A Dog Named Ruger--The Rest of the Story
With very few exceptions, the dogs who come through our rescue go on to find amazing forever homes. Their stories are incredible. Sometimes, however, their journeys are so amazing and build so many bridges that they deserve extra attention. We recently shared a Happy Tails post about two such dogs, Dublin and Ruger. I sent the link to both of their owners, and that’s when Ruger’s story became even more timeless and transcendent. Ruger’s owner, John, emailed me back with some amazing news. He told me about a unique life experience of his from several years ago which gave him a very good frame of reference for understanding our difficulties. It proved that the world is a very, very small place.
Please understand that it’s not my intention to be arbitrarily negative about Southwest Virginia. In the months (years, now) since all this happened, changes have been implemented. Not enough by far, but the county did respond. Still, facts are facts and the story is mine to tell. What happened, happened. My rescue has a good relationship with county animal control officers, who are code enforcement officers with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office. We are not anti-law enforcement nor are we anti-animal control. But culture and community are tricky in this area, and local governments are incestuous. Political land mines are buried everywhere.
To effectively tell Ruger’s story, I’ll have to recount some events that are unflattering to Tazewell County. I’ll refrain from naming names, but if questions arise locally, I’ll identify all the players in this debacle through private correspondence. As I said earlier, what happened, happened. I own this experience, and it's dramatic enough to warrant retelling. The bottom line is that had county officials gotten their way, my rescue would have never had custody of Ruger at all, despite the fact that he received world-class veterinary care, rehabilitation, and adoption placement through our agency. We were blacklisted from the shelter before this incident and have remained blacklisted in the intervening years. A large portion of this community believes that our organization is fraudulent and incompetent despite glaring and very public evidence to the contrary. Therefore, I’m not burdened by any sense of loyalty to gloss over details that might shed negative light. If we are going to be rejected by our own community as a resource for improving animal welfare in our region, then I think it’s only fitting that we be frank and forthcoming about the dynamic behind that.
A long-term volunteer with our rescue, @cherielayne, lived next door to the person who owned Ruger initially. For several winters, she had watched him suffer on a short chain with little or no human interaction, with only a plastic pet taxi for shelter. In January of 2016, he broke his collar and escaped his chain. He appeared in Cherie’s yard, where he and Cherie’s dog began to fight. When she tried to break up the fight, she received a serious bite that required medical treatment. The hospital forced her to disclose the identity of the dog who fought with hers, and shortly afterward, animal control officers came to collect Ruger. At some point during this time, she saw Ruger’s broken collar and had a good enough look to identify it later.
Ruger had not been vaccinated for rabies, so he was impounded at the local shelter on January 31st. By February 22nd, he had been cleared by the county’s go-to veterinarian for release or euthanasia. Cherie adopted Ruger because she couldn’t stand the thought of him being killed after she’d had to report him. She knew he had dog aggression issues, but since he was unneutered, she hoped that sterilization would help resolve them, and that she could eventually take him home. She brought him directly here from the shelter, where we could quarantine him and begin rehabilitation. And that’s when things got interesting.
Within minutes of bringing him inside, she discovered that his collar seemed to be embedded in his neck. It was not the same broken collar she’d seen on or around January 31st. When she removed the collar, the four of us present that night saw that a piece of twisted wire had embedded in his neck and caused a large granuloma. I notified the sheriff’s department that night by email, and first thing the next morning, took him to our veterinarian for urgent treatment. All of this is thoroughly documented.
One Hot Mess
No one at the shelter was ever held accountable for this negligence. The veterinarian who cleared Ruger from rabies quarantine was not held accountable for failing to find the embedded collar during her exam before release…if such an exam was even performed. Instead, @cherielayne and I were asked by the Sheriff’s Office to take polygraph tests, which an attorney from the State Attorney General’s office emphatically advised us not to do.
Then I received a phone call from the secretary of my contracts attorney, who’d I’d hired to correspond with Pocahontas State Correctional Center after one of our dogs disappeared from their facility, presumably stolen by an employee. It seemed that the Commonwealth Attorney had informed my contracts attorney that felony charges were pending against me over the case, and his secretary proceeded to quote me a criminal retainer fee. To this day I don’t know if this resulted from a miscommunication between parties in the law office or if the CA was indeed pursuing a case, or if the whole thing was an elaborate fabrication to shut me up. I do know, however, that there had been some hard feelings after I supported the CA’s opponent in the last election, which had reached mudslinging status of epic proportions.
After I declined to retain the contracts attorney (because I knew I’d committed no crime,) he stopped representing me against the prison and to this day, I have still been unable to obtain a copy of the correspondence I paid him to send. However, that was the last I ever heard about felony charges, too, although I did hear some talk about how angry some county officials were that ARC had managed to get our hands on one of the shelter’s dogs to begin with.
Putting It All Together
All of that backstory goes to underscore Ruger’s importance in the history of our rescue. These were turning-point events for us, a wool-off-the-eyes reality check about just how nasty things can get in this county even for people trying to be a force for good. It made me realize that in order to keep going with our agenda, we’d have to broaden the audience and make sure the world was watching before ARC took any more aggressive steps toward improving conditions for animals in our area. This slowed us down for a while as we “backed up ten yards to punt,” but thanks to our Steemit audience and family, @thewritersblock, Teamgood, folks from Steemit Ramble, @youarehope, and several other communities around the blockchain, we’re back on track and more solid than ever.
After Ruger healed from his neck wound, we had him neutered and worked with him for several months on behavioral issues. And he definitely improved. We could walk him with other dogs, put him in play groups with other dogs, and take him to public events and venues. He was super sweet with people from day one. His issues only emerged with other dogs, and eventually, only with certain other dogs. Unfortunately, Cherie’s dog he’d initially fought with was one of those certain others. She was unable to take Ruger home as she’d hoped and gave consent to let us place him with a northern rescue.
And Now, the Rest of the Story
That is where the story swings in a much happier direction. One of our New England rescue partners felt they had the perfect adopter for Ruger. This was an experienced dog owner, a patient person who seemed to understand Ruger’s issues on a very proficient level. We compiled as many photos and videos of Ruger as we could, hoping to paint a clear and honest picture of his disposition. And finally, after much preparation, Ruger was ready to travel.
On October 20, 2016, we placed Ruger on a commercial transport headed for New England. This would not have been possible six months earlier, before we invested so much time and so many resources in his behavioral rehab. He made the trip without incident and landed in the arms of the family who’d been eagerly awaiting his arrival. Here in Tazewell, Cherie bawled her eyes out. Her decision to let Ruger go had not been an easy one. But the photos of him with his new person went a long way toward helping us all understand how right the choice turned out to be.
We received occasional updates throughout the next year, always happy ones that reaffirmed our belief in what we do as a rescue, and bolstered our determination to not let questionable local politics undermine our efforts. There’s something to be said for a rescue that remains connected to most of the dogs they send out of state, who stays in touch with receiving rescues and through them, the adopters, and can give current updates on nearly every dog we’ve placed together as a team. That kind of thing matters. It shows a permanence, a commitment that you just don’t find in many organizations. We only work with receiving agencies who take the update factor as seriously as we do. Burnout is very common among rescuers. Compassion fatigue, even suicide, is a sad fact of life among animal welfare workers. It’s the Happy Tails that create ballast, the success stories coming directly on the heels of community feedback telling us we are neither welcome nor wanted in Tazewell County.
But nothing could have prepared me for the email I received last week, after sharing the Tail of Two Happies post I linked to above with Ruger’s owner in Vermont. John wrote some things that made Ruger’s path to his new life come completely full circle.
“In your Steemit post that you shared, I clicked on the two links you provided. Your story caught my attention like a sledgehammer.
We have a little bit of tangential shared history. I graduated from UVA in 1975. Two of my fraternity brothers … were from Tazewell and I had the opportunity to spend some time in Tazewell during a school break …. I came away changed.
I was shocked to read your story and the backlash against you and your efforts. Stunned is another word that jumps to mind. The purpose of this note is to let you know that I am amazed and inspired by your story. Your determination in the face of inexplicable resistance will be a model for me and I’m sure many others going forward. Not only have you made a difference in the lives of so many abused, neglected and defenseless animals, you’ve also most assuredly shown those around you an example to strive for. I think it’s important you know that impact.
It could be argued that John hasn’t been a witness to the Facebook drama ARC has gladly contended with for five years. He’s never been on the receiving end of ARC’s critical scrutiny. He hasn’t seen the rough side of my tongue. But what he has seen, and has been on the receiving end of is many of the dogs we’ve sent on transport to Vermont. See, John now volunteers with our rescue partner who brought him Ruger, and through them, he has come to know a side of ARC that few people in Tazewell County have ever bothered to look for. That’s the “real” ARC, the working rescue, the resource we could be in our own community, too, if this community had chosen to support our efforts rather than vilify them.
With John, Ruger is still in behavioral therapy, still a work in progress. But John says Ruger continues to improve, although there may always be dogs who trigger him. Despite the occasional hiccup in manners, Ruger is part of John’s family and well-loved. They are making up for the years he spent short-chained and without adequate shelter.
So, to all the locals who think we aren’t a “real” rescue, to the county officials who became enraged that Ruger ended up in ARC’s custody, to the legal geniuses who tried to intimidate us into silence about what had happened to him at the shelter: this post is for you. We’d love for you to recognize that we’ve only tried to help the community by helping its animals, but if that never happens, we still have no intentions of abandoning this fight.
Enjoy the following photos. I received them just today, from John.