WHAT’S YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL?
By Helen Mitternight
Photos by: Ferris Kaplan
Aurora looks up at the hand signal from her trainer, eyes fixed on the woman at the end of her leash. It’s remarkable to watch—even more so because this brownish-red dog spent the initial five years of her life at the end of a chain, and this kind of interaction is fairly new to her.
Aurora is one of about 200 chained dogs that Pet Helpers rescues through its Unchain Charleston program. Chained dogs are provided shaded shelters made from materials donated by Lowe’s on Johns Island, an enclosed yard, spay or neuter services, medical treatment and a life with more enrichment than walking in a tight, chained circle.
“We keep going back to make sure these dogs are taken care of,” said Melissa Susko, executive director. “It makes a huge difference to that dog if we can get him or her off the chain. A lot of it is about education. We have people say, ‘I didn’t know; I didn’t realize’.”
“A good pet owner is responsible and committed. This is a lifetime commitment. A pet is a family member.”
“An unaltered, chained dog is more aggressive,” added Pet Helpers founder Carol Linville. “They have all that energy and a lack of human companionship. They get over-excited. It leads to aggression.”
The Unchain program is just one offered by Pet Helpers, founded by Linville in 1978 to end euthanasia of adoptable cats and dogs and to advocate in the community on behalf of animals. Today, the facility offers spaying and neutering at a low cost; walk-in low-cost pet vaccinations every Friday; a food bank for pet food and supplies; adoptions; medical treatment; fostering; and training for animals like Aurora. Between 120-150 animals come through Pet Helpers each month, most staying an average of 33 days, according to Susko.
“Some animals will stay longer,” she noted. “When an animal needs hospice care or fostering after surgery, we take on that cost. Ideally, though, after two weeks, an animal is at the front of house for adoption.”
Pet Helpers has room for 30 dogs as well as about 120 cats. Additional dogs and cats who need extra care or socializing are with foster families.
What Pet Helpers really wants, of course, is to become unnecessary, but because people sometimes stubbornly refuse to get their pets sterilized—or neglect, abuse or desert them—it’s unlikely the organization will be able to close the doors any time soon. Most of the dogs who come into Pet Helpers are hunting dogs, abandoned because they can no longer hunt, or “pit bulls,” the current group haunted by myths of aggression (in the past, it was Rottweilers or Doberman Pinschers).
The job is a grueling one, even for an animal lover, and Susko admitted that “not a lot of people can do this long-term.”
Meanwhile, Linville agreed that certain cases can “leave scars on you,” but added, “the best gift we can give to some of these animals is someone to grieve for them.”
From seeing the worst of what humans can do to animals, Linville now understands what characteristics make up an ideal pet owner.
Currently, Pet Helpers hopes to expand the medical clinic to include dental services and X-rays so that those services don’t have to be outsourced and veterinarians can get faster results.
Events such as this month’s Fur Ball can help keep Pet Helpers on its feet—or shall we say paws? The fancy ball with a Great Gatsby theme is October 26 at the Marriott on Lockwood Avenue from 6 —11 p.m., and funds go to Dixie’s Fund, a medical fund for the animals. Tickets include a plated dinner, open bar and both a silent and live auction.
One of the beneficiaries of Dixie’s Fund, Seal, will be at the ball for attendees to meet. Seal is a pit bull whom shelter workers believe was hit by a car and left to die. Seal is now in physical therapy and seeking a foster family. His injuries required him to be carried into the shelter, and shelter workers reported that as they were working on the wounded pup, he was already kissing them in gratitude.
To buy a ticket to the Fur Ball or help in other ways, visit pet helpers.org.