By Andrea Culletto
When Ginny Dankmeyer decided to get a dog, she chose adoption. “There are so many dogs out there right now that need to be rescued,” explains Dankmeyer. “I couldn’t imagine paying $500 just to get a purebred. Mixed breeds are just as lovable. Plus, the price of adopting is really a good deal!”
Dankmeyer adopted a Lab-mix puppy and named him Gambrinus, after the patron saint of beer. “He’s so great!” enthuses Dankmeyer. “He’s been such a blessing to me that I wonder who really rescued who? I’ve learned a lot from him.”
When individuals like Ginny Dankmeyer adopt a pet, they are gaining a faithful, lifelong companion, and often saving a life in the process.
New Leash on Life
When Sue Donskey started fostering animals, she had no idea that she would one day be running the show. But the La Crosse area mother of five has always had a big heart for anyone in need. “I adopted three children after fostering kids for years,” Donskey explains. “Then I stumbled across some information on fostering animals, which I had never heard of before. I wanted to do it, so I started fostering, then serving on the board, and when they needed someone to take over, I volunteered.”
Running New Leash on Life Dog Rescue is now a family affair. “My kids love it!” Donskey says. “They attend adoption events with me, load dog food and kennels. My husband comes on every dog-related trip I take and helps when new dogs come into the rescue, almost every Sunday. I am so grateful to also have an awesome board. We have a lot of fun together and get a lot of work done too.”
New Leash takes local surrenders, but most of the animals come from high-kill shelters in the south. “Stray dogs are a huge problem in the southern states,” explains Donskey. “Some individual shelters there kill 100 dogs per week. We get newborn puppies, purebreds, special-needs dogs, seniors and more from Oklahoma. Our contacts ensure that their vet work is done and that they aren’t aggressive before sending them to us. The dogs are then driven north by a relay system of drivers, spending the night in foster homes along the way.”
Once the dogs reach New Leash, they are distributed to foster families. “We are 100 percent foster-based,” explains Donskey. “Fostering is a great way to see what a dog’s true personality is. If someone wants to adopt a dog who is good with cats and kids, we can pick one that’s already living in a home like that. It’s hard to gauge a dog’s personality in a shelter because it’s just so different. Fostering is best for adopters and for our dogs. Some people put their dogs on Craigslist, but they are better off here. There are people in Wisconsin who comb Craigslist looking for free dogs to use in dog-fighting rings. We don’t want these animals to fall into bad hands.”
Donskey has met a lot of interesting dogs during her time. “We had a boxer mix come to us that still had BBs in him,” she recalls. “He was a stray who was picked up trying to eat garbage out of the dumpsters. The neighborhood kids were shooting him with their BB guns for sport. He needed a lot of rehabilitation in order to trust people again, but he’s now been happily adopted for a year. It makes me feel good to see those tough cases work out.”
These sad stories are all too common to Donskey. “We received a pit bull after the Oklahoma tornadoes,” she remembers. “She had severe chemical burns on her back. We don’t know if something fell on her or if a person did it. She’s still healing. She was adopted in what we call a ‘foster fail.’ Her foster family fell in love with her and kept her. They were hesitant to take her at first because she was a pit bull, but she is now best friends with their 6-pound dachshund.”
Many families are hesitant to take in pit bulls because of their reputation. Even Donskey was reluctant at first. “I was asked to take home a pit bull once. I was fearful, but she was just a sweetheart. It took a long time to admit to ourselves that she was never going anywhere. She had trust issues that took time to resolve. For example, if our kids opened the door, she wouldn’t go out because she didn’t trust them to let her back in. Her previous owners had kept her chained up outside all day. She even had a litter of puppies who all died out there. Still, dogs are so resilient. Even when people do horrible things, dogs have such a capacity for love.”
According to Donskey, “Our only limit on saving dogs is the number of foster homes that we have. We are constantly looking for new fosters. We provide vet care and supplies; these dogs just need a safe home and a lot of love.”
Coulee Region Humane Society
“I remember one cat in particular,” recalls Samantha Luhmann, community outreach coordinator at the Coulee Region Humane Society. “His name was Weeble. He had a brain condition that disturbed his balance. He’d weeble and wobble because his equilibrium was off. The condition is comparable to cerebral palsy in humans. The gentleman who adopted him had cerebral palsy himself. Who better to take care of an animal with that condition than someone who knows what it’s like? He even decked out his apartment so that Weeble would be safe.”
The Coulee Region Humane Society has been facilitating connections like this since its founding in 1971. “There was such a need in our community,” says Luhmann. “We’ve been growing ever since. Our foster program opened to the public last fall. We provide the supplies; they provide the care.”
Luhmann recalls an American Staffordshire terrier named Peggy that was in the shelter for almost a year. “She was surrendered from an owner who got her from Craigslist. We are sure she was used for dog fighting and breeding. She had lots of scarring. There is a terrible stigma for pit bulls, but she got along well with people. She would go home with our staff and sleep with them in bed. We found a wonderful couple who adopted her and spoiled her rotten. It’s good to see her overcome so much.”
“Then there was Max, an older Labrador, who was surrendered to our shelter when his owner had to go into assisted living and couldn’t care for him anymore. Max was basically blind. Maggie McDonald, the executive director of HorseSense, took him home. She hadn’t planned to, but when she saw him, her heart melted. She decked out her garage and had a ramp built for him. It was a perfect retirement home.”
Luhmann feels strongly about pet fostering and adoption. “There are so many animals in need,” she explains.
“Pet overpopulation is a struggle all over the country and the world. When you adopt from a breeder, you enable the problem.
We have tons of needy animals brought to us on a daily basis. We had 2,287 domestic animals arrive at our shelter in 2015 alone! We get dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, rats, snakes, birds, a bearded dragon, fish and even a pony once. Across the country animals are euthanized daily because there isn’t space. You are literally saving a life when you adopt.”
Marie Glover and her husband Ted became involved in fostering and adoption 12 years ago. “We went to a shelter because our son wanted a kitten,” Marie explains. “The conditions were deplorable. They had one cat with a mangled leg who hadn’t seen a vet even though it had been there for six weeks. We took that cat home. After that, I decided to volunteer my time at the shelter. The more I volunteered, the more I realized that the cats were dying. So I started bringing them home. Eventually someone said, ‘Why don’t you just start your own cat rescue?’ and Tabby Town was born.”
Word about Tabby Town spread quickly. The Glovers now have around 70 cats in their home at a time. “We let the cats roam free, in a colony,” explains Marie. “They are underfoot everywhere you go, in our beds and on our heads! We have cat walks around our walls and ceiling to offer them lots of vertical space. A couple of years ago we received a grant from Petco and Organic Valley, which we used to build a nice gazebo attached to the house so the cats can come and go at will.”
While the environment at Tabby Town is relaxed, the Glovers operate on a very strict set of guidelines. “Everybody is spayed and neutered the second they come through the door,” explains Marie. “They are tested and vaccinated as well. We do not allow declawing, however. We have rescued 2800 cats over the years and I can tell the declawed cats immediately. They walk differently, get arthritis more, bite, hiss and howl more, and are more fearful. We use behavioral training and fingernail clippers instead. If they have a broken leg, blindness, diabetes, kidney failure, etc., we take care of them. Most places, they’d be euthanized, but here they can be part of our colony for a long time.”
Marie credits this longevity to their veterinarian, Dennis Knight of Coulee Mobile Veterinary Clinic. “Cats seem to be disposable in our society,” says Marie. “If it pees outside the box or scratches somebody, people just throw them out into the country. They come to us scarred, injured and in need of a lot of medical care. We are very fortunate to have the vet that we have, who gives us a deal on the cost of care. Dennis is the most compassionate veterinarian I have ever met.”
For Marie, the best part about operating Tabby Town is matching cats with their new owners.
“We have an 85 percent adoption rate, which is high when you realize that the national adoption rate is only 7 percent for cat rescues. I think it’s because we live with the cats.
We know who wants to be in your lap, who wants to sleep with you and who likes a belly rub. A few months ago we had a woman and her child come into Petco and meet Sherby. He’s small for his age, had some digestive issues and has had one eye removed. Some people don’t want to touch him, but when the daughter saw him she just lit up! He went right up to her and curled up on her lap. They were just meant to be. Sherby slept with her from the first night they took him home,” Marie says.
“Another time, we received a cat who had clawed a little boy who was pulling its tail. The owner put the cat in a carrier, threw it outside and stomped on it. Luckily the neighbor saw this and intervened. That cat is so grateful to be rescued. She loves people, even after all that. She’s wonderful. Some people are so quick to blame a cat for everything. But they just need a chance.”
These cats are getting that chance, thanks to Tabby Town. “They’ve taken over everything,” laughs Marie. “I woke up one day with 26 cats on the bed. They’re everywhere—in the shower, the plants, on the dressers, and their hair is on everything! But I wouldn’t change a thing. Living with the cats helps us get to know them so we can guide people toward the cat they’re looking for. When we introduce them, the connection is immediate. People tell me that their cat rescued them, that they were depressed and the cat saved their lives. It’s heartwarming to hear these stories. It’s so cool how one animal can change a whole home.”
A Part of the Family
When Page Hartmann walked into Petco back in 2005, he wasn’t in the market for a new pet. “Tabby Town was there and I happened to see this cat sitting in its carrier, whining at me and looking pitiful with its recently removed eye,” recalls Hartmann.
“I stopped to give the cat a pet and asked what happened to her eye. Marie from Tabby Town told me the cat had been beaten by her prior owner and that she was in the middle of surgery and rehabilitation.”
A month later Hartmann took the one-eyed cat home. “I’m not normally the type to get all soft about an animal,” he says, “but I couldn’t get that cat out of my mind. I wanted to provide her with a good home to help make up for all the suffering she had been through.”
He and his girlfriend, Susan, named their new cat Safina and nicknamed her Schmoo. To them this means, “An insanely cute creature that follows you around and helps you with stuff.”
For Hartmann, adoption was important because “there are so many animals in the world that are in need of a loving home, and some are harder to find a home for than others. Too many people think a pet is something you can ignore until you want to play with it again. Others abuse them. These are just a couple of the reasons shelters are so full. Pets require a daily, lifelong commitment, along with plenty of kindness and patience. And they really do become a part of the family!”
It hasn’t always been easy, however. “Schmoo is what they call a special-needs cat,” relates Hartmann. “She needed a few eye surgeries, which a vet was kind enough to do at no charge. We also found out she has arthritis due to a broken hip. She had a crooked jaw due to a broken jawbone, and we had to have multiple teeth removed … all of this because of the abuse she endured at the hands of her prior owner. Luckily, despite all that, she is now a healthy and happy one-eyed cat. She is definitely spoiled, but she brings a lot of love and joy to our lives, and I’m glad I found her that fateful day back in 2005.”
Pet rescues are always in need of funds, foster homes and volunteers. Those looking to make a difference in the life of a furry friend should look into assisting, fostering or adopting from one of the organizations below.
For more information on New Leash on Life, visit newleashdogrescue.com. To see the dogs currently up for adoption, visit New Leash on Life’s Facebook page.
Tabby Town cats can be found year-round at Petco every other Saturday. For more information, visit tabbytownusa.org.
For more information on the Coulee Region Humane Society, visit couleehumane.com.
Meet Our Cover Model, Rowdy
Rowdy, originally known as Rhett, was confiscated by the Kentucky SPCA in October 2014 from a hoarding situation. He was living in substandard conditions with over 30 other dogs. He was already missing his front leg and had demodectic mange, which is not contagious. Rowdy’s photo and story were posted to Facebook and appeared on Pamela Culver’s Facebook page as a possible special-needs Chesapeake Bay retriever in need of rescue. The post was then shared to other Chessie rescuers on the East Coast.
Rowdy was safe in the hands of Chesapeake Bay retriever rescuers; he spent several months in foster care with a vet tech in North Carolina. During his stay, his mange was cured and a custom brace for his good shoulder was secured to aid in developing the muscle structure he would need to walk better/longer without a wheeled device. It is unknown how or why Rowdy originally lost his leg, but the amputation was pretty crude; it was probably not done by someone experienced in removing limbs.
Rowdy was adopted by Dana in March 2015. Rowdy is the sweetest, friendliest and happiest dog you will ever meet. He hops around on his three legs, goes to day care, plays with the other dogs, climbs stairs and loves car rides. This summer he is testing out wading in the water but will try swimming in it with the aid of a lifejacket. Rowdy is the perfect example of why special-needs dogs should not be overlooked by potential adopters.
Find out more about Chesapeake Bay Retriever Rescue at www.cbrrescue.org.