Our First Rescue


2005 Our Journey has just begun (story below), but for too many their sad journey is already over.

In many of our rescue cases, their journey began months or years ago. Many having been abandon by their owners at a kill shelter because no one wanted to put the time in to housetraining, or buy toys so they wouldn’t chew, or obedience train to teach manners. It wasn’t their fault they were puppies, but they were left to die anyway.

Many others just lost their way home and lived as strays, owners long ago gave up trying to find them, or they didn’t want to pay the fee to get them back.

So many others have just never been wanted or loved.

They are all hoping to be one of the lucky ones that get to come to Maine to find their forever homes.

Can you believe we left with 13 dogs in a mini-van and arrived home with 18?

April ’05 Chris Hanson/Amy Harmon: 1st transport to Arkansas: We now use a professional transport service P.E.T.S Click here to visit the P.E.T.S Website

Being rookie rescuers, my dear friend Amy and I cheerfully hopped into our minivan after 3 hours of sleep at 4am in the morning to start the long trek to Arkansas. We had a great trip down, made great time, even made it further than our intended stop over for the night. We finally stopped in Louisville, KY around midnight for the night. Full of newbie enthusiasm, we got up at 5, bright and early to go pick up our rescues! On the way, we tried for 20 minutes to catch a dog running in the medium strip …sad, they run loose everywhere and get caught in the middle of the highways, where many end up dead on the side! We tried, multiple times, but he was just too scared!

Well, our plan was to go to the Memphis Animal Shelter (the city shelter) to visit before picking up “our” rescues at the Marion Animal Shelter (a country shelter), right across the bridge, but a different world entirely. So we got to Memphis around noon, (AFTER we got lost in a not so nice part of town. Where exactly is “down the road apiece” anyway?  Lost and a little freaked: 2 blonde rednecks from Maine KIND OF stick out! and we had to stop and ask for directions. We finally arrived at the animal shelter, but that is where our fun ended. Reality of rescue hit us square between the eyes. The building was a big cement building, full of row upon row upon row of dogs (at least a hundred dogs, fifty cats, fifty kittens and thirty or so tiny puppies, none with any outside access. Wi re floors over cement that drain into the walkways, the still wet cement walkway had drains every few feet (they apparently clean with hoses, never moving the dogs and many were still wet.  It didn’t smell or look like they had ever heard of disinfectant and the only personnel around were wearing ankle bracelets and seemed immune to the plight and sadness of these animals on death row. No one was willing to even spend a few minutes to comfort those who spend their last hours of life watching everyone pass by them for the puppy cages (By the way, the majority of dogs that get adopted are basically under 4 months old, not black & not labs, chows or Shepherds!)  After the dogs spend their required 3 days in the “stray” cages waiting for owners to claim them, if they are lucky, they get ONE day up for adoption. So you can imagine the euthanization rate of a facility like this.

The smell was overpowering. The staff   was grouchy and we were warned prior to going not to let them know we were rescue, WHY?  I really don’t know;  no one seemed to know or care that we were there. We were also told not to touch them. The “kennel sickness” they carry has mutated to the point the area vets cannot even diagnose the sickness they seem to carry out of that shelter anymore. So, we walked by all these desperate dogs, crying out for a touch, a word, a treat, anything but their fright and loneliness. It was torture. But we couldn’t risk touching them and infecting our own rescue dogs with something that could kill them!

I now have to carry the deep sadness of knowing there is nothing I can do for any of them. If I try to save them, they have to be vetted, kenneled, and taken care of for weeks or months and cannot be transported or issued health certificates until they are (relatively) well. In the meantime, who would take care of them? Overworked volunteers try to help pull the animals out of the shelters and vet them and care for them until they can be transported, but their system is overworked and over stressed and cannot handle more than a couple at a time. And many of the young ones aren’t healthy enough to make it out. So, our choice from way up here, is to take the healthy ones from the smaller, cleaner shelters and hope and pray that the communities down there are able to get a handle on the lack of pet education and are able increase the rate of spay/neuters. The shelter says the only animals that come in spayed or neutered were once already in the shelter! That is how they can tell they have been in a shelter before! Ridiculous but true. Their southern culture teaches them that fixing a dog somehow makes them worse dogs.  I don’t get it. But moving on, we finally left, heartbroken and jaded and just a little, alright, maybe a lot, bitter and angry. It just all seems so senseless. Senseless death, senseless sadness, senseless abuse!  How? I won’t ever understand. I can only hope to help in some small way.

So, we left, went to McDonalds and pretty much took a bath in their bathroom with Clorox Bleach!  Hands arms, legs, shoes, everything.  We just couldn’t get rid of the ICK!

We arrived at the Marion Shelter.  Complete opposite of the other shelter, plenty of outside exercise areas, nice and friendly staff, even the trustees were very nice and loving to the animals.

So, immediately I lose Amy. Where did she go? There she is! In the puppy cage! Surrounded by the cutest litter of puppies! They were all lab mixes, so therefore pretty much had a death sentence from birth.  I knew I had homes for two of the black ones, and planned on bringing one more with me.   I said to Amy, “Pick one or two more out and lets go get the other ones”   After a while, I go back out to the puppy cage and say,  “Amy, which ones are we taking?”  “All of them.”  WHAT?!!  “All of them!”  So she asked her very kind and caring husband and they agreed to foster 3 of them! Brave! So, we ended up with a total of 9 puppies, a very sweet pregnant mother dog, big ol’ Hal, scared Emma (formerly called Hunker-because she hunkered in the shelter), Dakota, the sweet, beautiful Husky which could fly over a 6ft fence! , and we began our very long, torrential rain soaked, sleep deprived (16 hours in 5 days!)  drive home; interrupted every 2 hours by the babies for a pee/poo/feed/water stop!  It was a very long drive home! By the time we stopped for our last night in Syracuse, NY at 3 am, we discovered we had 3 puppies born! And Momma never so much as whimpered! She was so sweet, she was trying her hardest to stimulate 2 of her babies that were born dead.  We said a prayer, took them away (after trying fruitlessly to give them mouth to muzzle) and left her to her laboring. After a restless 3 more hours of sleep, it was time to get up and walk the puppies! There were 5 more pups born, but 1 more of them had died. We said our prayers, and began the last leg home.  Delirious, we finally got home around 11pm Sunday night (and we both had to work on Monday! Good God, what were we thinking!?) cleaned out the van, got puppies and dogs settled down and crated for the night…and stumbled off to bed for another 4 hours. Little did we know, that here we are 2 1/2 weeks later, and have yet to get a good night’s sleep!  We have spent all our spare moments, doing home visits, at the vet, walking dogs, cleaning messes, disinfecting crates, floors & hands! Playing with puppies, snuggling, housebreaking and trying to teach a junk yard dog to learn to play! Our first foray into rescue has been exhausting, stressful, sad, depressing, heartbreaking, and every minute beautiful and worthwhile! Thank you to everyone who has donated goods, money, time, foster care, help, guidance, advice & love. I have yet to find a couple hours to do my Thank you cards, but please know, your kindness is appreciated.

The kind words we have received would have alone made it worthwhile. But the greatest reward  are the calls and messages we get from the families; “We love our dog!”

To know our rescue babies have ended up somewhere they are loved and treated as family forever rather than on the side of the highway, deserted in an abandoned building, tied up and starving in an empty lot, or spending the last moments of their lives with someone who could care less if they lived or died is more of a reward than we could have hoped.

Thank you!

Chris Hanson
Founder of Almost Home Rescue
Director 2005 to 2011