A Dog’s Life

A Dog’s Life

By Patrick Healy

Perhaps you have heard of the dog lover’s prayer:

“Dear Lord, please make me into the person my dog thinks I am.”

As with other forms of self-improvement, this prayer functions best at the personal level; ever reminding us to, in mom’s words, “Be nice,” Beyond the personal, small communities often form around “be nice”. Sometimes these can successfully expand into coalitions which inform the zeitgeist. But “The National Ministry of Be Nice”, in each of its iterations, has consistently proved to be disastrous. Scaling up, it appears, is tricky.

But 31years ago, this month, a local woman figured out the trick. In so doing, she has built a community, and a coalition, that is changing the way that her business is done, both throughout the area and beyond. So, congratulations to Mary Birkholz, and to her animal rescue institution, Caring For Creatures (CFC).

Its facilities lie along the north bank of the James, near Kidd’s Store. e tooWk the pleasant drive, padded through the tree tunnel of Sanctuary Lane, and met up with Mallory Luttrell, who was kind enough to show us around.

“When Mary started her no kill shelter, she didn’t gain very many friends” says Ms. Luttrell, who serves as the coordinator for both community outreach, and animal adoption at CFC. “The idea was so disruptive at that time. There was fear that no-kill would make the kill shelters ‘look bad.’ Many people said that she would be overwhelmed with the un-killed animals, and that the resulting failure would reflect poorly on  shelters in general.”

Luttrell works off a cluttered sideboard in the crammed-full office she shares with bookkeeper, Donna Brown. Scattered on and among the usual keyboards, monitors, paper stacks, and folders are well-chewed fetch toys, cans of dog food, folded-towel cat beds (sleeping cats, included), and the like. Desk chairs, wastebaskets, and file cabinets share floor space with additional pet paraphernalia, and with more of the pets themselves. There are several cages arranged as kitten suites, in which the cute little darlings wrestle and caper in their kittenish way. The entrance to a shallow pantry has been blocked with a waist-high screen to house a litter of puppies, the arrival of which was unplanned. As Luttrell explained, “We agreed to take the mom from a kill shelter. They called back and said that they had just discovered that the mom was pregnant, and wanted to know if we would still have her. Well, a deal’s a deal, and we stuck by it. So here she is. Mom and puppies are doing fine.” The rest of the office is given over to storage and a wet counter space, where the dogs and cats receive generous helpings of TLC. The level of creative ingenuity, and make-do efficiency is something to see. It’s like Martha Stewart, on a very tight budget. All of this is housed inside one of those – Is it a trailer? Is it a tool shed? – structures we often call “temporary.” This one looks like it’s been here for a while.

But here, the action lies beyond the office in the forests and meadows, which are laced with well-used walking trails. There are clusters of cyclone-fenced kennels and runs which provide each dog with a safe and home-like living conditions, as well as a fenced dog park for canine socializing, and free play. There’s an outbuilding for equipment, and one housing a veterinary clinic. Then there’s the Scratching Post. This building provides both living space and care facilities for the resident cats, as well as a quarantined section for animals infected with feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Because this disease is highly communicable, but only among cats, few shelters will keep, much less accept an infected cat. Here, as usual, CFC has taken the lead. “Feline leukemia is spread among cats through common contact.” says founder Mary Birkholz. “It can be devastating among kittens, with their undeveloped immune system. But the immune system of a cat that is over a year old can keep the disease in remission.” Cats living with FeLV can live among other FeLV survivors, all other animals, and humans; just not among uninfected cats.

You’ll find the heart of CFC in its volunteers, and staff. During the tour we encountered a half-dozen volunteers cooing over and cuddling, grooming and feeding the animals. Not least, volunteers walk the dogs over this rural retreat’s miles of trails.

Staffers arrive with that prime resume line-item, passion for the job. Bookkeeper Donna Brown, started part-time 21 years ago cleaning kennels and litter boxes. Now she tracks a labyrinthine system of income – Animal Connection just donated a crate of dog food – and pays the bills on the shoestring budget. “It’s amazing.” said Mallory Luttrell of the business model. Besides cash donations from individuals, CFC also receives donations, both cash and in-kind, from suppliers and manufacturers of pet care products, veterinarians, many other local businesses and, of course, from their faithful volunteers. “People just keep giving,” said Luttrell.

But the soul of CFC is in the animals; about 150 of them, according to Luttrell. Some, obviously, are wounded in body and/or spirit, and shy away from interaction with strangers. Others are almost giddy in their sociability. The yin/yang of the cat/dog dichotomy is richly apparent. Of the many charmers we encountered, Franny may be archetypical. Franny is a light tan hound who seems genuinely glad to meet you. Late of Death Row, at a shelter in South Carolina, she got an eleventh-hour reprieve and now wags her tail in her roomy dog run at CFC. Having cheated the hangman, Franny is now seeking a committed relationship, with Mallory Luttrell serving as matchmaker. And CFC has a no-fault return policy. If the match doesn’t work for each party, it doesn’t work at all, so try, try again.

If you aren’t ready to take the trip out to Kidds Store but are kind of interested in learning more about CFC, you’re in luck. On Sunday, Sept. 8, CFC will be holding its annual “Cure The Critters Fundraiser” at the Scottsville Pavilion. The event starts at noon and runs until 4 p.m. Thanks to the sponsors, admission is free. Principal sponsor, Buddy’s Banging Que, will donate all the food, for which cash offerings will be accepted. Last year, Buddy served up 270 sandwich platters, so come hungry. The hope is to surpass last year’s total of $2,500 with proceeds benefiting the CFC medical fund. There will be interactive displays and information booths. Buddy’s delicious ‘que is sure to be a hit, and local favorites, 4 Hits And A Miss, will croon the tunes. But the biggest hits of all will be the cats and dogs looking for that special someone in their lives.

So come and help Mary Birkholz and her crew celebrate their 31st anniversary. Who knows? You might meet a special friend, alive and well, thanks to the vision and persistence of one person, and the countless others who have supported, and continue to support that vision.

Thanks to Alexander Stone, of the James River Good Works Group, for providing additional information used in this article.




Related Posts

dewi88 cuanslot dragon77 cuan138 enterslots rajacuan megahoki88 ajaib88 warung168 fit188 pusatwin pusatwin slot tambang88 mahkota88 slot99 emas138