet Home

Home, Sweet Home for the week.

I had only seen clips of the show prior to my trip (and honestly I still have yet to see more than 10 minutes here or there) so I didn’t really know who anyone was, aside from knowing Tia called the shots.  There were two momma dogs with litters of very young puppies and we were asked who wanted to step up to be on “puppy duty”.  I assumed everyone would fight for this job but no one seemed particularly excited about it.  Desperate to show I was worthy of being there, I tried to maintain my composure when I said I would do it (it was puppies people, putting a lid on my excitement was not easy!)  The previous “puppy duty” volunteer was getting ready to leave and showed us everything that needed to be done.  Aaaand now I realized why people weren’t fighting for the job.  Those things were food devouring poop machines!


And then I met her: brown momma dog.  I instantly fell hard and fast for her.  While visitors came to “oooo” and “awww” over the puppies, she was the only dog I had eyes for.  She was a plain little brown thing.  No discernible markings, no discernible breed.  Just a plain brown mutt, and it was love.  When there was down time, which wasn’t often, I would go sit in her kennel with her.  And by sit with her, I mean she would do her best to climb into my lap so every possible inch of her was touching me.  I would murmur in her ear, telling her what a good girl she was, that she was the best mom ever, and that she was safe now.  She was the biggest reason I wanted to turn my car around and come back, forever.

Momma Dog

Pardon the poor quality, all I had with me was a crappy old phone!

The days were long and the work was manual.  I loved it.  I’m not a particularly large person (I claim to be 5’2″ but I don’t think I’m even that) so of course I felt that I had to prove myself.  I was partnered up with a guy named Ben and I was damned if I let him work faster than me.  As we worked through cleaning our section of kennels he would tell me what he knew about the dogs and their lives before Villalobos.  Initially all I could think about was how terribly depressing it was for these dogs to live in a loud warehouse, in a kennel, with minimal exercise and interaction.  There just isn’t time in the day to sit and play with each dog, unless maybe you are a zombie that requires absolutely no sleep.  Intuitively I knew that crying in front of these dogs was a selfish thing to do.  It’s been said many times before, but they don’t need our tears, they need our strength.  Holding it in all week is probably what lead to my torrent of tears on the drive home though.  But like I was saying, Ben helped me realize just how much happier they were in this setting.  They weren’t being beaten, living on chains, forced to fight, scrounging for food, or roaming the streets looking for shelter from storms, or, like my favorite brown momma dog, a safe place to have their babies.  They were safe.  And they were loved.

There is so much more I could say or describe about this experience but the main things I took away from it were: a deep appreciation and respect for the guys (and girls!) that work there.  They are quite possibly the most compassionate people I have ever met.  Tia knew everything about every single dog there.  It was amazing.  Not to mention the other volunteers that week were seriously so cool, and I still keep in touch with some of them!  I took away a burning desire to keep at this rescue from now til forever.  I learned first hand just how amazingly resilient dogs are.  I mean, I had always known that to some extent, but seeing these happy, grinning faces, despite their varying backgrounds was truly amazing.  I realized how little I need to truly be happy.  A new purse can never, ever make me feel the way I felt while running through the yard with a dog that was just thankful to be out of his kennel.  And I learned that sometimes a plain brown momma mutt is truly the coolest dog of all.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the #367 experience will be like compared to my time at Villalobos.  I’m guessing it will be even more intense.  These are all dogs from a fighting ring.  I’m already repeating the mantra “They need my strength, not my tears” in preparation for the week.  If my time at Villalobos taught me anything though, it’s that I’ll be giving their past much more thought than they will.  I’m quite sure they will just be happy for the safety, regular meals, and especially love, that they are already receiving.  Check back in a couple of days for my second piece of super exciting news!

Spay and Neuter: Stop Niagara

I should hope that it goes without saying that I feel like fostering is an amazing, wonderful thing, and I would like everyone out there to foster at least once in their life–it is why I started this blog after all.  But that said, it’s kind like sticking a band-aid on Niagara Falls… if Niagara Falls was the pet overpopulation problem.  Of course every life that is saved through fostering is beyond precious, and when you foster you really are saving multiple lives because you are opening up a space in the shelter, but still, getting to the root of the problem is ultimately of greater importance.

Homeless Mother

No one can resist a wiggly puppy butt, and taking a scared dog out of the shelter is a feeling that can probably only be trumped by winning the lottery, but the less glamorous job of promoting spaying and neutering, as well as responsible pet ownership, is crucial if we are going to win this war.  There is no immediate gratification.  No one gushes over the precious pictures you flood Facebook and Instagram with.  You don’t get to hold a scared dog and make his life better.  BUT by promoting these things what you are doing is saving countless future lives from ever having to experience the dirty floor of a shelter, an empty tummy, harsh words, or a kick in the ribs.  Sure, you can’t ever really know how many dogs you’ve saved from suffering, but isn’t knowing that you have gratification enough?

Puppy Butts

I know that our society today is consumed with the need for immediate, tangible gratification (thank you Facebook!) but this is something that will give you neither of those.  There.  I said it.  “But how many people will like my status?  How many followers will I get?  Will people like me?!”  You will have to do all of this without so much as a pat on your back.  No cheers, no “likes”, no gratification other than knowing you have in fact made a difference.  A difference you will only see in the decreasing number of dogs landing at shelters.  It will take time BUT we can do it.  And won’t seeing those numbers go down be the biggest victory of all?

Stray mother and puppies

Most of my friends have experienced once, or twice, or 57 times, “The Speech” when I see someone out in public with an obviously unaltered male (it’s basically impossible to tell if a female is altered or not, so I rarely approach the owners of females.)  Most people argue with me, roll their eyes, or mutter “b*tch” under their breath.  But sometimes, just every now and then, I actually get through to someone.  My favorite story is probably the time I was with Last Hope Rescue at Barkoween.  We had a booth there for our adoptable dogs and the booth next to us was for a free/low cost spay and neuter voucher program.  The event was open to the public and I had already given “The Speech” to a few victims when a young man walked by with his gigantic pit bull, who was rocking the biggest set of gonads I have ever seen.  I swiftly walked over to him and launched into “The Speech” while violently gently tugging him in the direction of the booth next to us.  After some back and forth about how “he doesn’t want to take away his masculinity”, he finally admitted that he didn’t really have the money.  “Not a problem my friend!”  And next thing I know the kid is filling out the form to receive a free neuter voucher.  So maybe it wasn’t cool, or glamorous, but I just prevented that dog from reproducing.  All it takes is for you to make the effort.  You don’t know the outcome until you try!

Homeless Puppies

Here is my challenge to you: do one thing today that forces you out of your comfort zone regarding spaying and neutering.  Send a link of my blog to someone you know doesn’t believe in it.  Post a link on Facebook to a site about spaying and neutering.  Take your dog on a walk and seek out someone to give “The Speech” to. (“The Speech” is something you have to come up with on your own.  If I tell you mine, it won’t flow right.  Say what comes natural to you.  All that matters is you have your facts straight and you do it!)  Call up your Uncle Larry who insists that, “I watch her closely when she’s in heat” and chat with him about why his female dog really does need to be spayed before there is an “accident” and he’s got a litter of puppies on his hands.

One mind changed = countless lives saved.

Stray momma dog.

The mom and her puppies featured throughout this post are currently being fostered by a friend of mine here in Jacksonville.  She pulled them yesterday from the shelter on her own so they wouldn’t all be euthanized but we are looking for a rescue to urgently help.  Feel free to hit that “share” button and help us spread the word!  Thanks!