This is the third and last post in a series provided by Unity Hospice. The first post centered on Unity Hospice’s Puppies for Parole program. The second provided a brief overview of animal assisted therapy (aka pet therapy) and a look at the Paws for Patients program. This post shares the experiences of one Unity Hospice’s staff member in rescuing strays in the East St. Louis area. Those of you who rescue will be able to relate to these stories.
My Experience Rescuing Strays in East St. Louis
By: Suzanne Padgett, Unity Hospice Staff Member
This winter has been brutal for most everyone. Sub-zero temperatures and endless snow and ice storms swept across the majority of the country, causing school and highway closures, travel delays and even dents in local businesses. This has served as a shock to cities like St. Louis, which have grown accustomed to mild winters over the past several years. Humans, however, were not the only ones deeply affected by the season. Local animal shelters opened their doors to many suffering stray animals, struggling to survive these persistent cold temperatures.
Metropolitan St. Louis, particularly the Illinois cities of East St. Louis and Washington Park, are frequently searched by local shelters for stray animals. An area inundated with abandoned buildings and vacancies offer accommodation for animals to seek shelter and warmth when they have nowhere else to go.
In addition to the help from animal shelters, some area residents have taken it upon themselves to do what they can to end the suffering of local canines. Suzanne, Unity Hospice of Greater St. Louis staff member and future pet therapy volunteer, would like to share her experience with rescuing strays.
A resident of East St. Louis herself, Suzanne has seen the unfortunate lifestyle that many dogs have had no choice but try to survive. Unlike many other residents in her area, Suzanne has a big heart. Her empathy for stray animals is why she has now taken in five dogs, providing them a warm and loving home – out of the bitter cold slums that they were brought into. Here is Suzanne’s story…
“A dear friend of mine, Ed, owns a club in East Saint Louis, IL, an area unfortunately flooded with stray dogs. Given the rough, and at times dangerous, living circumstances that East St. Louis and surrounding areas bring, you can imagine my empathy for these stray animals that are fighting to survive without a home. Several stray dogs sought shelter in a nearby abandoned house that was located directly across the street from Ed’s club. Customers would frequently drop off food for them, offer them a pet or keep some treats in their pocket for those dogs. I began feeding them hotdogs and other food that I knew they never had the pleasure of eating before. Ed began purchasing 100lbs. of dog food each week for the stray dogs surrounding his business, particularly those dogs keeping shelter across the street. He continued to do this even through his own financial hardships. Once the dogs became used to Ed and I, they would begin watching out for our cars. It became very distressing when we had to leave them at night, especially when the weather was bad. We would watch those dogs in the rearview mirror, watching us until we were out of sight – each time slowly breaking my heart even more. Little did I know that one day I would drive down there to supply dog food with Ed, only to end up rescuing them and taking them home with me.
There were three dogs – one female Rottweiler, a male pit-bull/terrier mix and a male mutt that we aren’t sure of the breed – that I became very attached to, so I decided to name them. Kayla was the older Rottweiler. The male terrier’s name was Noah and the mutt was Whitey. Throughout the time we fed the dogs, we knew that Kayla had been pregnant. One day prior to my taking her home, she brought her puppy along with her to eat with the rest of the crowd. We’re guessing this was the only littermate that survived as this was one of the harshest winters St. Louis has seen in years; plus given that their surroundings were not very good.
As the winter temperatures plummeted, I became even more concerned for these animals. I worried Kayla and her puppy would die from the bitter cold as so many other stray dogs had been. I felt the need to find a foster family, and quickly. There was no way I could take her in as I already had one dog, Bailey. When my effort in searching for a foster family didn’t work out in my advantage, I knew I had no choice but to rescue them myself. This was the day that I took them home with me.
Just a couple short weeks later, I discovered that Kayla had been pregnant…again! Unfortunately, only two of her pups survived this time around. I named those puppies Mandie and Bear. That was eight years ago now. I recently lost Kayla and my first dog Bailey. There is not a day that goes by that they don’t cross my mind; that I don’t miss them terribly. After all, I saved Kayla, and her litter(s). They had become a huge part of my life, and of my heart. To ease my distraught, a friend of mine adopted a three year old male Rottweiler named Tyson in memory of my Kayla. I am currently settled with five dogs – all of whom are spayed/neutered, heartworm free, micro-chipped but most importantly, saved from the cold streets. They’re healthy and they’re safe, and I am comforted in knowing that they aren’t wondering if they are going to be able to eat tomorrow.
Another attempt at a rescue that I recently experienced will never escape my memory. A few weeks ago, Ed went to check on his business when he saw one of the dogs he currently feeds laying, appearing hurt, in a puddle of ice cold water. The dog had been hit by a car, and the car did not even stop. He immediately called a local shelter in St. Louis that focuses on rescues in East St. Louis and surrounding areas. Then he called me. My immediate response was get there as soon as possible; all the while, thinking of ways to save another life. Together, we wrapped the dog in a warm blanket and brought him into my home. The dog seemed to be alert and free of pain, so I imagined the injuries to be minor. After taking him to the local animal hospital, we realized the damage far exceeded what we thought – he had back injuries, had broken both hind legs and was bleeding internally. We had no choice but to put him down and end his suffering. I sat at that animal hospital and cried. I cried and I cried and I cried.
Unfortunately, this happens more than we expect in these areas. The abandoned town of East St. Louis is now taken over by stray animals. These animals need to be saved from the carelessness of humans. It’s an unfortunate, yet likely trait of others to not care what happens to strays. We, on the other hand, do. I hope my stories have encouraged you to be proactive concerning animal safety. There are so many ways to give to these suffering animals this winter: volunteer at a local shelter, help out with stray rescues or become a foster parent. These animals need our love more than anything.”