Dogs Deserve Better (NOVA Chapter) works to rescue chained and penned dogs from the American South
By Joseph Grammer
“Most of our dogs come from the South. Maybe 90-95% from South Carolina.” So says Suzanne, the Dogs Deserve Better (NOVA Chapter) Director of Operations. Her organization focuses on rescuing chained and penned dogs, although they’ll help out any canine in need.
In rural areas of the South, the view that dogs are just property has broader cultural acceptance than in urban areas, and many unwanted and discarded dogs often face a grim outcome. The NOVA region tends to have stricter laws and more resources to commit to animal welfare, which leads to fewer local dogs in need of rescue, but every region has its share of responsible and irresponsible owners.
DDB NOVA is an all-volunteer organization that relies on a complex network of people to get its job done. “People don’t realize how many committed volunteers it takes to save one dog,” Suzanne says. “Our front-end screening and approval process is very thorough and requires time and commitment. Home visit checks are crucial, too. It takes more effort, but it’s worth it. We want to get to know our adopters to make a good fit, so we ask questions like where will the dog sleep, what exercise will he get, will he have a dog-walker for a midday break.”
The NOVA branch of DDB really began expanding and solidifying its infrastructure over the past two years. It’s just one link in the chain of a national dog rescue operation, but it’s crucial for finding forgotten dogs loving foster homes, and eventually permanent places to live. There are at least 30 active foster homes working with them in the NOVA area, and they are always looking for more as they grow.
“Lots of rescues pull primarily from shelters. The majority of our dogs come from our partner team in South Carolina who are on the ground, dealing directly with chained and penned dogs, but we also partner with other wonderful groups to educate communities and change local laws.”
DDB NOVA has around 30 dogs in foster care at the moment. One is a Pit Bull named Angel, who is 10 to 11 years old. She has been in foster care for almost a year, and it’s been a major challenge to find her a permanent home because she is both elderly and burdened with the stigma surrounding her breed.
“Pit Bulls take longer than many dogs to adopt out,” Suzanne says. “A Lab always has more options. The same is true with low-shed dogs or allergy-friendly dogs, like Poodles, Schnauzers, and Shih Tzus. Huskies have been popular too, and can get 20 applications for adoption in at a time.”
Pit Bulls have been maligned in the media for decades as a symbol of inner-city crime, so people have come to think of them, unfairly, as dangerous, unpredictable fighting dogs. Dogs like Dobermans and German Shepherds have been through this too. Thankfully, in recent years more people have become open to adopting Pit Bulls. This is in part the result of increased visibility from television and celebrities, but also a grassroots effort by rescues, animal welfare organizations, and Pit Bull adopters to educate people at the local level. Suzanne adds that “they are active, strong dogs, so they’re not for everyone, but seeing them walking in our neighborhoods and living in our friends’ homes really goes a long way to changing minds.”
Outreach is also an important part of DDB’s mission. Their partner team in South Carolina will monitor communities for chained or penned dogs, leaving flyers for free spay and neuter clinics, as well as information about local dog-care laws. In serious cases they will call Animal Control, but other times they take donated food and hay (for bedding) to these dogs, as long as the owner allows it. But this small team, no matter how energetic, can’t save every dog. There are simply too many in need of help.
Once a dog makes her way to NOVA and finds a foster home, she is introduced slowly to her new environment. The foster home is where a dog learns the rules of home life and how to be part of a family. Most dogs are adaptable, but even so, they need someone with patience to help them learn. It generally takes two weeks for a dog to fully acclimate to a new home, though it does depend on the dog. “Dogs often act differently based on the energy of the home. In a foster home with kids, it’s more active and energized, so the dog may initially have more stress. We try to match a high-energy dog with an active family to provide the right environment. The same goes for calm dogs.”
Chaining and penning dogs can cause numerous harmful outcomes. For one, it’s an isolated life if you’re chained up to a tree for fourteen hours a day. Dogs are pack animals; they need to socialize. This is especially important if the owner is not particularly attentive or caring. Other common issues include irregular access to fresh water, a lack of food, dirty kennels, or over-crating. A chain can also be scary or dangerous for a dog; if something comes after him, or attacks him, he can’t escape.
In these problem communities, many families chain their dog in a back corner of their yard, not even near the house. “What protection does that really give?” Suzanne asks.
According to her, a chained unspayed female dog can yield up to 80 puppies in a lifetime. This leads to another major problem: overpopulation. Backyard breeders are often trying to make money; after all, many of these areas struggle with poverty. Others breed dogs for fighting, and there are sometimes little or no regulations regarding breeding. This can lead to a great deal of strays flooding the area.
By contrast, Suzanne says reported dog abuse in NOVA is less common. “I did see a dog outside on a tether here, in the middle of winter. When he was still out there two hours later, I called Animal Control and they came out right away to explain our tethering laws.”
The circumstances are often not the same in these small South Carolina towns. “Our team there says it’s overwhelming. You drive through neighborhoods and see stray dogs everywhere, and dog after dog that’s chained up in the heat.”
DDB NOVA is inundated with requests to save dogs from neglectful and dangerous situations. They stream in from Facebook posts, phone calls, and emails. “You can only save those dogs you have a temporary home for, unfortunately, so finding foster homes to take them in is vital,” Suzanne says.
The organization does pull dogs from shelters as well, but they tend to take puppies and smaller dogs. Suzanne says the shelters in the NOVA area are well connected with the local community, so they have a fairly high placement rate.
“Growing up, my family got our dogs from the shelter, and I have two American Pit Bull Terriers now who came from rescue. After I saved my first Pit Bull, I became more aware of how many were out there. They say only 1 in 600 Pit Bulls who go into the shelter will ever get out. It’s hard to hear a number like that and not think they deserve some extra help.”
What’s surprising is that Chihuahuas are the second-most common dog in need of rescue. Suzanne attributes this to the cultural popularity of Chihuahas as “accessories,” which means people adopt the breed out of a sense of status or style, and don’t consider the commitment involved.
People seem to chain bigger dogs more often than smaller ones, but there are certainly cases of small breeds being chained up, too. Suzanne recounts one story: “We saved a Terrier, Albert, after someone had chained him to a tree in their backyard and just moved away. He had a torn ACL when we found him, but they just left him there to die.”
It can be difficult to imagine how people who mistreat dogs can change, but Suzanne is hopeful. “I think people can definitely change, and have changed. A lot of it is thanks to popular culture and social media. As you see more examples of healthy dog treatment and dogs portrayed as a member of a family, it becomes more the norm.”
There are limitations involved with dog care, however. Some people just can’t afford to spay or neuter their pets. Others have the wrong information and believe that you shouldn’t spay and neuter, so DDB can intervene with outreach and change their minds.
“We’ll use all kinds of pamphlets, materials. What to do with a dog on hot days. Don’t use a metal water bowl, for instance—it gets too hot in the sun. We also advocate for laws to protect dogs … how long a tether should be, what kind of coverage a dog needs outside. The challenge there is getting Animal Control to enforce it. Most do their jobs well, but the sheer number of mistreatment cases is overwhelming.”
Here in NOVA, DDB has partnered with the Cherry Blossom Chapter of the National Charity League to make educational and care packages for dogs. They include things like fly salve to put on a dog’s ears if he’s outside a lot, plastic water bowls, and information on local spay and neuter clinics. Even a coloring book for kids about how to take care of your dog, plus print-outs or summaries of dog-care laws in the area. “Education is key to addressing the problem,” Suzanne says.
If you see a dog being neglected or mistreated, please contact your local Animal Control and get it on record with the authorities. You can also reach out directly to the offender. “Sometimes, if we offer to help, the owners are receptive. If they’re not, you can still monitor the situation legally. It helps to understand the local laws so you know when they’re not being followed. Basically, if you raise enough visibility on an issue, if you’re tenacious, Animal Control should take action.”
Suzanne recommends to try and educate a mistreating owner without being insulting. If a dog is being left out in the yard for long periods of time, you can say something like, “These are pack animals. They want to be near you.”
She makes a point of highlighting, however, the need to follow the law. There are fines and serious legal consequences for breaking and entering another person’s home to “rescue” a dog without the owner’s permission.
Suzanne has a great deal of energy for this line of work, and she credits both DDB’s mission and her teammates for that drive. “It’s a passion. Once you do it, it’s hard to stop. I used to volunteer for political campaigns, but this is definitely more rewarding. It’s tangible: you see the results of where a dog comes from to where she is now. We save these dogs from terrible situations, we see them evolve in their foster homes, and then watch them go on to their adoptive families to live a great life.”
If you’d like to foster a dog, adopt a dog, or find out more about DDB’s rescue operations, please see http://ddbnova.org/ for more information.
Joseph Grammer is Managing Editor for NOVADog Magazine. He lives in Alexandria, VA, but grew up in New Jersey with a bunch of adopted dogs, including a mutt (Blizzard) who he found on the street.
Adopted Dog Profile: Kaya
“We saved this beautiful black Pit Bull who had been chained for over six years. When she was taken into rescue, she had skin infections and was covered in welts. She had been bred repeatedly, chained to a tree, and never cared for. Now she lives in Vienna with a family who loves her, and her life has changed so dramatically in just a few months—she’s now an indoor dog who loves stretching out on the couch for a long nap, or snuggling up with her family at night. She gets daily walks, has regular doggy play dates, and goes on family outings and hikes on the weekend. She even loves kittens. We are so thankful to her family who gave a senior, black bully girl this amazing second chance.”
Adopted Dog Profile: Albert
Albert’s life took a tragic turn when his owner passed away. Albert found himself chained to a tree, abandoned in the heat of summer, with no shelter or consistent source of food and water. Covered in ticks, fleas, and matted fur, his teeth were worn down from trying to chew his way off the chain. He was also suffering from heartworm disease, and living in constant pain from an old leg injury that had been left untreated. Despite the hardships he’s endured, Albert remains an incredibly sweet, gentle soul who just wants to be loved and have a person to call his own again.
A volunteer from our SC team noticed him chained to a tree in a small, overgrown yard behind a house that looked to be abandoned. She gave him food and fresh water, and made a point to come back the next day to see if anyone was around. When she returned to the house, a woman was packing some items in her car and Jennifer stopped to talk with her. She learned that Albert had belonged to the woman’s mother, and they inherited him when she passed away. The family wasn’t interested in keeping him, so when they moved out, they left Albert chained to a tree with no intention of caring for him. The woman just happened to be coming by the house to pick up some last things, and if someone hadn’t returned to check on him, he would have been left there to die.
How DDB Saves a Chained or Penned Dog
• 1-2 people in the field find a dog in need. They may take videos and send them to Animal Control for evidence. These people are known throughout their local communities and act as a resource for laypeople to call if they see a dog being mistreated.
• The field team delivers the dog to a short-term foster home in South Carolina, who takes the dog in for a few weeks. 1-2 foster parents.
•A driver or two transports the dog up to Northern Virginia.
• A NOVA team meets the driver and delivers the dog to a long-term foster home here.
• A thorough interview process is initiated when it comes time for permanent adoption, including an in-home visit with the potential adopter and veterinarian checkups.
• This equates to 8-10 people who are responsible for rescuing a single dog. All of them volunteer their time.