What does it take to save an animal? A Tale of Two Dogs

Animals live 15 or even 20 years. Shelters and rescues aim to adopt animals to "forever" homes, yet there is a constant supply of animals being surrendered to the same shelters and rescues. Clearly, something doesn't add up! In animal welfare, people tend to measure success by the numbers, taking a short-term view: an animal placed is an animal saved. This limited view is often blind to the pitfalls in our system.

Dodi and Outlaw are beautiful, intelligent, and personable dogs who spent portions of their lives on the adoption circuit before coming to Home for Life®. Both dogs began their lives in loving homes.

Like almost every animal at Home for Life, they lost their homes and then circulated through the animal welfare system before arriving at our sanctuary. Their parallel tales illustrate how the uncertainties of a system that is captive to a short­ term view has left dogs and cats like them invisible and at risk.

Outlaw when he first arrived at
Home for Life; broken, ill,
blind and desperate.
A five year old Australian Cattle Dog, Outlaw lost his first home at three years of age when his elderly owner was dying of heart disease and cancer. He was surrendered to a shelter to face his fate with his favorite toy, a bucket he loved to toss around playfully. The shelter found a quick placement for the playful and friendly dog, referring him to a rescue specializing in herding breeds like Outlaw. The shelter counted him among the saved in their quarterly tally, and so did the breed rescue when they found what they thought was a responsible and good home for the dog.

Dodi at Home for Life
A Harlequin Great Dane, Dodi lost her first home at just 6 months of age, when she was surrendered to animal control due to epilepsy. She was facing euthanasia, but luckily a breed rescue stepped in to save her. The rescue group found a match for her and sent her off to her new home. The new owners had other Great Danes and were committed to providing a good home.

Outlaw's "forever" home was sadly, just the beginning of an odyssey filled with suffering and heartbreak. Instead of providing a stable and loving home, his new owner soon handed Outlaw off to someone else. The shelter and rescue that had handled the adoption were unaware of Outlaw's new circumstances. As far as they knew, he was enjoying a full life with all the opportunities that a committed owner could provide.

Dodi's adoption also turned out to be temporary . Her new owners found that she was too much for their household. After a year, they chose to entrust her to their pet sitter, who said that she knew how to manage Dodi's epilepsy.

Outlaw's third owner proved as unstable as the previous one. Within weeks, Outlaw found himself back in the cage of another shelter.

Dodi's new situation was a quick failure. The pet sitter was soon looking to unload the young dog. She contacted Home for Life and complained that Dodi had uncontrollable seizures despite being medicated, that she feared adult men, and ran away every chance she got. Crated for periods during the day, she went to the bathroom in her kennel and would spin, creating a terrible mess. The pet sitter called Dodi unmanageable and said that if Home for Life wouldn't take her, then she would end up being euthanized.

Home for Life considered Dodi's long range prospects: the 18 month old dog had already been in three homes. Given her large size, her chronic illness, and her negative rap sheet, it would not be easy to find a stable long-term placement for her. It was a big commitment given her young age, but that's the special role that a sanctuary fills. Dodi was accepted at Home for Life.

Outlaw's magnetic personality and appealing looks made him easy to place. The shelter where he had landed was soon drawing up new adoption papers and sending him off to yet another "forever" home, recording the placement in their quarterly data as another life saved.

Dodi settled in easily at Home for Life and began to build a social life with some of the other big dogs at the sanctuary. Her epilepsy was quickly brought under control, and she stopped having seizures.

Outlaw, meanwhile, was once again dumped back in a shelter. His fourth forever home had proven as temporary as the previous ones.

Dodi at the Masonic Children's Hospital Thanksgiving Party
Shown with a young patient and Vikings Quarterback, Sam Bradford
Dodi thrived at Home for Life. She was enrolled in the Renaissance program, one of Home for Life's community outreach services, where she built a solid working partnership with a student from Boys Totem Town School in St. Paul, MN. This young man helped her to overcome her fear of men, and in return, Dodi helped her training partner to develop self­-confidence and important skills in leadership and teamwork . With the young man's help Dodi earned her Canine Good Citizenship diploma, certifying her for participation in Home for Life's many other outreach programs.

The Invisible Animals 
Dodi in her role as a therapy dog
Dodi is now ten years old. It's hard to imagine that a dog weighing over 100 pounds could be an invisible animal, especially one with two different colored eyes and a flashy black and white fur coat. But this well recognized, well loved therapy dog nearly fell through the cracks to her death at just over one year of age, unwanted, overlooked and as far as her rescue prospects were concerned -  invisible. With the stability and individual care she receives, she has been transformed from an unwanted, invisible dog into a valuable member of society. She is now able to "pay it forward" through our community outreach programs, Peace Creatures®. She is a well-recognized and popular therapy dog who has provided solace and joy for nearly 8 years to hospitalized children at the nationally renowned Masonic Children's Hospital on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. Invisible no more, she is regularly invited to the holiday celebrations hosted by the Minnesota Vikings for pediatric patients at the hospital.

Outlaw, the eminently adoptable dog, continued to move from home to shelter to new home to rescue for many more months. In just two years, Outlaw went through NINE placements in three different states trying to find his forever home.

With each placement, he was counted as a life saved. Somewhere between the quick hand-offs, he developed diabetes that went untreated. At last he landed in an Iowa shelter a badly broken dog, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He was emaciated and blind from untreated diabetes ... and no longer adoptable . The good news is that Outlaw reached Home for Life in the nick of time and will never be put at risk again. He has truly found his home. His diabetes is under control, and his pancreatic endocrine insufficiency is now being managed by supplements and a special diet. Somewhere in the national statistics of saved dogs and cats, there are 9 tally marks recording Outlaw's painful journey through the system.

Outlaw smiling again!
Outlaw is smiling once again, energetic instead of forlornly hanging his head in defeat and desperation. This summer, the cataracts (caused by the uncontrolled diabetes) will be surgically removed, and this 5-year-old dog will be able to see again!

Who was the dog that was truly saved? Was it Outlaw, who was adopted 9 separate times but never rescued? Or was it Dodi, who has lived in health, peace, and happiness at Home for Life for the past 9 years; who has developed her potential, built lasting relationships with people and other dogs, and  who has contributed to her community through Home for Life's Peace Creatures outreach programs?

What Does It Take to Save An Animal? 
Most people in animal welfare know the motto: "Saving one animal won't change the world, but it will change the world for that one animal." What many don't understand is that when an animal comes to a care-for-life sanctuary, our commitment is for the long haul. We don't turn over the animals through adoption, and we don't benefit from adoption fees, which often represent a huge portion of a typical animal rescue or shelter's annual revenue - as much as 35-90%. It takes more than good intentions and mercy to help animals who come to Home for Life. Lives once overlooked or fallen victim to indifference, meanness, cruelty and despair are restored. Our special cats and dogs have gone on to live happy and peaceful lives at our sanctuary, a testament to what can be accomplished when those who love animals and care about them work together!

At the time of our founding, almost 20 years ago, and contrary to current practice, Home for Life opened our doors to animals like Dodi, deemed to have little or nothing to offer. Today we still welcome cats who are feral or who are positive for leukemia. We welcome dogs even when they are unsocial or incontinent.

Today, in 2017, we care for nearly 200 dogs and cats at our sanctuary facility in Star Prairie, Wisconsin, located on 40 acres long the Apple River. Our dogs and cats have come to use from all over the United States and even other countries. With requests for help from all over the world, the need for sanctuaries has never been more urgent.

Outlaw playing at Home for Life

While Home for Life celebrates adoption of dogs and cats who truly find their "forever" homes, as a care for life sanctuary, Home for Life is uniquely able to help animals like Dodi and Outlaw when all alternatives are closed to them. Although these dogs seemed highly adoptable at points in their journey, that option became closed to them and recycling through the rescue system became pointless and detrimental. Their stories of hope, redemption, and finally a path to a new life would not have been possible without sanctuary, the Third Door, a Home for Life.