The Story of the year at Home for Life has been the rescue of Rory and her 10 puppies. A story that could have ended tragically instead has given hope and happiness well beyond the gates of Home for Life.
On the morning of November 30,2014 on a cold and blustery winter morning (air temperature -3, windchill - 25!) one of our staff members received an unexpected call at the gate. Home for Life's front gate has a call box so people can contact us up at the facility. A man's voice came over the intercom and said, "Hey! did you know there is a dog tied to your gate?!" He then hung up.
The staff on duty ran down to the front driveway to Home for Life's front entrance. There they found a starving, shivering, very scared and VERY pregnant dog tied to our fence. On her gritty old collar- so dirty that the color couldn't even be determined- was a heavy hook.
What was interesting was that attached to the other part of her collar was a brand new chain leash, with the tag still on, that had been used to tie her to Home for Life's front gate and fence. Our working theory is that a "Robin Hood" saw this poor dog's predicament; cold, starving, pregnant and chained outside with little shelter. This kind person freed her and brought her to Home for Life, knowing that we would take care of her.
The dog was so frightened she would not walk up our long driveway, so we carried her. Even with this extreme duress, she was still very gentle. She was a beautiful red color with soft brown eyes and ears. We named her Rory after one of Home for Life's beloved paraplegic cats who lived at the sanctuary for for many years.
The next day, Rory visited our veterinarian who determined she was very close to delivering her puppies. Home for Life rarely has puppies let alone any pregnant animals at the sanctuary, so we had to quickly learn about all aspects regarding the care required for a dog who was about to give birth. The veterinarian found that her temperature was dropping- a sign that the delivery is imminent- and thought that she would give birth within a few days.
That very evening, December 1, Rory began pacing and became very anxious. We quickly prepared a birthing box- using one of the swimming pools that our dogs play in in the summer- and lined it with soft blankets and towels. Her first puppy was born at approximately 6: 30 pm that evening and 7 others followed within the next 2 hours. Rory was very conscientious about cleaning them off and making sure they were nursing, but needed a little help from HFL staff serving as midwives for puppies 6, 7 and 8 as she was very tired. It's amazing she did so well in her condition and with the stress of being left at the gate in the freezing cold just a day before.
We thought she was done at 8 puppies, so left her to be quiet with her new babies. Upon returning just an hour later, we thought we were seeing things when there were 2 more puppies. We kept counting and recounting, but our eyes were not deceiving us. Rory had a total of 10 puppies: 7 brown like their mom and 3 spotted. 4 little girls and 6 little boys.
Rory was fed nearly 6 times a day in those first few weeks and cleaned her plate each time. She had to build her own health back plus take care of her 10 new puppies. We took great care of Rory, keeping her warm and well-fed. We supplemented her calcium (with TUMS!) and she did the rest. Fortunately all 10 puppies survived, and Rory was an excellent mom, keeping them immaculately clean and always well fed and content.
Our puppies' weights were monitored every week to be sure they were thriving and all continued to steadily gain. By three weeks, we knew we were out of the woods with them and that they would all survive. Once their eyes opened, and they could creep and crawl, we bought collars for each puppy. We used kitten collars- in 10 different colors- to help tell them apart. The collars had a safety latch so there was no danger of the puppy getting caught by his or her collar and not being able to get loose.
When the puppies were 4 weeks old, it was time for their first official Home for Life portrait. They were not just a litter anymore but developing individual personalities as they became stronger and more active. Photographer Mark Luinenburg captured the puppies and their mother Rory December 29, 2014.
Our hope for each puppy was that we would be able to find them a loving home where they would never face the harsh treatment and neglect their mother had. Her life and those of her puppies could have so easily ended tragically, on the end of a chain, out in the freezing cold. Instead, all 10 puppies survived, healthy and strong, and were eager to start their new lives. At age 8 weeks, we offered them for adoption along with a free spay/neuter, shots and microchip. Thanks toFox-9 News, the Twin Cities local station, Rory and her puppies were featured in a story aired January 9th here and on Fox affiliates in Michigan, Washington DC, Florida, Illinois and California! The widespread interest in Rory and her puppies and their story of survival was a testament to people's longing for good news and a happy ending.
While they waited for their new homes, another adventure was around the corner for the puppies...
After FOX-9 News aired a feature on Rory's dramatic rescue on their news program, Home for Life was able to find loving new families for three of her puppies. For the remaining 7 pups, 2 girls and 5 boys, we wanted to do all we could to be sure they would make great companions when they did finally find their new families. They had the best food so they could overcome their tough start in life when their mother suffered with malnutrition while pregnant with them. The puppies had their shots, and were housebroken - they learned how to use both a litter box and a dog door to go outside. But we wanted to do more for them while they waited to find their new families.
Home for Life was just starting the latest session of the Renaissance program, a collaboration with the St. Paul School System and Boys' Totem Town of St Paul, MN. Now in its 13th year, the Renaissance Program pairs younger dogs at the sanctuary with boys at Totem Town, a detention for juvenile offenders. The boys teach the dogs obedience with the goal of attaining a level achievement so the dogs can pass the Canine Good Citizen's test. The Home for Life dogs who have completed the Renaissance Program are then recruited for involvement in our community outreach programs, providing pet therapy to at-risk people of all ages in our community.
BY THE NUMBERS...
In the Renaissance program, Rory's pups became part of our community outreach programs, Peace Creatures, where the love and care that Home for Life gives our animals is leveraged to provide solace and joy to at risk people of all ages-annually, Home for Life touches the lives of over 1,200 adults and 1,000 children and teens in our community through our model pet therapy programs.
We had never incorporated puppies into a Renaissance session, but with seven little ones who needed socialization and training, it was too great an opportunity to pass by. For the six weeks, our puppies traveled from Home for Life to Boys' Totem Town once a week to work with two different classes of kids- 20 students between the two sessions. The kids taught the puppies to sit, to come when called, to stay, the down command and helped the puppies learn to walk on a leash without pulling- or chewing the leash! Besides learning puppy manners and basic obedience commands that will keep them safe and ensure they would be great companions, the puppies received plenty of one on one attention and lots of love from the students. It was so touching to see a tough teenage boy tenderly hold a tired puppy after the training sessions.
Though it was time for the rest of the puppies to find their own families, it was certainly tough to see them leave us.
Home for Life did our best to screen potential adopters to find forever homes for the rest of the puppies. Finding the right families for them was a challenge. Many were interested in the puppies because they were so cute but we wanted them to find forever homes, and not have them given up after only a few months or a few years. The puppies- energetic hounds- would need plenty of daily exercise and activity, ideally in a fenced area so they wouldn't follow their noses and wander away, or with owners who could devote time to daily long walks. With their short hair, the puppies had to live in the house, as a part of the family, and not be chained out on a stake or to a dog house as their mother likely was. They would grow to be medium sized dogs and would have a loud baying "hound bark " like their mom so living in an apartment, a rental or close confines of a suburban neighborhood would not be a fit. We thought about sending them to a rescue or a shelter to be adopted out, but our staff had put their hearts into saving Rory and her puppies. We felt their best chance to find the right home was with us. In the end, we were able to find loving new families for a total of 8 of the puppies. The last two puppies continue to live at Home for Life for now. Rory, who was such a devoted mother, loves to have two of her puppies still near.
On these summer evenings, she will often drag a dog bed out into the run so she can sleep outside and watch over her two puppies who have their own townhouse right across the driveway from where she lives in the main dog building. How sweet!
Even with all our effort to find forever, new homes for Rory's puppies, it's true that sometimes adoptions fail for a variety of reasons. The many calls and emails we receive each week reveal that many animals don't keep their homes. For this reason, Home for Life put a safety net under all these puppies so if their adoption failed for any reason, they could always be returned to us. No matter what the future holds, they will always have a home at our sanctuary.
As for Rory, at this time, our intention is to make her a permanent member of Home for Life, and perhaps train her in our therapy dog corps as part of our community outreach work. While several people emailed and seemed interested in adopting her after the news show aired, none followed up with the adoption paperwork and application. Before she came to us, Rory had a "home" and they didn't treat her very well. She is lucky to be alive. As Cleveland Amory wrote in his book,Ranch of Dreams, about the famed Black Beauty ranch, "It is not that we are selfish hoarders of our animals. It is rather that so many of our animals came to us in the beginning, abused or ill used that we do not want to take even the remotest chance that such misfortune would ever happen to them again."
Who would have ever thought, on that bitterly cold November morning when we found a scared, starving pregnant dog tied at our gate, that her puppies, born the very next day, would grow up to give so much? The story of their mother's rescue and the birth of her 10 puppies inspired people across the country. As part of Home for Life's Renaissance program, these little puppies, born of an unwanted, abandoned dog, have helped at-risk teens by giving them much needed love, a chance to express kindness and compassion and achieve a sense of accomplishment, maybe for the first time in their lives. And now, thanks to the teens' hard work and dedication, the puppies have become wonderful, well trained companions for the families who have adopted them.
Saving the life of this one dog has impacted the lives of so many more- her 10 puppies, the many people hungry for good news and a happy ending, the kids who helped socialize and train the puppies and were helped in return, and the families that the puppies have joined. Their happy ending has had positive consequences far beyond the rescue of one dog. Instead of their lives ending on the end of a chain, on the ice in the bitter cold, Rory and her puppies have overcome this terrible start,because of your support, and will go on to have lives full of meaning and purpose- their story a testament to the power of good triumphing over heartless indifference, cruelty and fear.