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Sunday, January 24, 2010

USA-The Gaston Rescue experience.



As most of you know at this point, helpsaveone.org coordinated for a huge pull of "unadoptables" from Gaston Animal Shelter in Dallas, NC on Friday, 1/22/10. This event was unique in that it was both a first time effort to empty out the entire shelter of the unadoptables sitting on death row, as well as designed to raise awareness about gas chambers which Gaston still uses to euthanize their animals.

Along with my dear friend, Sarah Hopper, we hit the road early on Thursday afternoon for the 14 hour ride from Cambridge, MA to Gaston County in NC. We arrived at approximately 3:30 AM to a small town about 60 miles from our destination and put up at a motel because we were too exhausted to drive further. We also felt safer staying a distance away from a small town that anticipated out of state anti-gas chamber supporters early the next morning. Let's face it, Gaston County isn't exactly a popular vacation resort for MA tourists, and our plates stood out like a sore thumb around these parts.

We awoke at 7:30 AM and headed to the Gaston shelter. Due to traffic and unfamiliar territory, we arrived a few minutes after the shelter had opened. We pulled into a parking area outside of Gaston's locked gates, and we could see the rescue folks and press gathered outside the shelter doors. They had already started to pull. The shelter manager came to the unlock the gates for us with a big smile on his face as he stated in a most sardonic manner while still smiling, "nice to see you're here on time, ladies."

As we entered, news reporters were conducting interviews, while rescue pulls were already in progress. I handed over all the doggie donations that I had received from my groomer Hilary Meyer and a box of dog treats from Sandrine Merhy. The cases of dog food from Randall Gibson will be provided later for an overwhelmed HSO foster located in NH. Overall, the scene was orderly and respectful. Dogs were lovingly led from the shelter, doted on, and carefully placed in crates waiting in various rescue vehicles for transport to safety.

We remained for the rest of the day in an effort to try and capture owner turn ins before they entered the shelter. Once inside the shelter office, they would be deemed the property of Gaston County and could not be rescued. Oddly, nobody arrived that day with dog turn ins. Highly suspect, if you ask me. While a couple of the local rescue pullers for HSO kept a look out for owner turn-ins, Sarah and I, along with Meghan and Marissa from HSO went to visit the dogs that could not be released to us. This is when all the joy from the morning pull was replaced with sadness, anger, and frustration.

Many of the dogs that were previously agreed on to be pulled between Gaston and HSO were either moved into adoption pens or quarantine areas. In other words, the shelter moved them into "non-rescue" areas where they become hands off for pulling. Gaston basically reneged on the original arrangement. I have included some of the not rescued in my Gaston photo section here on FB. I saw on a sheet that one of the dogs slated for rescue, a beautiful white faced pittie, had already been confirmed euth'd... WTF?!!!

We slowly checked every kennel occupied by shivering dogs with pleading eyes begging to get out of there. If anyone ever thinks these dogs don't know what fate awaits them, I beg to differ... they know. In fact, some of the dogs sit in isolation pens right next to the gas chamber. They have a clear view of the animals being wheeled into the chamber, can hear their desperate last screams, and can see their dead bodies being piled into death bins and carted off to who knows where. Most of the doors that would allow them inside access from the cold outside are closed and there they sat or paced shivering from the cold winter chill. On this day it was 35 degrees.

As we walked through, tears were shed as the dogs pleaded in vain. One beautiful little pittie with cuts on her face and bloodied stool all over the floor of her outside run, quietly tried to warm up on a small blanket that her owner must have turned her in with, since most of the other dogs had no blankets. I believe she was on the original "rescue" list, but then was hastily placed in an adoption pen before the press and rescuers arrived. She was clearly not adoptable, yet they dumped her here out of reach from safety and a transport to a Vet. I looked over at Marissa with tears streaming down her face and simply could not find the right words to comfort her with. My own held back tears finally flowed when we came to a dog a couple of cell blocks away who was wailing like a baby with desperate pleading eyes to please get him out of there. He looked me right in the eyes as if to say "please save me, I don't deserve to die." I could do nothing and my soul ached in a way I've never felt before. The tears warmed my cold face when he started to desperately gnaw at the fence wires to get out of there.

We all went speechless and silently moved towards the back kennels where the gas chamber is also located. Here there were more dogs hidden away from the public in the quarantine area. I wondered if the press had been led here by the shelter manager, and highly doubt it. I don't know the reason why there were so many quarantined, but there was the missing red dobie boy that was originally supposed to be rescued, and my heart sank. A dear friend of mine had expressed interest in adopting him, but all hope of this was gone since Gaston claimed he was a biter. This is a particular breed that I've owned and been around for years, and this was one sweet boy. I am going to go out on a limb here by questioning the honesty of this "bite" allegation. We walked the rest of the run and observed more dogs until I started to feel nauseous and numb from the cold.

We went into the office where Marissa asked about the some of the dogs that were remaining. They were not going to be released to a rescue. I guess it's more about the money to them over the safety of the dogs. They will take their chances for the benefit of profit over life... sickening.

The Gaston staff were cold and detached. One of the ladies at the reception desk seemed outwardly hostile and resentful of us being there. They had slapped up signs along the counter earlier that read "No cell phones" They clearly wanted us to leave, and I have not felt so unwelcome anywhere in a very long time. They were even rude to some of the local people coming in. There were also no signs anywhere indicating that the animals here are gassed. I honestly don't think that most of the residents of Gaston County, NC are aware of this.

Right next door to the shelter is a Vet Tech Clinic. People from there went back and forth between the shelter and clinic throughout the day, and I don't know why. Someone had stated that they use some of the Gaston dogs for their student study experiments, such as removing limbs. I don't know if this is true, but how convenient would that be?

I am proud of Helpsaveone.org. Never once did they have a bad word to say about Gaston. They are professional and upbeat in order to continue a healthy relationship with Gaston. All of the above observations and criticisms are strictly from my perspective, and mine alone. They are not meant to reflect those of HSO. I am grateful for the fact that Gaston at least releases some of their "unadoptable" dogs to HSO. I only wish that more rescue groups focused on pulling from this particular gassing facility.

Sarah and I headed back to Boston late in the afternoon. We were emotionally depleted and could not stop thinking about the dogs we had to leave behind, or the coldest shelter staff I have ever encountered. They were like live wax dummies from an other planet. On one hand, we could not wait to get home and and away from these strange and hostile people. On the other hand, we desperately wanted to remain and rescue the remaining dogs. We did not even bother staying overnight anywhere, and made a straight run back to Boston, except for pulling off the highway in NJ and taking a desperately needed power nap in a parking lot of a motel just off an exit right before the Tappan Zee Bridge. Sleeping in the car somehow felt safer than staying behind at a motel anywhere near Gaston County.

Physically, we have left Gaston miles behind (for now), though we can not purge the recent troubling memories of this primitive shelter, nor would we ever want to. Comfort is denial, and there can be no comfort until each and every gassing facility across this country is legally banned forever.
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