Somewhere in Moore, Oklahoma a wet, lonely, dirty, possibly even injured dog roams the streets of a neighborhood that no longer looks like the home he once knew. He smells home but when he puts paw to ground where home once stood, there's nothing left but so much wood pulverized to sticks. The dog is shaky, scared and wants the once familiar arms of a little boy he knew as his own alpha to his pack, to wrap around him and tell him everything is going to be alright. At this point he can't find anyone that looks or smells like home, so he roams around until he can no longer hold himself up on his own 4 legs and lays his head down on a pile of soggy blankets.
In a perfect world, one of the "first responders" to the tragedy that struck Moore, OK this afternoon would find the dog and make sure it was taken to a local animal rescue, and from there the compassionate people that operate the rescue would work to reunite the dog with his humans, or if immediate reunion wasn't possible, place the dog in a temporary foster home until he could be reuinted with his human family. If the worst-case scenario became reality (and I shudder to think about how many little boys won't be coming back to their beloved dogs), the rescue would work to find the dog a new, loving home.
It's not just dog rescues that go into overdrive when disaster strikes, but rescues of all breeds and animal species go into action in order to help provide both medical and physical attention to the sometimes overlooked victims of disasters . . . the furry members of our families - our pets, and the working animals that help feed out country - farm animals. Ever since Hurricane Katrina, the world of animal rescue has been reshaped. Animal welfare groups have been rethinking key response protocols and implementing new plans for when the unthinkable happens.
Animal rescues don't just play key roles in taking care of displaced or injured animals after disaster strikes, but lately more and more rescues are taking a proactive role in stepping in and offering assistance even before disaster strikes, which includes things like economic disaster, something our country has seen all too much of over the last several years.
Our family has been involved with one such rescue for several years now, a rescue specifically geared towards Newfoundland dogs.
I guess before I tell you more about the wonderful folks at That Newfoundland Place, I need to give you a little backstory.
Back when Gareth and I first met, face-to-face in October of 2002, we spent two weeks traipsing through New England and the northeastern United States. One of those days was spent weaving through the streets of Salem, MA. Gareth had spent prior trips to the US on the west coast and in the midwest, often traveling with his father to various air shows. This trip though was to meet his life-long pen-pal, me, and he wanted to see a bit of the eastern seaboard as well. He asked me to take him to some of my favorite places, little towns and cities that I'd often written about over the 20+ years of our correspondence. One of those places was the sleepy little historical town of Salem.
As we were walking along a narrow cobblestone street filled with various art vendors and galleries, we walked into one tiny little gallery that barely had room for the three or four paintings of tall ships that it housed let alone the hugest dog we'd ever seen. Massive in size, thick black fur , thicker than the coat of any domestic dog I'd ever seen, covered it's ginormous body. Both Gareth and I stood there at the door of this little gallery, not sure if what we were looking at was some bizarre cross of bear and dog, or maybe neither but the actual visage of Bigfoot himself. Before we could move, he came plodding towards us, with what we both swore was a big goofy grin on his face, a little drool hanging from the side of his soft jaws, and he nudged his head under my hand as if to say, "G'on now, pat my head and tell me what a good boy I am!" I think it's important to note that both Gareth and I only stand 5'5" and the dog had to lower it's head considerably just to nudge my hand.
Turns out that Thor had just introduced himself to us. Thor, we would find out a few minutes later, was a purebred Newfoundland. He belonged to the artist and gallery owner and while he was as gentle as a baby doll, the owner thought it was funny how Thor would sit out in the front of the gallery and help discourage anyone from even thinking about swiping a painting. It took both Gareth and me less than 5 minutes before we were totally smitten with this friendly giant. We stayed and talked to the gallery owner for almost an hour. During that time I sat down and Thor decided I had a perfectly large, soft lap, the best place he could think of to rest the top quarter of his body - a body which weighed 210lbs, and soak up all of the attention I was lavishing on him. It really didn't matter if Thor was in fact that mythical Bigfoot . . . I was in love!
From that day forward whenever Gareth and I talked about future pets, it always included a Newfie. We'd have cats, a few of course, and a Newfie to keep them all in line.
Fast forward a few years that included a wedding, a move to the UK, a move back to the US, a baby, the purchase of a home of our own, and the adoption of 2 Maine Coon cats from a local shelter, and we were ready to get serious about adding a Newfie to our family. We'd spent a lot of time getting to know as much about the breed as possible. We wanted a big dog that was great with kids, gentle, and wasn't hyper or considered a breed that only an Olympic athlete could keep up with. Everything we learned about Newfies only further confirmed that this was the breed for us.
We initially looked into getting a puppy from a breeder, but having an infant of our own didn't exactly help enamor me to the thought of adding that new puppy smell to the new baby smell we were in, up to our eyeballs. I also had taken custody of my youngest son and we were helping this Seattle boy adjust to life on the east coast. So instead of getting a puppy, we decided to look into Newfie rescues and found the rescue that was organized through the Newfoundland Club of New England. It wasn't long before we were attending as many events sponsored by the rescue as we could. At first our intention was to familiarize Gaby, who was then a baby, with the breed and make sure she wasn't afraid of them, as well as get to know the people within the rescue and then get the ball rolling towards adopting our very own Newfie. Gaby had shown some real apprehension around other breeds, especially small and toy breeds, so we were a little nervous about introducing her to a dog on the other end of the spectrum, a behemoth among dogs if you will.
Turns out, we never ever had a thing to worry about . . .
Gaby was almost as infatuated, if not more so, than we were with these beautiful, slobbering, huge, bundles of love. It wasn't long before we were going through the rescue's required home inspection and then waiting to be matched with a Newfie that was perfect for our family. I have to admit, I was more nervous about the home inspection in order to adopt one of these dogs than I ever was when we went through the qualification and then closing process when we bought our home. We were ready for a new family member in the form of a dog that slobbers more than a roomful of teething babies, and sheds more than 10 ragdoll cats! Not only were we ready, we couldn't wait.
As is sometimes the case, life happens while you're busy making other plans. We went through our home inspection not long after we moved into our home, and then less than a month later my oldest daughter moved in with us, I was put through "The Very Bad Thing", Zach (my youngest son came back to live with us, after having returned to Seattle when he determined that life with mom was too strict and the east coast was too cold!) and adopting a Newfie became something that needed to be put on hold until we were a little more organized. Gareth was getting used to not only being a first-time father to a child of his own, but an instant step-dad to two teenagers, soon to become three, when Meg's twin brother Matt came to live with us as well.
As most of my long time readers know, the period of time from late 2007 to 2011 was a pretty rough time for our family. I was thrown into the worst period of depression and self-loathing I've ever been through, at one time coming perilously close to taking my own life. Add in the chaos that three teenagers trying to come to grips with their former life with their father coming apart at the seams and trying to adjust to life with a mom that they hadn't lived with in more than 8 years, and you have the perfect recipe for a sometimes turmoil-filled home. Then we went through Gareth's layoff, the move to NY, and the inevitable loss of our beloved home to foreclosure, and it just seemed like we'd never deserve a Newfie, let alone find ourselves in a position to adopt one. Amazingly we all lived through it and came out the other side, far better than we imagined we would.
Six years later we're finally in a place to re-start the adoption process and the woman that had co-chaired the rescue that was run from within the NENC had now started her own Newfoundland rescue organization, That Newfoundland Place. I reached out to her again and asked, if by some miracle she remembered us, and she did! Cathy, along with her husband Ed, and the many compassionate, loving, volunteers that work with them, have created a environment where not only a Newfie in need of rescue can find respite, recovery, and love, and eventually a new home, they've also placed themselves in a position to preemptively try to step in and help a family keep their Newfie by assisting them with veterinary expenses, education, and doing what they can to help avoid the possible need to re-home the dog. For dogs that do come to them in need of re-homing, nothing is spared. Every single need the dogs have is met, and they are not released into a new home unless Cathy is 100% sure that the dog is not only an ideal match for the family looking to adopt, but that the dog will continue to receive every single thing it needs!
I've never met two people so entirely devoted to their animals like Cathy and Ed are. I've also not met someone who has so instantly and completely made me feel at ease, like Cathy has. We all know that I'm sort of a social disaster, and at best have a difficult time coping in social situations. There's just something about Cathy that instantly puts a person at ease. She makes me feel as accepted and welcomed as the dogs in her care do.
We recently went over to CT to attend another rescue open house and were immediately greeted by a huge hug from Cathy, along with introductions to several new faces and a few familiar faces from back in 2007. We had a great time getting to meet the newfies in their care, and yes, once again putting our names on the list for a newfie.
Of course, Gaby was in heaven, and given the chance, we'd have taken home as many newfies as our Honda Pilot could hold!
Gaby and Scarpa. Yeah, he's smiling at Gaby. While I think Scarpa might already be spoken for, there isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't ask about him and hope he comes to live with us. Gaby has followed their story since they arrived at TNP. Scarpa and Marina are very special and I hope you'll take a moment to read their stories.
And of course there were puppies! Puppies who thought that Gaby and her hair were the best things, ever! Hard to believe that those 5 puppies came into Cathy's care, very near death. Check out a few of their "Happy Tails" to see how they're doing. And growing!
We met a wonderful woman named Alison who had adopted two other newfies, Hazel and Owen from TNP:
Mickey, who was formerly Nikki, is a 12 year old newfie who just wanted a soft place to call home for her remaining years. Alison has given her that and if you go out and check out TNP's Happy Tails, you can see for yourself how amazingly Mickey has adapted to life with her new siblings (who include - in addition to Owen and Hazel, a beautiful yellow lab, Reuben, with a whole lot of love from Alison. Here's Alison's brood:
We had talked briefly about getting a puppy, this time around, but we just couldn't bring ourselves to make the move to do it. I won't ever fault anyone for choosing to buy a pup from a reputable (do your research if you choose to go this route!) breeder, or a kitten from a breeder; our very own Geronimo came from a wonderful breeder back home in Maine. However, for our family now, we know that adopting from a rescue is the right choice for us. There are still dogs that need a forever home. People are still feeling the pain of an economy that has not bounced back as quickly as we all hoped it would. Unfortunately more and more families have to part with a beloved pet. Of course other things like illness, death, and neglect unfortunately lead dogs to Cathy and Ed's door.
There's no telling when we'll be able to make one of these dogs a member of our own family.
We'll wait patiently for the perfect match, and in the meantime, remain grateful for organizations like TNP and so many others that are there for animals who can't speak for themselves. TNP and so many other rescues are the advocates for animals that might not have another chance at a forever home - not even with a shelter or the Humane Society.
Rescues like TNP are stepping forward right this very moment, poised to help and do what they can for the animal victims of today's horrific tornado in Oklahoma. If you're able, when thinking about the ways you can help those in need after today's events, please consider helping out the rescues and shelters in the area as well. It doesn't always have to be monetary. Many are in need of pet food, blankets, towels, animal beds, cleaning supplies, and in some cases, foster homes. I know the human need right now is so great, but so too is the need to show compassion and relief to the animals who now find themselves without a home, and in some places, without their family.