I have always been for the underdog. I want those who are struggling to get a fair chance and feel loved

March 19, 2023

“I grew up on a family farm in Florida surrounded by others with cattle, horses, and goats. I was fascinated by the cows, and for my fifth or sixth birthday a neighbor gave me a calf. Another neighbor later gave me a goat. I would walk in the woods and along the creek and bring home stray dogs and cats. I once brought home a duck, and my dad said, ‘Son, don’t name it because it’s going back tomorrow.’ I named it and put a name tag around its neck. Dad just looked at me and rolled his eyes. I brought home some pitiful dogs that stayed with us forever, and we gave them wonderful lives. I was rescuing animals before I knew what it was. My parents were angels surrounded by kids and animals.

I am from a large family. There were seven of us, and my mom raised three of her grandkids. I grew up around more than 30 nieces and nephews. I went to college and missed always having family around, so I adopted a dog from a shelter and named him Blu. I had Blu for 18 years, and he was my family. After Blu passed, I shut down and mourned for weeks.

I never had the opportunity to have children. I felt lonely not being a dad, but serving others helped fill the void. I was a kindergarten teacher in a program working with failing schools in major cities to improve students’ grades. From helping kids who are falling behind to rescuing animals that are unwanted, I have always been for the underdog. I want those who are struggling to get a fair chance and feel loved.

After Blu passed, someone suggested that fostering a rescue dog would heal my heart, and I started actively rescuing animals. I have found homes for over 100 animals over the last 15 years.

I usually rescue dogs, but I have rescued squirrels or whatever people need. A manager at Ruby Tuesday asked me to help a pelican with a broken wing that was in the parking lot. I scooped it up and drove it to the vet who found a wildlife rescue to pick it up. That was a neat rescue.

Now I work at a nursing home and sometimes take double shifts to pay the vet bill of an injured or neglected dog. I get each dog healthy and fixed because a rescuer is more likely to take on one that is ready for adoption. Rescuers find homes for the dogs — often transporting them to northeastern states where people are seeking pets. Those states have fewer dogs because they have stricter laws for animal protection and control.

Helping a dog find a good home is the best feeling, but rescue is getting harder. There are more and more homeless animals in Baldwin County and fewer places to take them. The animal shelters are full, and some police officers call me for help when they see a stray or injured dog on the side of the road because they don’t have anywhere to take them.

I have never seen this much neglect of animals, and it’s a never-ending cycle. Alabama needs a law preventing people from getting animals if they have already been cited for owner neglect. South Alabama has backyard breeders who are mixing breeds and dumping the ones who come out with disabilities and comorbidities. This is also the dumping season for puppies that were Christmas gifts. People don’t want the dogs after they get bigger, so they drop them off in the country.

Getting serious about spaying and neutering animals will help ease the problem of stray dogs and cats. We also need more people providing foster homes for dogs. Fostering isn’t keeping a dog forever. Sometimes it’s only for a weekend with a safe environment for a dog to decompress. It can also be for a few days or two or three months. Fosters supply the loving and safe temporary home; the rescue group supplies the food and vet care.

Sometimes people move and leave their pets behind. A lady in my neighborhood had 35 cats, and I worked with a great vet to get them spayed and neutered. The lady later told me she was moving and asked me to feed the cats because she couldn’t take them with her. No one has moved into the house, so I still feed those cats every day because I can’t let anything starve.

The amount of animal neglect recently wore me down, and it was time for a break. My last rescue was supposed to be picking up two puppies and taking them to their foster in Foley.

I dropped off the puppies and saw a small dog trembling in the corner with her head down. There was poop on the floor beside her because the fosters feared the dog when she growled and showed her teeth. I started cleaning the floor and laughed when she showed her teeth to me. I sat by her and gave her a couple of treats. She ate one, then looked at me and growled before she took the next treat.

Her name is Sophie, and I kept going back to feed her and rub her face and ears. I forgot about everything when I touched this five-pound, frail baby who was afraid of everything. I took Sophie outside to play in the sun, and her little possum-like tail started wagging again. I got her socialized and found a good foster home where she is getting coconut oil massages every day.

That ugly little dog that no one else wanted, with just a patch of hair on her neck and her back, restored my hope and helped me recharge.

I will always gravitate towards those who need help because I want them to know someone cares. My mom has dementia and stays at the nursing home where I work. I care for her and the other Alzheimer’s patients. After new patients are dropped off by their family, they often feel alone, so I try to fill their days with love.

My dogs at home help me through hard days with my mom or rescues. Every time I walk in the door, they are happy to see me. Athena is my oldest dog, and my therapy. She’s about 85 pounds and stays at my side, feeling all of my emotions.

These two tattoos tell my story. The heartbeat is dedicated to Rosa, an old dog I rescued. She was broken and defeated when I found her, but I loved her back to life, and we had an amazing two years together. The other is: ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ My mother put that Bible verse in my lunch box every day. She can’t tell me those words anymore, but they are always with me. Helping others—humans and animals—gets hard, but it gives me strength.”

 

John

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