Voices in Animal Welfare - Hillary's Pup Callie

Animal welfare professionals, especially those who work in shelters and rescues, are unsung superheroes. They selflessly take in wounded, neglected, sick, abused, emaciated, and traumatized pets; raise money for their care; find foster families or bring them into their homes; rehabilitate and nurse them back to health; pour all of their love into giving them a second chance; and then arrange for transport or directly adopt them to loving families, go through the excruciating process of saying goodbye… only to start the cycle all over again. These brave, resourceful humans do so much for animals, often without proper funding or community support, yet they continue to strive to save them all.

Hillary Egan–co-founder and Director of a rescue organization called Friends of Faye–has an enormous heart for dogs. We met at an animal welfare conference several years ago, and she immediately won me over with her humor and warmth. She’s feisty and hilarious, with a particular gift for saving special-needs puppers who need a lot of extra care and attention.

As a case in point, she and her husband, Tige, recently took in a husky who was on death’s door: Ryker was suffering from a trifecta of sarcoptic mange, heartworms, AND hookworms–on top of having been starved within an inch of his life. They spoiled, loved, treated, fattened, and nursed him so beautifully–that they facilitated an astonishing transformation you have to see to believe:

Ryker Before & After

Ryker – Before & After

This is the difference that 45 days of love can make. Ryker is now thriving, and has even found his voice! As a husky mom myself, I can attest to the fact that huskies need to talk as much as they need to breathe–so hearing him demand attention with his deep little growls melted me into a puddle. If you think Ryker’s story sounds worthy of a Dodo feature–don’t worry, they have already contacted Hillary so you can keep your eyes out for an upcoming video 🙂

Witnessing the amazing work Hillary, her husband, and co-founder, Catherine Doyle do–it is easy to forget that they do not always succeed. Snatching dogs like Ryker from death’s icy grip make them seem like sorcerers capable of doing damn near anything. However, the awful truth is that sometimes there is nothing they can do. Sometimes, pouring endless affection and resources into a dog is simply not enough to heal their psychic wounds. Despite herculean efforts, even the most devoted rescuers reach the limit of what is possible: when no amount of devotion, money, training, or vet care are sufficient to undo a dog’s horrific history. In these cases, you get a story like Callie’s, which Hillary recounts below.

Callie–and thousands of dogs just like her–serve as living, breathing reminders that animals need better social and cultural protections, including tougher laws on animal cruelty and neglect. Further, they ought to have a legal status that recognizes them as sentient beings and family members, rather than being labeled as “property”. The mental anguish that Callie could not overcome attests to a necessary and massive overhaul in both outreach and humane education initiatives.

Moreover, Hillary exemplifies that we place a heavy burden on compassionate individuals whenever we refuse to fix large-scale, systemic problems like animal cruelty and neglect. Pets belong to all of us and we have an ethical obligation to protect them proactively, instead of expecting animal welfare professionals to reactively carry the burden alone. Compassion fatigue is real and harrowing, To everyone doing the delicate, heartbreaking work of cleaning up our collective messes, trying desperately to undo trauma that cannot always be undone: I see, hear, applaud, support, and appreciate you more than words can say

–Courtney Wennerstrom

Friends of Faye

Let’s Just Be Real

(In loving memory of Callie..)

–Guest Blog by Hillary Egan, Director and Co-Founder of Friends of Faye

Callie and foster sister

Callie & her Foster Sister

Tomorrow will be ok. Tonight we are mourning.

I know we cannot save them all. I also know although people paint a dramatic picture of every day rescue struggles, physical injuries can be overcome. Modern medicine and skilled veterinarians can fix almost anything.

What we often cannot fix is mental. Some dogs we intake have been through more trauma than we can fathom. They cannot tell us they’re scared. They cannot tell us they’re stressed. They give us clues, and if we are paying close enough attention, we can hear them.

Sometimes, the clue they give us is months in the making. Little conversations like breadcrumbs they leave for us to decipher. “When I’m scared I cower and look up at you with these adorable Doe eyes” that at first glance are sweet and innocent. But what they are trying to say is “your eye contact right now is making me uncomfortable, please stop”.

Sometimes months or years go by with peace. Sometimes days. Some dogs can go through board and train, experienced fosters, and specialized training to pinpoint triggers–a fortune spent–and one day, the dog tells us… “it’s enough. I’m tired of pretending. I love you in the only way I know possible and that’s to guard you from your dogs, partner, kids”… “I love you so much, but your love cannot erase my past”… “I love you so much but my fear is stronger”… “I cannot be trusted, I’m so sorry… I want to be better, but I’m ill equipped”.

Today after 10 months in rescue, board and train, experienced foster care, specialized training, and the most understanding and loving foster family I’ve ever met… we made the agonizing decision to say goodbye to Callie.

Initially found in Trinity, Callie was dumped after giving birth… she was afraid of new people, lacked confidence, and her main goal was to escape to safety. What “safety” was, she didn’t know. She had never known it. Callie was also playful and goofy.

Callie lashed out sporadically and unprovoked at smaller dogs. Never humans. Callie seemed to learn that she could bait dogs into a game of “I wish you would”… she would play perfectly normal… then snap.

Callie’s cues were subtle and ever changing. The more comfortable she became, the more frequently she would react unfavorably. The more confident she became, the more volatile. Yesterday, she became violent with a human- while receiving her normal love and attention, she snapped and bit a young woman in the face-a warning bite because she was finished with their game. She was finished but her handler did not pick up on her subtle cue-and this incident was recorded. We scoured the video for her signal. And then I saw it. She nervously, only once, licked her lips and then snapped.

Today, we made a decision that left us feeling empty. But we have come to terms with the ultimate peace we have left Callie with.

We will always wonder if we should have made this decision sooner, and we collectively agree that it’s likely we waited too long.

We will always wonder “what if we spent another $3000, $5000.. what if it could fix her” and ultimately we will have to wonder. Callie was not well. Not in a way we can measure with blood work or in a way we can surgically repair…but in a way we cannot control. In an unsafe way. She was strong, resilient and a fighter. She had to be. And whomever treated her in a way to instill such fear and lack of confidence… we hope and pray you gain some humility and care for living beings- because today, we are wrecked over deciding to end Callie’s mental suffering. And I’m MAD. I’m just plain mad.

I am grateful for this village that was able to come together with a terribly difficult decision, in the hopes of showing Callie the ultimate token of love, peace: freedom from her own mind. We are devastated, but confident that we made the right decision for Callie’s safety and ultimate well being.

Why have we opted for transparency?

We are not willing to risk damage to someone’s family member and we cannot expect an adopter to be “on and alert” at all times. What kind of life is that for an animal, canine or human?

We know euthanasia is an unpopular topic to discuss- but there’s so much shame surrounding this decision. Such stigma and judgment from folks that don’t necessarily understand what goes into these decisions.

We may be naive, but we believe that talking about these things (and many other uncomfortable topics) with an open mind… can show us we all agree on more than we disagree on… and if we disagree, that’s ok too, but we have left room for respect.

We strongly believe this transparency is needed. So many in animal welfare are afraid to lose funding, supporters, or respect so they just brush big, big decisions under the rug. THESE are the moments rescuers need their village the most, and we are stifling that pain.

If you give people information and allow them to form an opinion on facts and reasoning, we leave less room for interpretation. Less room to fill the gaps with emotional rhetoric or rage filled guesses.

Euthanasia for behavior is a decision we don’t want to make, but we will for the sake of the animal and humans that animal will come in contact with, and that powerful decision is not taken lightly.

We are stuck in this social media world where everyone is trying so damned hard to be perfect… let’s be REAL. Life is sticky and messy. If we all keep faking our way through this thing… we will forget what it’s like to show vulnerability. We will forget why we are passionate about a thing, ANY thing.

Let’s just be real.

Published On: August 9, 2021|Categories: Courtney on the Human-Animal Bond, Guest Bloggers|