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I’m waiting for a word of love from Sylvia.

You think she’d never heard of love my Sylvia,

But when I’m with her Lord, I forgive her

‘Cause she’s more than the whole world to me

There’s nothing like a word of love from Sylvia

The only one I’m thinking of is Sylvia

Feeling so sad now, I’ll be so glad now

If I just had my Sylvia with me

~Elvis Presley, Sylvia


When Sylvia was found dumped in the forest of a national park in Puerto Rico, her chance for survival seemed slim. Though her siblings found with her were perfectly fine, Sylvia’s back legs clearly did not work and she was severely underweight, fighting to live. She had an infection on her belly from dragging herself along the road in the heat. She was dehydrated. She was exhausted. How she had been able to keep up with her siblings as they scampered about we will never know. Thankfully, a Good Samaritan saw hope for Sylvia and her siblings and brought them to his home, where he later got in touch with Sue Bell, Executive Director of Homeward Trails Animal Rescue. He was directed to get the pups to the vet immediately and once there, reported back. Upon examination, the vet was unclear why Sylvia could not walk but felt certain that no one in Puerto Rico would adopt her and suggested she be euthanized.

Thankfully, the Good Samaritan was relaying the information in real time and Sue was able to push back, asking for them to do an x-ray and old off on any decisions that would end Sylvia’s life. The x-ray showed that her back was not broken thus giving the vet enough information to consider that she may heal with cage rest and pain meds. Sylvia was sent home. But she could not stay. So Sue arranged for her to be transferred with her siblings to a foster home in Puerto Rico while the family stabilized.  

It took several weeks to get her siblings in better shape, as all were malnourished and suffering from severe intestinal parasites.  But eventually they began to put on weight and heal from their neglect. Sylvia was also getting stronger and her skin was starting to heal. She saw two different veterinarians who were still unclear about her paralyzation but assisted us with getting her stronger and healthier to prepare her to come the US mainland for further care. Her siblings were sent to the United States after several weeks in foster care, while Sylvia had to wait until she could travel with a person in the cabin as it was too risky to send her in crate as cargo due to her injury.

After she had been in foster for almost two months, a team of staff and volunteers from Homeward Trails went to Puerto Rico for a weeklong Trap/Neuter/Return trip. Sylvia was even more charming in person than her videos and photos showed. Upon meeting Sylvia, one of Homeward Trails’ volunteers said “She has the most enthusiastic spirit of any puppy we have ever met. She enthusiastically drags herself across any surface to get to you, to carry her bone, & to play with the other dogs.”

Sylvia’s trip home with Sue was eventful. After a canceled flight, 9 hours in the airport, a second hotel stay and an extra flight home she finally got to the DC area. She was the perfect travel companion throughout the ordeal, charming everyone she met with her sweet, calm demeanor. “It was as if she knew her hardest days were about to be over and just she was just patiently riding it out,” explained Sue of her and Sylvia’s journey home.

Upon her arrival in the DMV area, it was blatant that she would need some TLC, but her spirit was strong and she was so happy to be surrounded by kindhearted people. Sylvia immediately went into a foster home and a special fund was created to cover her medical costs and help her get a wheelchair. When she went to a veterinary specialist to get an MRI and determine the cause of her partial paralysis, it was unfortunately vastly inconclusive and determined that she would likely be paralyzed for life. She is able to move her back limbs slightly and does not seem to be in pain at all, but she is entirely incontinent and cannot stand or walk. It is possible that as she grows other options for therapy may be possible. We remain hopeful but simply adore her as she is.

One of her fosters stated “First and foremost, Sylvia is the sweetest pup you will ever meet.  She loves all people and dogs. Anyone can take care of her, make sure her needs are met, feed, diaper, and crate her – but she really thrives and is happiest when she gets lots of love, is around people as much as possible, has freedom to move about, has plenty of play/exercise and has time walking and running in her cart. She deserves all of that.”

Sylvia in so many ways is like any other dog. She loves to play with toys and romp in the yard with her new wheelchair. She loves cuddles, her bed and good treats. She just needs a little extra care around her incontinence, which is easily managed with diaper changes, and she’ll need to have a few new wheelchairs to accommodate her growth as she gets bigger.

This girl is a true survivor. From the day she was born, through the day she was coldly abandoned in the forest, to her life now in the DC area as a foster dog, she has endured. And her spirit and outlook is unmatched. We believe this girl deserves to hit the jackpot of homes. Can it be you?

At Home with Sylvia

Provided by HT Foster, Kimberly Sellers

Sylvia has recently acquired a cart. We have been taking her on walks at least once per day with our dogs around the block and she can really fly! She LOVES being in it and keeping up with the dogs. She hasn’t quite figured out how to apply the brakes and she will run over your feet if coming up behind you! But she is learning how to slow down. We also have to guide her in the cart so she doesn’t jump curbs or go in to the street. She’s pretty good about staying where we are but if she sees another dog walking, she wants to go say “hi” because she’s so friendly. It’s important she gets practice every day in the cart so she gets better at using it. We carry a bag of little treats with us that we give her along the way to show her she is doing a good job.  

Sylvia gets a bath every night to help clean her off from the day of dragging herself on the grass and from messy diapers. She is a little scared of the bath and will put her front paws up on the side of the tub to try to get out. I usually only fill it up a few inches at most with lukewarm water and some dog oatmeal bath to help soothe her skin. The bath cleans her underside, her paws and tail and prevents sores and irritation. When done, I lift her out of the tub with a big towel, wrap her up and lay her down on the couch in the towel on top of a pee pad. I leave her diaper-less for a little bit to air out her skin. She usually doesn’t pee at this point since she likely went in the tub, but I do express her outside right before she gets in the bath.  

Sylvia LOVES to play outside and she will fetch balls and frisbees and play tug of war. She LOVES animals and will play/roughhouse with our dogs like she is one of them. She is so happy with them, even my lab who wants no part of her and occasionally snaps at her because she got too close to his toy or food bowl! Our other rescue plays with her a lot though. When she is outside we take her diaper off.  It is important that Sylvia receives plenty of exercise throughout the day. She currently plays out in the yard with our dogs for 2-3 hours every night in addition to her nightly cart walk. There are also specific exercises that are good for her condition – you can look up videos on YouTube on how to stand her up and move her legs around, etc.

She is a hungry girl and we feed her twice a day – once in the morning when we get up and once in the evening between 5 and 6. We’ve been giving her about 3/4 cup each time based on the food bag guidelines. I think the previous foster was giving her less but I believe she is a lot more active here playing with our dogs outside and running in her cart. We just switched to serving her food in a slow feeder because she was gulping it down too fast. She also loves treats and chew toys. Long lasting chews are a big help if you want to place her somewhere because you need to get something done and don’t want her to follow you. Sometimes you have to lead her to her water bowl to remind her to drink. Hydration is very important. 

Sylvia loves people and she will whine when you leave the room and try to follow you. We let her move freely about the house, but as I said you have to watch for the diaper leaks or you will have a streak of pee across your floor. I clean up a few of these a day. We put her in her crate if we leave the house on top of her bed and a pee pad underneath and with her stuffed babies and a Nylabone. She hasn’t been in there for longer than 4-5 hours in our care, and she always has a wet diaper when we come home. At night, Sylvia sleeps in our room with us in her bed.  We express her outside right before bed and put on her diaper, diaper cover and lay her on top of a pee pad covering her bed. She will sleep all night and rarely makes a peep until you get up. Her diaper is soaked in the mornings so I take her outside right away to get her cleaned up, express her some more and put on a clean diaper. We always have diapers, wipes, and pee pads at our fingertips and we wash her diaper covers every night.

Interested Adopters

If this story pulls at your heartstrings, if you are overcome with love for sweet Sylvia, and if you think she would thrive under your care, please consider adopting her and providing her with the fur-ever home that she deserves. You can reach out directly to her Adoption Coordinator at

On January 15th, I headed to Thailand on a Soi Dog Foundation sponsored trip to visit their shelter in Phuket and the government animal quarantine area in Buriram Province. HT has been partnering with Soi Dog since earlier in 2016 to bring dogs who were rescued from the illegal meat trade to the US for adoption. Their wonderful program previously allowed for HT Dog Program Director Jenn Lafrican and HT Deputy Director Rebecca Goodhart to visit and return with dogs, through the donation of airline miles courtesy of generous Soi Dog supporters.

After the 20-hour flight to Bangkok, I was met by Soi Dog staff led by Cristy Baker who heads up the rescue program, and we boarded a van for the 4-hour trip to Buriram, a province north and east of Bangkok. We would spend the next days visiting the more than 1,000 dogs being held at the facility. All of the dogs here were rescued from the illegal meat trade.

The dogs are stolen from homes, found on the streets and at temples where they are then shoved into small cages (see photo below of an actual cage) – cages so small that many of the dogs suffocate before they can be rescued or are slaughtered. Once they cross the border, they are slaughtered in horrific ways and put into the market for consumption. Thankfully, due to the tireless efforts by Soi Dog and other rescue groups, the Thai government made this trade illegal in recent years and the crackdown of those still active has been vigorous. Thousands of dogs’ lives have been saved. But it’s not yet over.

In Buriram, over 1,000 dogs live communally in outdoor lots. The lots are thankfully shaded by trees and roofed units with platforms that the dogs can crawl and jump on to take naps. Soi Dog provides all of their food as well as these structures. The government hires and manages the staffing. The dogs are vetted and spayed/neutered upon arrival. And while they have ample space to exercise and plenty of fresh air, there is a tremendous lack of attention, love and care for these dogs. For it is simply too difficult for so few workers to attend adequately to 1,000 dogs. It was hard not to see this many dogs at once and wonder if their conditions were better or worse that the thousands of dogs who spend months and sometimes years in desolate shelter runs across the US.

As we arrived, I could hear the dogs barking in the distance. I was nervous to see all the dogs and braced for what I knew would be an emotional experience. As we approached the walls containing the dogs in the yards, many jumped up to greet me through the fences. Others stood back and eyed me warily. Others remained on their perches, eying me cautiously but then turning away, as if they knew I was not bringing anything of value to their lives and I was only a temporary visitor. I suspected those are the dogs who had been there for years; the ones who may have once had hope to be part of a family but in time, simply lost that hope and now passed their endless days with sleeping and eating as their only stimulation.

The Soi Dog staff go to work immediately photographing the dogs, taking inventory and working to identify the 60 dogs who would be leaving with us the next day to head to Phuket where they would remain until rescue was secured. Most of the 60 had been identified on a previous visit, but some were no longer there…leaving concerns and sadness…so we chose a few new ones to go in their places. This would be the largest single transport of dogs from Buriram since the Soi Dog effort started. Initially, only 2 or 3 dogs would leave at a time. The last transport was 30 dogs. And now 60 were leaving. This was an exciting time to be visiting.

As I entered the first lot, the dogs greeted me as if we were at a dog park. Except when I reached to pet them, they darted away suspicious of who I was and what I was doing there. As I sat on the cement ground some came up to sniff and examine me. As I slowly reached my hand out to them, some sniffed further and then allowed me to gently pet them. Once they felt the sensation of my fingers on their heads or under their chins, scratching gently at their flea-covered bodies, they moved in for more, allowing me to then scratch their ears, backs and rear ends. For a few, it took only seconds for them to reach their paws to my hand, pulling it back to their bodies once I stopped scratching. It’s most sensible to leave a shy dog wanting more of a good thing so he affiliates a stranger with something he wants. Plenty of these pooches wanted more. They clearly were longing for touch. I knew quickly that all of these dogs would make wonderful family members, some taking more time than others to adjust. But I just knew that they all could make it in the world if given a chance. Heartbreaking. How many would get that chance before they died, waiting to leave this place?

Just outside of lot five we came across a cage that was draped in old dog food backs to provide shade. In it we found a small female dog and her newborn puppies. She somehow had found her way to this location and made a safe place for her new family inside this cage. She was painfully thin with scabs on her body. But as we approached she wiggled and rolled over for a belly rub. Her pups were inside the cage squealing for her attention, their eyes not yet open. The staff immediately requested wet dog food for her and the next day, she had a case of wet dog food and someone had given her fresh noodles as well. Thankfully for now she was somewhat safe. But the staff decided she needed to move soon to their small facility in Bangkok or her puppies would likely die. I visited this sweet girl several times while there and each time she was so wiggly and grateful for the attention and calmly allowed me to check on her pups and move them to the warmer side of the cage. It broke my heart to leave her behind but the Soi Dog staff made arrangements for her to travel to Bangkok the next week…and from there she will fly to HT. They named her Brown Sugar! Her pups cannot leave the country until they are months older but they will be cared for there once weaned and then they too can fly over.

We left on Day One to have a quick dinner and head to bed. Covered in that smell of “country dog” that I had not experienced since we worked a hoarding case in Goochland, VA. Having the smell of hundreds of dogs on me was a flashback. I needed a shower badly. And the jetlag was still painful.
We rose early the next morning. As we headed down the long rural road to the government facility, I was excited knowing that 60 dogs were leaving. It reminded me of the days we spent going to Goochland, VA where one woman had more than 100 dogs on her property. Each time we went to retrieve some we had electricity in our veins, knowing that we were finally giving the neglected dogs what they deserved. Month after month, year after year we would go down and take as many dogs as we had room for. The best feeling ever. Except when we would drive away leaving those we couldn’t fit behind. This trip would be no different.

Two large lorries and 60 brand new plastic crates awaited us. All we had to do now was to catch the dogs. This was no easy task as the lots are quite large and more than half of these dogs would not approach a human. Catching them required six people with nets, brooms, hands and legs. We ran, cornered, sweet-talked, dove and eventually rounded up all 60. While some squealed in fear as we had to corner them and man-handle them into crates, not one single dog bit us. In one of their most fearful moments, not one dog bit. That is no small feat. And shows the incredible kind spirit of these dogs even after they have been treated so horribly and given few reasons at all to trust the hands of a human being. Feeling bad for inflicting more stress on terror on these poor dogs, I reminded myself that a minute of terror was a means to an end…an end to their suffering and the start of their new lives.

After the dogs were loaded up on the lorries, we assembled ourselves and got into our van for the 4-hour trip back to Bangkok. The dogs would make the 20 trip by lorry all the way from Buriram to Phuket. As the trucks were not covered, the blowing air would keep them cool and hopefully comfort them on their long journey. We told each and every one of them that better days were ahead and to hang in there. It was wonderful to see the lorries headed down the long dirt road with the dogs…never to return to this necessary, but depressing holding place.

Before we left, I was tasked with retrieving one of the meat trade cages that had been confiscated and kept in a grassy field nearby. The staff wanted it sent back to the Soi Dog facility in Phuket so that visitors could see in person the horrific reality of the dog meat trade. In the field were almost 40 of these cages, stacked on top of each other just as they had been filled with dogs at one time. They had been there long enough for ivy and other weeds to have grown in and around them making it difficult for me to extract one from the grip of the ivy. One cage was so heavy and cumbersome. I couldn’t imagine how they crammed so many dogs in one cage and lifted them on a truck. I stopped for a minute to take some photos of the cages and was overcome with emotion thinking of the thousands of dogs who had lost their lives in these cages and the horror they experienced. How can humans be so cruel to other living beings? How can we be so advanced as a species and yet so callous to suffering? But alas, we cannot undo the past and must instead keep working for the dogs we can save now and in the future.

Cage retrieved and set aside to be loaded on the lorry.
We arrived in Bangkok just in time for our flight to Phuket. Arrived in Phuket just in time for a short night’s sleep. In the morning I would head to the Soi Dog facility to have a tour, meet the staff and most importantly see the dogs who had just arrived from Buriram.

The staff and volunteers at Soi Dog were warm, gracious, kind and friendly. So much positivity going on there. The facility is amazing – spacious, clean, state-of-the-art medical rooms and dogs and cats getting all the attention they need and deserve. Our meat dogs had arrived just hours earlier and I visited them in their new temporary digs. A few even came up to me and sniffed my hand as I reminded them that we were old friends. So wonderful to see them safe, in a smaller pack, and at their next-to-final location before going to rescue and adoption.

The next morning, after an evening flight back to Bangkok I met the wonderful Bangkok-based Soi Dog staff at the airport for an early morning flight. They arrived with 12 dogs all neatly tucked into their crates and ready for flight. Each dog was kindly given a bone to chew on, extra water and bedding. We completed the paperwork, got everyone checked in and after almost 2 hours, said good bye. And we were off!

Arriving 20 hours later at JFK after a brief stop in Taipei, a small group of anxious adopters and fellow rescuers met me. It was quite a production rounding up enough porters and carts to help me get the 12 dogs through customs but we did it. And by 10 pm, the dogs were on their way. Some headed home and others headed to Michigan with a rescue who had flown to NY and were driving a rented van to get them back. The HT dogs were tucked away in an overnight boarding facility until our wonderful volunteer Michael Bates could pick them up early Sunday morning for the drive to DC.

And thus is the taxing journey of bringing 12 meat trade dogs to freedom in the US. The people power, love and devotion it takes to do this work is incredible. The dedication that Soi Dog has to this mission is unwavering and we at HT are truly honored to be able to help these dogs.

When asked why HT would spend time and resources to help dogs from so far away when there are still dogs here in the US needing us, my answer is simple: A dog in need is a dog in need no matter the geography. But dogs in countries like Thailand suffer on a level that few dogs in the US suffer. What they endure is truly horrific. Our mission is to not only find homes for homeless dogs and cats, but to do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of animals. Thus, we work here in the US on laws that restrict tethering, pet store sales, abuse and neglect. We work with local and regional shelters and owners to take in unwanted animals – many of whom need special medical care. And we work with our global partners in places like Thailand, Puerto Rico and Peru to be a part of a larger mission to stop the suffering of dogs and cats in countries whose laws are still catching up. It’s a small role we can play in a much larger playground of hope. Together, we not only make a difference for the animals but strive to bring awareness and education to animal lovers in hopes they too will join our effort to stop the needless of abuse of animals whether in our own backyard or across the world.

Want to help?? We are assembling a Team Soi Dog to help us raise funds and awareness of the over 1,000 that await help and rescue. You can literally save a life by joining this team. Email if you wish to join our efforts. Together, we can make difference.


Soi 9

Soi 7

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Soi 8

by Sue Bell, Executive Director

This week’s fierce debate over the passage of SB1381 and the smack down of PETA’s extreme euthanasia activities has brought a lot of discourse with varying opinions about what is right and what is wrong. In many debates, it seems that people tend to fall on one extreme side or the other – we must save every animal at any cost vs. we must euthanize every animal at any cost. I believe that most of us reasonable animal advocates actually fall in the middle. But it’s easy to see how people get caught up in extremism when debating the fate of the most vulnerable and mistreated members of our society.

The No-Kill Movement has been embraced by individuals, shelters and rescues across America. Its goal is laudable and its very name has gotten animal lovers looking at the decisions we make on behalf of animals, debating those decisions and in most cases, committing to finding ways for us to euthanize fewer companion animals.

In the middle of the No-Kill bell curve are the animal advocates who work tirelessly to care for and rehabilitate America’s unwanted animals, maintaining steadfast focus on the animals’ well-being not only in the future but also in the present. These people recognize that every animal cannot be saved and should not be saved. They fully grasp that there are fates more inhumane than death. They recognize that the number of discarded animals remains too great to achieve true no-kill status in their shelters and larger communities. They live with underfunded budgets, elected officials who don’t care and communities who are more the problem than the solution. But they work towards getting there by implementing progressive programs and practices including spay/neuter programs, TNR, educational outreach and offer financial assistance to low-income pet owners. They endure public backlash when they euthanize animals. They are called “animal killers” and worse. They live in fear of being fully transparent because their honesty about the reality they face every day is used against them. And yet they keep going, committed to reaching the commendable goal of euthanizing no adoptable animal. They are the heroes among us.

As with almost any movement, there are extremist views that have tainted the original intentions. The outliers. First there are the No-Kill extremists who believe that no animal, for any reason should be euthanized. They believe that death is the absolute worst outcome and should be prevented at all costs. This extreme view has resulted in countless animals being warehoused, living lives in cages or kennels – both indoor and outdoor, suffering daily from a lack of social interaction, exercise and joy. They are hidden in the backs of shelters “off view” or are released to sanctuaries. They too fear being fully transparent about their actions. These animals live like this for years. They grow depressed, they become aggressive, they are forgotten. But they are ALIVE. And to some, that is all that matters. Thankfully, these people are in the minority and the vast majority out there neither condones nor partakes of these practices.

On the complete other side there are groups, namely PETA, who have taken the opposing view of the No-Kill extremists and believe that our companion animals, no matter what their environment and level of care, are simple hostages to human interests and better off dead. They espouse the All-Kill approach. They euthanize healthy, adoptable animals surrendered by the public or that they have rounded up as strays in or local communities. They are not transparent about their practices, which ultimately did them in, the passage of SB 1381 being proof. And as do the No-Kill extremists, they sleep well at the end of the day feeling certain they ended or prevented the suffering of animals. Yes, the two groups who have complete opposing views on the best outcome for our companion animals sleep well at night, certain that their No-Kill/All-Kill approach is the best.

One only has to experience seeing an animal in a shelter or sanctuary who has been warehoused for months or years on end, lunging, barking, circling obsessively, and begging for attention to know that the No-Kill extremists’ approach results in a fate far worse than death for too many animals. On the other side, the All-Kill approach and recent case of Maya, the dog who was stolen by PETA officials from the front porch of her owner Wilber Cerate and then illegally euthanized, is equally as heartbreaking and wrong. Maya was not freed from being tethered in extreme temperatures or rescued from being abused, tortured or warehoused. She was simply sitting on her owner’s front porch and then lured to a van by extremists who killed her. Additionally, one can’t help but have compassion for the thousands of people who surrendered their animals to PETA assuming the animals were in good hands and likely to find new homes, only be euthanized immediately.

If the last week has done anything for animal advocates, it should be to encourage us all to take a deep breath and hit the re-set button. Extreme views rarely prevail, but they do cause harm and needlessly delay common sense solutions to difficult issues. The result is that the very beings we are working so hard to help end up suffering harder and longer. Oh, the irony.

Let us stop and remember why each of us got involved in animal welfare. Let us remember that we ultimately all want to stop cruelty and abuse. We want to see fewer animals die needlessly. It may be that we want to see fewer animals born. It may be that we want to see fewer animals killed. It may be that we never agree completely on the best tactics. But what I know for sure is that when we calm down and take a moment to actually talk to each other, sharing and reminding ourselves of our mutual interests as well as our differing perspectives, we might just have the chance to find a small bit of common ground that we can use for the collective good.

And when and if that happens, we animal advocates will be a powerful, unstoppable force that will change the world for the better.







by Sue Bell, Executive Director

Yesterday’s passage of SB 1381 here in Virginia was a positive thing for animals. This Bill was aimed directly at PETA’s practice of euthanizing companion animals brought to its facility in Norfolk as well as those rounded up (many times illegally) by their employees and volunteers from their community and beyond.

There is much public debate about this Bill as well as PETA’s role in the animal welfare world. PETA says it offers affordable euthanasia for animals whose owners cannot afford it. However, we know this to not be the reason behind the 1,800 animals they euthanized last year. PETA itself is not shy about its philosophy that animals should not be owned. Their answer – euthanasia of even the healthiest and most adoptable of animals is better than allowing them to find forever homes.

PETA would be well supported by the animal welfare community if they operated a euthanasia center where caring owners could bring their pets to be euthanized when it was needed in the best interest of their pet. PETA would be well supported if they would be honest and transparent about their intentions.

However, when PETA refers to itself as a shelter, it misleads the public into believing that they, like the hundreds of other public and private shelters in Virginia, seek adoptive homes for the animals they take in, only euthanizing those who are not adoptable. In fact, PETA euthanized more than 1,800 of the 2,000+ animals they took in last year. No other shelter in Virginia had euthanasia rates that high. No other shelter.

Sadly, our shelters still fill up with animals who are not adoptable for various reasons. Our shelters are incredibly under-funded and animals with extreme behavioral challenges or expensive medical conditions often have few options. Many of our shelters provide euthanasia services despite having the rules and regulations switched up on them by the VA State Vet’s Office time and time again. They offer these services despite being chastised by the public for having euthanasia statistics while simultaneously working towards “no-kill” outcomes – activities that are not mutually exclusive.

Progressive shelters work with rescues, volunteers, other shelters to seek lifesaving outcomes for their animals before making the decision to euthanize. These shelters struggle every day with incredibly difficult decisions that most animal lovers will never face. They don’t always get it right – no one does. But they try time and time again to do what is best for the animals with the resources they have available.

PETA, with its callous disregard for the public’s trust and its vehement disinterest in seeking lifesaving outcomes for animals, has no business including itself in the world of Virginia shelters. There is a role in our communities for groups to provide affordable humane euthanasia for animals who are suffering and are not adoptable. If PETA wants to use its millions of donated dollars to operate a euthanasia center for the public I would support it. If they wish to partner with Virginia’s shelters to provide humane euthanasia when the shelters have exhausted all other lifesaving outcomes I would support it.

At the end of the day it comes down to transparency. Animal welfare needs more of it. The landscape is not pretty. It’s sad, harsh, cruel. For those of us doing all we can to seek lifesaving outcomes for animals, we have nothing to hide. We need to applaud and support the efforts of the shelters doing the hard work to save lives. What we don’t need is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be something it’s not. PETA has been doing this and SB1381 will put an end to it.

by Sue Bell, Executive Director

Anyone who has spent any amount of time in animal rescue knows the deep feeling of regret. It comes with the work:

  • Regret that you cannot do more.
  • Regret that you left an animal behind.
  • Regret that you took an animal in.
  • Regret that you ever got into rescue.
  • Regret that you did not get into rescue earlier.

Yet, with these continual feelings of regret, come equal feelings of victory. It makes life in rescue one heck of an emotional rollercoaster.

I’ve felt lots of regret and some wonderful feelings of victory these last few weeks. Friday, September 13th brought to a close our 8 year effort to shut down a hoarder who has brought great suffering and neglect to hundreds of animals.

It was exactly 8 years ago, in October 2005, that we first met Annette Thompson on her property in rural Goochland County, VA, just outside of Richmond. That day a Homeward Trails team of 12 wonderful people stepped with me onto the Thompson property.  We were heartbroken to find dozens of chain link kennels filled with more than 350 dogs and puppies. I remember the barking, the despair, the odor.  It was totally overwhelming.

I also remember immediately regretting that I had not followed up on a call Thompson had made to me nearly a year earlier.  At the time HT was a new rescue and I was unclear about what Thompson’s wanted. So, I didn’t do anything to help her.  I kept thinking that If I had, I could have helped these animals sooner. However, I also remember feeling a tremendous sense of victory and pride that we now had a committed team of people to help the animals.

Eight Years and Over 750 Animal Rescues

From that day forward, HT worked tirelessly to remove animals from Thompson’s property and provide  them with proper care. Simultaneously, we also worked to stop Thompson from taking in more animals.

Saving the animals was our priority. It required raising money to buy Thompson food for the animals that remained on her property.  It required numerous trips to deliver supplies, assess the animals and continually remove as many as we could.

And, each and every, time we left Thompson’s property, I was filled with regret and remorse for the unlucky animals we left behind. Hardest were the winter months, when I drove away knowing the long, cold nights would bring suffering to so many animals. Yet I also felt a small victory knowing we were leaving Thompson’s with a van filled with dogs on their way to better days.

Along the way we lost many supporters for this effort. Fellow rescues bowed out claiming they did not want, in any way, to support a hoarder. Some of our own volunteers left HT stating they did not think Homeward Trail’s money and time should be spent helping these dogs.

At times I regretted getting involved, especially since it was a lonely place being the only rescue trying to help hundreds of the hoarders dogs, many of whom needed expensive care. Yet each time we got another dog off Thompson’s property and into a warm bed I felt victorious because one more life was made better. And. with each animal taken, I felt a stronger conviction that Homeward Trails could not give up on this effort or these poor animals — until the very last one was safe.

Reaching Out for Help

After years of working with Thompson and demanding that she not take in any more animals, it was clear our good faith agreement had fallen through and it was time to reach out for help. Thankfully, a small group of nearby rescuers and animal advocates joined our efforts and we addressed the problem together. I immediately regretted not having reached out sooner. Yet I also felt victory at having asked, and received, help from my colleagues.

Our effort was a true lesson in patience and perseverance as we navigated the bumpy road of Virginia’s blurred legal system as it pertains to protecting animals. We were misdirected, misguided, dismissed, and turned away. But we kept coming back.

Days and months passed with no movement. It literally seemed as if there was no way to win our case and get help for the animals. We made many mistakes along the way. We regretted all the time and efforts spent that when nowhere.

Finally we got our day in court. We presented our evidence, called our witnesses and made our case. And we were victorious! Thompson was convicted of six counts of inadequate animal care and fined $450 for the misdemeanors related to preventable diseases and poor housing for dogs. We had won, or so we thought…

Since Thompson was no longer permitted to foster or have animals as part of her defunct rescue, we assumed Goochland Animal Control would remove the remaining 100 animals on her property. Wrong.

Instead, it issued her two kennel licenses for 50 dogs each and allowed her to legally transfer ownership of the animals to her personal property. Really?? A woman convicted of animal neglect and someone who had been operating a nonprofit rescue, which had failed to meet the state requirements, was allowed to own 100 dogs? How could this be?

Flash forward two years. Despite our efforts, more than 130 animals still remained in dismal conditions on Thompson’s property. I was filled with regret at not having pressured Animal Control and the County Board of Supervisors in Goochland more strongly to rectify the situation immediately after the court decision.

A Second Chance

In April 2013, Thompson’s home caught on fire. She appealed to the public, via the media, asking for help in the form of money and supplies for her “hundreds of rescued dogs.” She was misrepresenting herself to the public as a nonprofit rescue and the media was playing right along. We at Homeward Trails immediately sprung into action. We contacted the media, imploring them to collect the facts. We contacted the appropriate state authorities, Animal Control, and the Goochland Board of Supervisors demanding that something be done. And it worked.

Media coverage quickly became more accurate. The public and authorities demanded answers. Within days the authorities went on the property and confiscated 5 dogs in such deplorable condition they needed to be euthanized immediately. Thompson was charged with 5 counts of animal cruelty, each of which carried up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. We immediately offered to take the remaining dogs off her property. She refused.

After several continuances (something we had grown accustomed to over the years), we grew anxious for the trial to start as cold weather was upon us.

It was a total of four months after the Thompson fire when I received a phone call, in early September 2013, and learned that the case was close to settlement. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office had successfully negotiated a deal with Thompson’s attorney prohibiting her from owning or possessing any companion animals. The deal also prohibited her from being involved in any rescue activities.

Thompson agreed to the settlement. Homeward Trails had 72 hours to find homes for the remaining 60 dogs, 3 cats and 6 kittens on her property. Victory. Victory. Victory. Our dynamic HT team was on-site immediately and Thompson legally signed all the animals over to Homeward Trails. It took 8 years, but finally we had full control over the dogs.

So Glad We Persevered. We Made a Difference.

So, on September 13, 2013 — almost 8 years after we first stepped foot on Thompson’s property — Homeward Trails removed 35 of the 55 animals from the Goochland property and arranged for them to get the care they so desperately needed. We were incredibly grateful to several of our local shelter partners who stepped in to take dogs into their shelters.

Days later, Homeward Trails would travel back to Goochland to remove an additional 11 dogs and several cats and kittens. We were shocked, and pleased, by how well some of the dogs made the transition. And, we had immediate regrets that we had not taken them off the property years earlier, knowing that they had suffered for so long. It was heartbreaking (and yet victorious) to see them getting their first bath, having their first walk and chewing on their first bone!

HT now has more than 20 dogs and 6 kittens in our system and we are working hard to find secure placements for the final 4 dogs oh Thompson’s property. Overall, the animals are doing very well and adjusting to life with love, regular food, medical care, and long walks in the sun. Others will face months and months of rehabilitation before they can trust humans and adjust to a normal life.  Our amazing volunteers and donors are making it possible for these animals to finally get what they deserve.

And so we take a moment to reflect on this long, difficult journey with regret for those animals who died on the property or shortly after they were removed due to the years of neglect they suffered. We reflect on the regret we feel for those in power at many levels who did nothing all these years to stop the suffering earlier.

But mostly, we will bask in the warm feelings of victory and accomplishment, knowing that we have made a difference in the lives of more than 800 dogs and cats saved from Goochland. If we had quit when the going got rough, or when the naysayers told us to stop, these animals surely would have perished.

We know we can do better than that. And Homeward Trails always will.