Christmas for the dogs of Harney County

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The dogs shipped/Linda Watkins

Crossposted from the Dog Rescue blog and written by Linda Watkins.

I’ve spent most of the last three days working on this project — ironic as I’d planned to do no more than help with a little networking and “let someone else take the dogs.” But such is the nature of rescue that instead I’ve been helping Harney County Save a Stray with networking contacts; spent most of one day drafting a press release and researching and gathering the names and contact addresses for the relevant newspapers and television stations; and even found some foster spaces for some of the dogs. What else could I do?

Melanie was single handedly trying to find placements for over 60 dogs – and the frustrating part was that most people thought everything was already taken care of so we were having a hard time finding the help. The problem stemmed from the great news coverage the Oregon Humane Society got when they pulled over 80 of the dogs when the case first broke. We’re all grateful that OHS took so many dogs, but unfortunately in the course of publicizing their work, the impression was left with the public that all of the dogs were taken care of. Instead there are scores of dogs still at the site and if we can’t get them moved soon, they will probably be shot.

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The dogs on the range in Harney County/Melanie Epping

People recoil in horror when I tell them this, but here’s the reality of Harney County: Harney County is not just a rural county — it’s the largest county in Oregon: 10,226 sq mi (26,485 km²) (slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts — and larger than six other U.S. states); population is: 7,609 or less than 1 person/square mile (by comparison, Massachusetts has a population of approx. 6.5 million).

There are acres and acres of nothing; The per capita income for the county was $16,159. About 8.60% of families and 11.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.70% of those under age 18 and 13.90% of those age 65 or over.

HC is high desert – hotter than hades in the summer and colder than heck in the winter; flat, nothing to stop the wind and the weather & it’s dry. This is a harsh, brutal environment and people who live there do not see the world as some of us do. (For a great perspective on Harney County, read Miles from Nowhere by Dayton Duncan; Viking Press 1993)

The point I’m trying to make is that law enforcement in counties such as Harney barely have the resources to take care of the human-on-human crimes, let alone worry about a (relatively) insignificant case of animal hoarding. And that’s one of the reasons that puppy mills and hoarding situations are so commonplace in such areas. The problem is that when such a situation comes to public attention, we all have to chip in to help. And that means nobody should be expected to do it all.

So when one of the “big dogs” like the OHS comes in and lets the public know that they’ve taken a large number of the dogs, we cannot assume this means the problem is settled. In most of the large dog-seizures, the disposition of the dogs usually drags on for months after the initial discovery. Most people don’t realize there are still a number of Katrina dogs that are waiting for homes – and that’s been several years with lots of people working on a very high profile situation.

Yesterday we managed to place another 23 dogs in shelters or rescue. It was a logistical triumph: Melanie dropped two dogs off in Bend — one to what appears to be his forever home, two with a rescue; then she and her husband drove the 260+ miles to Salem where they met up with intake coordinators from Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, Heartland Humane Society in Corvallis, and a volunteer foster from Pet Adoption Network, the rescue group I work with – dogs and puppies were distributed to the three organizations, each of us taking the ones we hope will be most appropriate for our individual housing and accommodations. There were a couple of dogs left in the trailer that went with the Eppings on up to Long Beach, WA where foster homes awaited them.

But the story won’t end here. On Saturday Melanie will make the trek back to Burns to work on capturing more of the free-range dogs and have them ready to send off to another shelter in Meridian, Idaho. After that she’ll evaluate the condition of the remaining dogs – many of who we suspect are pregnant; and then she’ll start looking for more places for those remaining dogs.

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Same dog as in picture above, at a new home in Bend/Laurie Monicle

In the meantime, we’ll be working with the dogs we’ve so far taken; if some of those who went into the humane societies are not doing well in the shelter environment, we’ll be looking for rescues to take them and get them calmed and socialized. If they do well and settle in enough to be considered adoptable, we’re hoping they’ll be in a new home quickly. And hopefully we’ll have all of these guys situated before the next big case comes along….but we’re not counting on it!

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