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Front Page - Friday, April 28, 2017

Petey dodges death, finds right ‘foster’ family

It’s the worst part about adopting an animal.

Looking for stall No. 32, in order to meet the young dog who might be joining our family, I had to go past stalls 1 through 31, ignoring the baleful stares of the indignant cats, the plaintive barks of the eager young dogs and, worst, the steady gaze from those animals who had long since lost any expectations of leaving.

But their days weren’t necessarily numbered. The Chattanooga Humane Society is a “low-kill” shelter, in the cold parlance of the animal control world, these dogs and cats were all spayed or neutered, fed, kept clean and as happy as an animal can be in a cage.   

Petey, the current resident of stall No. 32, is a happy animal. My journey ended there, meeting a sweetheart of a dog who wanted nothing more but to be loved, fed and cared for. But Petey’s journey still had one more mile to go before he slept in my dad’s bed.

Having adopted a few animals over the years, I have been served well by a few rules of thumb. One is to trust your gut; what you see when you make eye contact with a shelter animal tells you everything you need to know about his or her makeup.

Another is that I only deal with the Chattanooga HES – Humane Educational Society. Operating in cramped conditions in a forgotten part of town, the workers there are devoted, overworked and wonderful.

The third is, never go back on a deal. I will never in my life turn an animal over to a shelter.

It only took a small push to put things into motion. My dad, watching a ball game one evening in his usual chair, surrounded still by the blankies, bones and toys that Floyd cherished, shared his thought out loud – something he seldom does.

“I miss my dog,” Dad said that night. That was it, and that was enough.

Going to the Chattanooga HES web page, all of their animals have their own file now, and right in the middle of the third page I scanned was “Petey.” He was described as a boxer mix, a year and seven months old.

I now know that was fiction, but since Floyd was a boxer mix I decided this guy was worth a look. I ran through the photos in his file and among them there was a great shot of him laying on his back, enjoying a tummy rub more than you or I could imagine.

Yep, Petey was a lover, not a fighter, I figured, so I took Dad to meet him the following Monday. It took one slurp of Petey’s tongue to seal the deal.

At some point, the shelter informed us that Petey, in fact, had heartworms and until he was well would be considered a foster animal. While that meant, for the time being, he was not 100 percent ours, the upside to that is that the HES would handle the not-cheap cost of the medication.

Floyd’s heartworm treatment had cost Dad close to $800. But the adoption/foster plan makes sure adoptive families bond with a healthy animal – at least as healthy as can be in the risky, often selfish, business known as animal protection.

Dad and I were required to sit through a well-meaning lecture that Petey was an animal with special needs. All we could do was nod, yes, we understand. We’d been down that road before, with Floyd.

I kept asking the same question.

“When can we take him home?” I asked. And one day later, after arranging a meet-and-greet with the family’s other dogs, the answer came: “Today.”

Out of the ‘hellhole’

“I remember Petey!” Kaye Bartenfield Lipscomb cried out over the phone line Sunday. “I am so excited to hear he has a home. He has quite a story.”

Kaye would know. She is one of the volunteers working for Tri-State Pet Rescue, a non-profit organization out of Blue Ridge, Georgia, whose heartbreaking-yet-heartwarming mission is to rescue as many animals as humanly possible from high-kill facilities in Fannin, Gilmer and, especially, Whitfield Counties.

Petey’s life, it turns out, was not easily acquired. According to Lipscomb, and others on her and her organization’s Facebook pages, the Whitfield County “Shelter” (or dog pound, calling it what it is) routinely stages large-scale killings. You can’t call it euthanasia, because the chemical injection that is used is not peaceful nor is it pain-free.

In fact, to hear Lipscomb describe it, the Whitfield County pound would seem to be a “hellhole” (her word) straight out of a Dickens novel.

Recently, the place generated some headlines when it was learned that the local commission that oversees it voted to continue the “practice” of not placing beds in the animals’ small rooms, declaring them “too much trouble for the staff to maintain.”

Lipscomb’s spies have told her that what passes as meals for the animals is often just food thrown on the floor, sometimes mixing it with urine in the process.

One particularly nasty incident, which she claims to have documented, a fully grown but starved pit bull and a Chihuahua each attempted to eat from the same food source as the same time. The pit bull, not a violent animal previously, killed the smaller animal and was subsequently put down himself. One other chilling story should be related – one month, according to its own records, the pound put down more cats that its records showed that they took in.

Into such an existence Petey landed in late January. But he wasn’t alone, Lamb says.

“He was a stray,” she said, reading from her organization’s report. “He was with another dog, a pregnant female. She was adopted out, but the foster would not take Petey, leaving him behind. To me, that’s one of the cruelest things you can do, so we decided we’d do everything we could to find him a home.”

But the clock was ticking. Imagine the Whitfield County dog pound as being a halfway house and death row all at the same time – the dogs and cats normally have less than a week for the rescue groups to find them new locations. And the Whitfield County dog pound does not do adoptions with the public.

Fortunately for Petey, the director of the rescue agency, Jan Eaton, had taken an interest in his situation.

Her group’s formal plea bought him one extra week, then another, since Whitfield County had the space to keep him.

Finally, with his time running short, the Chattanooga HES agreed to board Petey despite not having a specific foster home lined up. Petey was spared.

“We begged and pleaded for someone to step forward and adopt Petey,” Lipscomb recalled. “But the Chattanooga Humane Society offered to take him in.”

Arriving in Chattanooga in mid-February, the young pit bull mix became, on their web site, a more desirable boxer mix and his age became approximately a year older since immature animals Petey’s size can be a handful.

After all, no one knew for certain, right? The caring operators in Chattanooga taught him to sit and roll over and the gentle young dog became notorious for demanding a belly rub whenever handlers worked with him.

“Because we’re in Georgia, the Chattanooga Humane Society doesn’t necessarily work in partnership with us,” Lipscomb said explaining Petey’s flight across state lines. “We’re normally supposed to be working with Atlanta. But Chattanooga is so close and they are so willing to help.”

So, if Petey’s mere existence at this point is its own miracle, how big a miracle is it that he is an anger-free animal, one that met our three other dogs in a Humane Society required meet-and-greet without a hitch, then arrived at our home without a hint he was about to encounter four adult cats, each of whom had his or her own opinions about a new family member?

So far, the worst of it is that he has learned how much fun it is to playfully lunge at a passing cat – the equivalent of saying “Boo!” Our smallish female longhair, “Sputter,” is particularly fearless, having befriended Floyd before and walking directly up to Petey on the very first day in a cute role reversal.

In his first week of bonding with his new buddy, my dad found out Petey was happy to go on car trips; he went to work one day, and several people who commiserated with him over the loss of Floyd were nearly tearfully happy at his new companion. Their days weren’t necessarily numbered.

Our family’s biggest challenge is to housebreak what will always be an indoor animal – and at this writing, we have a long, long way to go.

Then in about 30 days, Petey will begin a months-long regimen to treat his heartworm condition, a routine pet owners (and foster families) are all-too-familiar.

It will require keeping him stationary or caged up in order to keep him from getting overly active. It will require Petey to show a lot of trust in us. But he’s already got a pretty good idea that he’s among friends.

How to help

Organizations like the Tri-State Pet Rescue Agency and the Chattanooga HES are always in need of donations of money and supplies, but people outside the system often have no idea which facilities are truly humane, low-kill or no-kill facilities, and which ones put down animals almost indiscriminately. We hope we’ve shed some light on that.

Those willing to make a contribution to the organizations mentioned in this story should contact the Chattanooga Humane Educational Society at (423) 624-5302 or through their fund-raising page at www.heschatt.org/donate/

Tri-State Pet Rescue can be reached at (706) 633-7282 or www.tristatepetrescue.com