If you follow my blog or my radio show, you know that I adore my three adopted dogs, T. Bear, Bellamy and Bonnie. You may not know that they all came from the same place: The Animal Orphanage of Voorhees, New Jersey.
I decided today to share the story of how we became associated with the Animal Orphanage, and why we will be furever friends to them, even as we share our lives with our own adopted pack!
Approximately 12 years ago, our dog Princess passed away. We were so lonely, and we knew we needed a new member for our family. Our first stop was to The Animal Orphanage. Back then, our underlying impression was one of sadness. Not that we expected the atmosphere of an animal shelter to be a party, but we did not feel that sense of connection, and we decided to adopt at the Animal Welfare Association. In fact, that day, we adopted two dogs: Mulder and Bubba.
The boys were with us for many years. But life happens, and first Mulder and then Bubba passed. After Mulder went, we re-visited The Animal Orphanage, and were struck by the difference. Yes, it still was an animal shelter. Yes, there were still so many animals that were crying out for love and a home. But the entire feel of the place was changed. The people were warm and welcoming. The interactions we saw with other humans, and with the dogs, were positive. Even though Bubba turned out to be one of those dogs who would never accept another dog in his pack after Mulder, we continued to stop by and bring food from time to time. We attended Woofstock, their big Fall Festival every year, and promised ourselves that when the time came, we would come back to find another pack member.
When Bubba went, it was especially hard for us, as our children were now grown. Without Bubba, we were truly ‘empty nesters’ and we knew this was wrong for us. I gathered up his things: unused food, toys, extra medicine, and all the things you give away when your dog passes, and went to the AO to donate the lot.
That was the day that I met two important beings: Pedro and Christine Todd. Pedro (now known as T. Bear) was in a big enclosure at the end of a row. He was standing on his hind legs, almost reaching the ceiling. When I spoke to him, he flopped down with his back to me, looked coyly over his shoulder with his tongue lolling out of his mouth, and shamelessly flirted with me. He won my heart that very second. I knew that my husband would love him too, so I went to ask about him. Christine (the Manager and Guiding Angel at the AO) was there and told me that while there were a number of people ahead of us on the list, I should put in my name anyway. She explained how the dogs go to the home with the Best Fit – not just first come, first served. No McDonalds approach for AO dogs! I left wondering if I would ever see him again, but with a feeling of good will and confidence that wherever he went, it would be the best place.
Shortly after that visit, I got the call from Christine that Pedro had not done well at a previous placement, and he was back. Did we want to see him? I wanted to see him so badly I made my husband come home early from work. And, as I predicted, my husband was hopelessly smitten. That big furry backside, looking for all the world like a trundling grizzly bear, won his heart. The wagging stub with the curl on the end won mine.
When we had a meet-and-greet with my grandpuppy, Moe, everyone was encouraging but watchful. Moe is only one month older than the Big Guy, and was smaller than his head. But my little mini dachshund grandpup and the big bouncing Pedro hit it off. Carefully. I left knowing we had crossed the Rubicon, and Pedro would be coming home soon!
First, Pedro became T. Bear (short for Teddy Bear). Then he became a fixture in our neighborhood. The biggest and gentlest pup on the block. He has walked two 5K Komen Mother’s Day walks with me. He has had his picture taken by tourists on the New Jersey Turnpike. And he is still the same sweet, loving boy.
In December of 2011, we decided that Bear needed canine company. He is very social, and just hanging around with us wasn’t enough. Back I went to AO, and I met Eclipse (now Bellamy). I was taken with her energy, but also with her delicacy. She pranced instead of walking. She smiled. And when Bear met Bella, it was love at first sight – sort of. Bella was a typical pup – licking his teeth and constantly begging for attention. He was a typical “older brother” – letting her know when she was getting on his last nerve, and standing patiently while she jumped on his head and bit his ankles trying to get him to chase her in the yard.
Again, the AO staff was encouraging, giving me little hints and tips for integrating Bellamy into the family. That year, we visited Woofstock with both alumni, walking the stage and letting both kidlets show how happy they were together, and with us. We saw how Woofstock had grown, and marveled at what Christine and the rest of the group had accomplished in a few short years.
In December 2012, Christine had really made a presence on Facebook, and one day she posted a picture of a white dog who had been tied to a pole and left to die. A kind stranger had found her and brought her to the AO. When I saw that picture, I was struck with the look on the dog’s face. I had to see her. My husband and I were at the AO that Sunday, knowing that it was against the odds we would be allowed to see her so soon. But I had to know what happened to her. I had to know how she was.
As luck would have it, everyone there knew we were ‘dog people’ and they said Snowflake (now Bonnie) was just getting a bath. We could see her, but not interfere. We were so lucky that both volunteers bathing her had seen us there before. They knew we were Pedro’s parents. We got to see Snowflake, see how terribly thin she was. And yet, she looked at us without fear. She put her chin in my hand and looked up at me. She was such a sweet, brave girl, my heart swelled and almost broke. (The pictures of her when she first came to the Orphanage are so distressing I won’t post them here – to give you an idea, she was around 36 pounds when she was found…)
That minute we put in our names for her. Christine kept me posted on her progress. Explained to me what the vet said and how close she came to dying. Kept us in the loop as she healed enough to come home with us on a foster to adopt contract. Christine continued to keep tabs on Bonnie via Facebook Messaging, and as of this date, she is a signed, sealed and delivered member of the Tuttle Acres Pack!
I tell you all this because while these things were happening in the Tuttle family, they were also happening in hundreds of other families over the past few years. More and more fund raising events were popping up on the radar, more and more people I met were aware of the AO and the work they do. All this was due, in large part, to the energy and devotion of Christine Todd and her wonderful staff.
The culmination of all this hard work was the Anniversary Gala, which we attended. What a wonderful night! The huge crowd. The amazing variety of items for the auction. The inspirational guest speakers. A diverse group of people all bound together by their love of animals, connected thanks to the energy of Christine and the AO people! We are not wealthy. Even so, we donated $250 worth of items for the auction, purchased another $50 of raffle tickets, in addition to the cost of our tickets. We believed in the value of all this because of the spirit we saw grow at the AO over the years that Christine was managing there.
To inspire unity and dedication to a purpose like rescuing animals takes a special breed. Not everyone can take that ball and run with it. Not everyone can capture the hearts of business owners and regular people alike. And in these difficult economic times, the task is exponentially more difficult. Christine Todd made me want to do more than just come and adopt a dog or two (or three). She made me want to be a part of the community she helped to create.
I meet many people who do extraordinary things as the host of an Internet Radio Show. I interview them. I bring their stories to my audience. I find hope and inspiration in moments with all of them. But very few have ever changed my life in such a positive way as Christine has done.
I I don’t presume to know the business behind the magic. But I do know magic when I see it. And dedication. And love. All very rare commodities in today’s market. That is why all of us who have adopted AO dogs (and cats) have been touched by Christine’s magic wand – and why we are now dedicated to helping all the other babies waiting for their furever homes at The Animal Orphanage!
If you want to know more about the wonderful work they do, you can connect with them on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Animal-Orphanage-of-Voorhees/102851313087143?ref=stream, or go to their website: http://www.theanimalorphanage.org/ OR, locate the local animal orphanage where you live! Buy an extra bag of food, or a toy, the next time you are grocery shopping. Pick up an extra bottle of bleach, or laundry soap. Drop them off to help the wonderful volunteers who spend their time trying to make these little souls happy, while they wait for their families to come and adopt them!
Do you have a furever friend in your home? Do you know someone who has room in their home and their heart who may not have thought of adoption? Or do you have a few dollars to spare in your budget that you could send to help them in this wonderful work?