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Rescue, rehab, repeat

Meet Charlene, rescued by the dogged efforts of the HSPC.

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WHAT MAKES THE HUMANE SOCIETY SPECIAL: It cares for dumped dogs, like Charlene, despite the expense.
  • WHAT MAKES THE HUMANE SOCIETY SPECIAL: It cares for dumped dogs, like Charlene, despite the expense.

When I asked Debbie Howell, president of the board of directors at the Humane Society of Pulaski County, if there might be a dog in the HSPC shelter we could meet and write about, she didn't have to look far. In fact, Charlene was sitting right beside Howell at that very moment. A black Lab mix with doe eyes and an elegant build, Charlene had stayed overnight with Howell following an Independence Day pop-up pool party Howell hosted for a few dogs in foster care who she thought might benefit from what she called "hydrotherapy."

The pictures from the pool party are the stuff of sunny Instagram hashtags: #summervibes, #dogsofsummer, #poolparty. Charlene was outfitted with a bright red doggy life jacket. She needed encouragement at first, then paddled through the blue water like a champ, weaving a path between a beach ball and an inflatable alligator twice her size.

You'd never know it from that series of photos, but when Charlene was dumped at the Humane Society's shelter on Colonel Glenn Road in December 2016, as a 9-pound, 2-month-old puppy, she had an incredibly rough road ahead. Diagnosed with a disease called immune mediated hemolytic anemia — IMHA, for short — Charlene's immune system was attacking its own red blood cells, thinning her blood to dangerous levels and causing her to be lethargic and listless. She'd lost her appetite, something that was hard for me to imagine as I watched Charlene deftly sniff at a trunk-sized doggie-treat lockbox in a conference room corner at HSPC last week.

"This is her paperwork," Howell said as she dropped a thick packet of records on the table. "We never have this on a dog. It's usually one sheet." In September 2017, vets at the Arkansas Veterinary Emergency & Specialists conducted test after test and, eventually, a major blood transfusion. It's a lifelong disease but, as Howell told me, "Right now, she's two months into the six months [that must pass] before we call it remission. At that point, she won't be on daily medication at all, but she will still need to have regular checkups to make sure it doesn't take her by surprise, and we'll give the owner advice on what to look for."

By this time, Charlene had rested her chin on my knee, lifting it when an HSPC volunteer poked his head in the door with a "Charlene in here?" She's clearly loved at HSPC, but then, so are a host of other animals up for adoption there. There's Drake, a massive, muscular Lab mix with floppy-tipped ears, quizzical eyes, lightning-sharp intelligence and a repertoire of tricks at the ready. There's Cleo and Ivan and Mario, a trio of black cats countering eons of witchy/superstitious stereotypes with soft meows and gentle purrs and major cuddle savvy. There's Bearsley, a playful black Lab with thyroid cancer and an expected few months to live, a hard sell for anyone looking to invest their time and emotions in a dog who, essentially, needs a loving, temporary hospice-sort of home. Then there's Erik, an amiable striped cat with his own room in the HSPC lobby area. Erik's spinal fracture means he scuttles toward you for a snuggle using only his two front legs, the other two legs tagging along behind. Like Charlene, Erik isn't an easy adoptive. He'll require a family willing to "express" his bladder three times a day, which, according to a laminated sheet attached to his gate with the words "Erik's Story" at the top, is "a simple but necessary process."

As pet owners, we often expect our canine and feline companions to be blank slates and easy keepers; no baggage, no health issues, no phobias, nothing inconvenient. Often, that means "special needs" animals end up here on Colonel Glenn Road, awaiting a home in which they'll be cared for by someone with the means to do a little extra. Meanwhile, funding from donors and bequests allows HSPC and its team of volunteers to rescue, rehabilitate and care for animals under a "no-kill" policy; animals are never euthanized due to lack of space. Howell emphasizes that HSPC is just one part of a larger picture. Open admission shelters affiliated with the city of Little Rock, for example, play what Howell calls a "public servant role."

"There are the critics out there that say, 'Why would you hang on and invest so much in Charlene when there are so many healthy animals out on the streets that you could adopt and turn right around?' " Howell said. But, she added, that's what makes HSPC different from government-funded animal control and rescue services. "That's what makes us special."

Sometimes that means animals end up staying at HSPC too long. Charlene, for example, gets overlooked by potential adopters not only because of her medical history, but because she tends to flip and jump around a lot when she's viewed in the kennel. When Howell brought her home for the pool party, though, "she actually modified her own behavior" to match the chill demeanor of Howell's dogs. "We haven't cat-tested her, but I can't imagine that she wouldn't do well."

Charlene, as if to prove herself, had by this time sprawled out lazily near Howell's feet, ears still alert for any magic words like "treat" or "walk." (Or, maybe she was tuckered out from all the swimming the day before.) "They get enrichment here. We have dog parks and we have playgroups, so it's not like they get thrown in a cage and ignored," Howell said. "But nothing beats a home."

Charlene, Drake, Bearsley, Ivan, Mario, Cleo, Erik and many others are available for adoption at the Humane Society of Pulaski County, 14600 Colonel Glenn Road. Shelter and adoption desk hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sun. See warmhearts.org or call 501-227-6166 for more information.

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