The Plight of the Rural Shelter Dog
Joyce Martin

I grew up in rural Travis County where our dogs were allowed to run free on our land, they slept outside in the barn, under a porch or anywhere else they could find to stay cool in the summer or warm in the winter. I always wanted the dogs to be inside with me, sleep by my bed, and be my constant companion indoors as they were outdoors. But my parents had different ideas and I'm sure they secretly think I'm nuts for having all these dogs inside my house now.

We loved our dogs and they loved us, but they were much more bonded to each other and more protective of the land they ran on than they were of us. It makes me sad and regretful of all the things I missed out on while growing up with my dogs.

gonzales shelterBecause they were allowed to roam free on our property and that of our neighbors, we never had one single dog die of old age or "natural" causes. From my earliest memories of having a dog until I was in high school when my parents put up a fence around our house, every single dog we had was hit by a car or was bitten by a rattle snake.

We never thought of altering our dogs until our first female dog was impregnated by every male dog in our neighborhood. She was only about 7 months old and my parents wised up had her spayed as soon as possible.

About 90% of the dogs we rescue comes from a place much like I grew up and maybe that's why I have such a love for rural dogs and the people that work so hard to save them. The rural dog seems to have a special way about them I've never been able to put my finger on. But if you met one of them, I think you may see what I mean. I'm not sure if they are somehow more grateful to be alive or exactly what it is that makes them such wonderful companion dogs. But there is something about them that is extremely endearing to me. They seem more calm, more relaxed and yes, maybe more grateful for the chance to stay alive. For sure, they are always more hungry and eat every meal like it is their last.

Why does a rescue based in Austin take in another town or counties dogs?

Rural Texas and Their Dogs

You take a small town with a small population, most every person there has at least two dogs, most have many more than that, and most all are not neutered. Though many shelters or organizations try and set up free spay/neuter clinics, old habits and mindsets are next to impossible to break. Dogs living chained up or allowed to roam wherever they please it common. Most all of these tiny shelters have a limited number of kennels and take in anywhere from 10 to 30 dogs per week. More when it's puppy season. I cannot even imagine how overwhelmed they are.

gonzales shelter1Taking a few of these things in to consideration, keeping in mind that the dogs that end up there once BELONGED to the few PEOPLE that LIVE there, these dogs have little chance of ever getting out alive or finding a home. Sure they have some adoptions over the course of a month, but in most rural towns, the dogs are held for three days and then killed.

The dogs are cared for by city/county paid ACO's or may have paid or all volunteer staff. All are under paid, bitter, frustrated, and become hardened and lose faith while the dogs lose their dignity. Some have a good location in the middle of town where the environment is welcoming, while most are small dark, depressing buildings that are hidden on some back county road by a landfull that can only be found by the locals.

But the one thing they all have in common is that without some kind of help from rescues, most every single dog that passes through their doors will be killed. The ones that have a small staff or volunteers do their best to save as many as they can.

The People that Try and Save Them

Years ago, some of you may have read the book called True Women by Janice Woods-Windle. If not and you're a Texas History buff like I am, you should read it. But why I'm mentioning this book is because the woman featured in this story describes perfectly the strength, spirit, and commitment the women I've met in these rural area have. I know there are many caring men involved in rescue as well but the vast majority are women.

Very few people in the rural town care and help the animals of their community. You will never meet more dedicated, hard working (and I mean dirty work!) than the people that give their love, attention, time and money to help save the animals of their community. The volunteers are constantly frustrated with the people that live in their community because there never seems to be an end to the countless dogs that are picked up or abandoned.

The Lives and Faces of Rural Dogs

apolloOne of the differences in the city dogs and dogs from rural shelters is the situation or condition the dog may have been found in. Not that it makes them anymore deserving, but just different. A few of the dogs we've rescued have been shot. Not something you see often in the city.

One of those dogs was Apollo. His leg looked normal other than he was limping on it. When we took him to our vet and had his leg x-rayed we found he had been shot and one bullet had shattered his knee. I still have one of the bullets they took out of his leg. The result is we had to have his leg amputated. Later on when we had him treated for heartworms and another bullet in his other leg had pushed its way to the surface and was removed.

buddy3Buddy was another dog that had been shot, except this time with a shotgun. Even after we rescued him and he found his forever home, on Buddy's first visit to the vet after being adopted they found more buckshot in his ears. Buddy had also suffered some head trauma from being hit with a blunt instrument that fractured his skull. It's amazing that he survived with no ill effects. And like Apollo, this did not keep him from being a sweet, gentle dog that still loved and adored humans.

nikkiNikki is another that came from a situation you won't find in most cities. In many of the rural areas they put traps out to catch wild hogs. When Nikki was found she was trapped inside one of these hog traps and was literally starving to death. She had no fat what so ever on her tiny frame and was nothing but fur and bones. After getting her out of that dreadful thing her rescuer describes Nikki's demeanor. "It is so surprising that a dog can go though such a horrible thing but still be trusting of humans."

gonzales litterHunter, Shelby and Lolly were borderline feral dogs that were part of a litter of 8 and all were surrendered to a rural shelter as they were all approaching adulthood. It appeared that they had seen humans but had little human contact. They had raised themselves. These three were the ones that had the most potential to be rehabilitated. As suspected all were very shy, but within a month of being in foster care, all three came around and found wonderful homes. Some of their brothers and sisters had to be euthanized as they were too wild to even approach.

Like the lives of these dogs, my life with dogs is very different now than when I grew up and I would not change one single thing about the way I live with my dogs. They go with me, play with me, sleep beside me, and keep me company. They make my life richer just by being a part of who I am.