The Streetdog Story

by Kent Pafford, Streetdog Foundation founder

Of course we had no way of knowing at the time but it all started with the phone call we received 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 Bull Dog 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 the pound (Memphis Animal Services) to see if Thurmond had been picked up.

Melanie went to the pound.  She was overwhelmed by the number of dogs there.  If a Pit Bull comes into the pound, the owner has three days to claim the animal before the dog is euthanized.  This is actually an improvement over the previous policy wherein if a Pit Bull were brought in it was automatically killed, no questions asked, no chance of reprieve.  There must have been 60 or 70 dogs on the “Green Mile”, the area where the dogs spend their last 24 hours before being killed.  There were maybe 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.

On the green mile Melanie thought she had found Thurman.  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 with infection.  His wounds were open and still dripping.  Melanie took pictures and sent them to the Rescue lady, telling her that she had found Thurman.  The rescue lady 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.  Mel called my cell phone and left a message which I got on my next break.  On this message Mel told me about this dog and how she had told this dog that everything would be alright.  I knew while listening to this message that we would have to do our best to make good on Mel's promise.  On her message she told me about another small cinnamon colored puppy about 4 months old.  She couldn't say why she had been drawn to this puppy over the hundreds of dogs there, 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 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.  Mel 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 these dogs.  Some cowered in fear.  And some were trying to get my attention, but I looked at the floor or the wall, anywhere but at these pups, it was just too much for me to bear.   My throat was starting to swell in sorrow for these confused dogs.  I don't know how many people have ever been to a pound, but these dogs know what goes on there.  Obviously they don't understand why, but they know.  You can see the fear in their eyes, and yes, you can see the confusion as well.

From here we went to the green mile to see the dog who wasn't Thurman.  My first tear slipped out before we even got to him.  I was nauseous with sorrow.  I focused my attention on the non-Thurman knowing that I was looking at a dog that we would be able to save.  Mel went all the way to the end of the Green Mile touching every cage as she went.  She came back up the other side and stopped at one of the cages and talked to that dog and let him lick 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 and 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!”  How could she possibly ask this?  Most of these dogs would be dead before the sun next rose, all of them would be dead before the second sunrise.  How could I possibly look at them?  Surely my own heart would just give up and stop with the effort.

In an instant my mind flashed back to a movie I had seen years ago.   In this movie two young American men 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 this man from his room and out into the courtyard where the gallows stood.  The young man's imminent death was made all the more agonizing by the fact of dying in a foreign country where he didn't know the language and where no one understood his language.  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 began to call out to his friend.  He understood that he could not stop what was about to happen.  All he could do was to let his friend know that he was not alone.  He called out his friend's name and kept talking to him through the bars, across the courtyard...”Look at me!  I see you, I see you!  I am with you!”

This scene had come back to me in a flash of crystal clarity.  I understood that whatever the cost to me 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.  I had to tell each dog “I see you”.

As I made this walk I understood that I could not continue my life having seen this without doing something to try to save as many of these dogs as I could.  These dogs are creations of God's just like I am.  If this brought me so much sorrow, does it not bring God sorrow as well?  Do I suppose that I am more empathetic than God?  God loves all of his creation.  Jesus mentions God caring for the sparrows of the field.  In Job 40: 13-24 God speaks to 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.  I would make it my mission to save as many of these precious creatures of God's creation as I could.  I prayed that God would help us to not be confined by our limited imagination.  To help us to dream big.

The next day God gave us a confirmation for this new mission of ours.  Melanie was back at the pound.  We had decided the day before to save the dog who had licked our hands through the fence, dog number three.  We had named the other two dogs the night before but we were drawing a blank on naming this one.  After the Vet Tech at the pound let him out of his cage she turned to try to close the empty cage back.  The dog was so excited to be out, he kept pawing at her side seeking 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!