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Of course we had no way of knowing at the time, but it all started with the phone call my wife Melanie and I received while on vacation in Tucson, Arizona. Just before we set out for the pool at the resort, a lady who runs a Memphis-area pit bull rescue called to tell us that she had been taking care of an abandoned American Bulldog that she had found in an empty barn. She wanted to be able to take this dog in and find him a home, but she just couldn’t afford to take in another dog. She already had 12 dogs at her house and she had no room and no money for any more. She was hoping that we could help her find a foster home for this dog.
We told her that we were on vacation, but we would try to think of someone to help and we would call her back the next day. We called back while driving to San Diego. This lady was afraid that Thurman (the dog’s new name) would try to find her and wander into the street and get run over. Mel and I agreed to cover two weeks of boarding for Thurman and assured her that when we got back in town on Thursday, Mel would go with her to pick Thurman up and take him to the vet to be attended to and boarded.
When Thursday rolled around, this lady called in a panic and said that she couldn’t find Thurman and didn’t know what to do. Melanie, in an attempt to placate her, asked if she wanted Melanie to go and check Memphis Animal Services to see if Thurman had been picked up.
Melanie went to the pound and was overwhelmed by the number of dogs. If a Pit Bull comes into the pound, the owner has three days to claim the animal before being euthanized. (Believe it or not, this is actually an improvement over the previous policy wherein Pit Bulls were automatically killed, no questions asked, no chance of reprieve.)
There must have been 60–70 dogs on the “Green Mile” — where the dogs spend their last 24 hours before being killed. There were about 200 dogs in the holding area waiting to see if anyone would claim them. There were around 40 more dogs in the adoption area. Dogs lucky enough to be brought here might be allowed to live as long as two weeks before they would be euthanized.
Melanie thought she had found Thurman on the Green Mile. She told him that he would be safe now, that she had found him and that she would get him help and that he would be OK. His neck and head were bloodied, torn, punctured, and infected. The side of his head was swollen. His wounds were open and dripping.
Melanie took pictures and sent them to the rescue lady, telling her that she had found Thurman. She called Mel back and said they look a lot alike, but that dog wasn’t Thurman. The she told Melanie that she simply didn’t have the resources to try to save this dog.
I was at work at the time. Melanie called and left a heartbreaking message telling me about this dog and how she had told him that everything would be all right. I knew we had to make good on her promise.
On that same message, Melanie mentioned another small 4-month-old cinnamon-colored puppy. She couldn’t say why she had been drawn to this puppy over the others, but she had. She told this puppy that she was sorry that she couldn’t help, but that she loved him and that God would be with him to help him face whatever was to come.
I called Mel back and told her that we would rescue both of these dogs. I didn’t know how we could afford this or where we would put them, but I would not allow my wife’s promise to these dogs to be broken. Mel called the rescue person to ask her to meet us at the pound to help us get these dogs out because you have to have an actual clearance to adopt bully breeds out of this pound, and the process takes way too long. These dogs would be long dead before we could get them out, but the rescue could get them because her rescue organization was already registered. She agreed to meet us there the next morning when they opened, but warned Mel that if they had not put a “hold notice” on the cinnamon pup that he might be euthanized overnight.
We didn’t sleep well that night and were at the pound before they even opened. Melanie had put a hold on the dog she thought was Thurman, so as soon as they opened we went to check on the cinnamon pup. He was still there!
I had to walk past about 20 cages to get to the cinnamon pup. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them. Some were cowered in fear, some were trying to get my attention … I looked at the floor, the wall, anywhere but at these pups. It was too painful to stomach. My body ached in sorrow for these confused dogs.
The dogs at the pound know what goes on there. They don’t understand why, but they know. You can see fear, confusion in their eyes.
After finding the small puppy, we went to find the dog that wasn’t Thurman. A tear slipped out before we even got to him. Nauseous with sorrow, I focused my attention on him knowing that he had been saved.
Melanie walked up the Green Mile, touching every cage as she went by. She came back up the other side and stopped at one of the cages and talked to a dog. He licked her hand through the fence. She asked me to come see him. He licked my fingers as well.
Tears were streaming down my face now. I turned to walk out. Melanie touched my arm and said, “Don’t you want to see the rest of these dogs?” I couldn’t speak, but my mind screamed in outrage and shock, “NO!” Most of these dogs would be dead before the next sunrise, and all of them would be gone before the second. How could I possibly look at them? Surely my own heart would just give up and stop with the effort.
Suddenly, my mind flashed back to a movie I had seen years ago. In it two young Americans had been arrested in a foreign country while on a college spring break. One of the men was sentenced to death. On the appointed day the guards dragged him from his room and out into the courtyard to the gallows. Dying in a foreign country — where he didn’t know the language and no one understood his — made the young man’s imminent death all the more agonizing.
His friend heard the commotion and looked out his cell window. There was no glass, only bars. Though he was across the courtyard from his friend, he called out to him. He understood that he could not stop what was about to happen, but he could let his friend know that he was not alone. He shouted his friend’s name, speaking to him through the bars, across the courtyard: “Look at me! I see you, I see you! I am with you!”
The flashback triggered an epiphany: I had to walk the full Green Mile. I had to stop at every cage. I had to meet the eyes. I had to smile through the tears. And I had to tell each dog, “I see you.”
As I walked I realized that something had changed within me. The current chapter of my life had ended; a new chapter had begun. I had to try to save as many of these dogs — beautiful creations of God like you and I — as I could. I knew, seeing his creatures in such dismay, He must feel that much more sorrow than I. Am I more empathetic than God? Surely not.
God loves all of His creation. Jesus mentions God caring for the sparrows of the field. In Job 40:13–24, God instructs Job, “Look at the behemoth [believed to be the hippopotamus] which I made along with you. … He ranks first among the works of God.” My God is a God who loves all of His creation.
At the age of 43, I had found my passion. My mission: to save as many of these precious creatures of God’s creation as I could. I understood that my present home in the city was in no way conducive to this, so I resolved right there that in this depressed housing market we would have to trust God to find a buyer for our home and help us find a property that would allow us to do rescue work. I prayed that we wouldn’t be confined by our limited imagination. To help us dream big.
The next day God gave us an unexpected confirmation of our newfound mission. Melanie was back at the pound — we had decided the day before to save the dog that had licked our hands through the fence. We had named the other two dogs the night before, but we were drawing a blank on this one. After the veterinary technician at the pound let him out of his cage, she turned to try to close the now-empty cage. The dog was so excited to be out, he kept pawing at her side, begging for attention. She finished what she was doing and turned to the dog. “Yes,” she said. “I see you, I see you!”
His name? ICU, of course!
We are a non-sheltering rescue group. Most of our adoptable dogs are currently living in foster homes. We would love to introduce you to any of our pups - email us to set up a meet & greet!