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Behind the Curtain
Let’s look behind the curtain to see how RezDawg Rescue goes about the business of saving dogs (and cats!) on Native American Reservations – and whether or not we’re making a difference by working as hard as we do.
Before we look, we should get some facts straight. When RezDawg Rescue packs up the volunteers and supplies and heads to the Rez to hold a low cost/no cost spay and neuter clinic, we’re very aware that we’re nothing more than invited guests. As good guests, we recognize that different cultures are… well… different. The Rez can be a magical place accented with world-class scenery and deeply spiritual good-humored people. It can also be a depressing place where packs of starving dogs dart between broken cars piled behind dilapidated double-wides.
Native American Reservations in the Four Corners Region are geographically remote and nobody would refer to them as affluent. This reality removes choices you and I wouldn’t think twice about. For instance, the choice to spend $200 to have your dog spayed/neutered isn’t an option when the vet is 150 miles away, the family has one truck that works part of the time and you barely have enough to eat… the choice here is really no choice at all.
For this and other reasons, there are too many unwanted dogs on the Rez. As a general rule, the Rez dogs that survive long enough to be rescued are smarter than your average herding mix. These unwanted or abandoned dogs quickly learn people mean garbage and garbage means food. This is why you’ll find Rez dogs gathered at your feet as you gas up the family car near one of the many tourist sites. Rez dogs will also gather at fast food franchises, around hotel dumpsters, at garbage dumps or simply wander neighborhoods – looking for handouts and scraps that might mean the difference between survival and starvation.
Some blame locals for the situation. I’d ask those folks to keep in mind that there are too many dogs in their neighborhood as well. The situation on the Rez is fundamentally different from the pet overpopulation problem in a typical North American suburban neighborhood. The most telling difference is that the Rez lacks a large population of animal lovers who can afford to donate money and time to solving the problem. This is why RezDawg Rescue exists and why we focus our efforts where we do: if outside groups such as RDR didn’t work to save the dogs on the rez, nobody else could/would. This is also why “awareness” represents a large part of what we do. How can people help save Rez dogs or eliminate the problem when they don’t know the problem exists?
So, who is involved in making rescue happen? One of the first people you’ll see behind the scenes is a volunteer named Doug K. Doug looks like your average Joe. He has a job, a family and takes great vacations when he can carve time out of his busy schedule. Although he’s not an IT Professional or an Accountant, he has experience with both and provides those kinds of services for RezDawg Rescue. You couldn’t tell by looking, but he has altruism coming out of his ears and his efforts allow many other people to perform the hands-on of rescue.
One of those hands-on people is Kim C. Kim has the ability (shared by the best of big-hearted rescuers) to be everywhere at once. You might catch her bottle feeding a young puppy at a spay/neuter clinic, coordinating an adoption event or working on ways to improve the back-office operations of RezDawg. She’s just as likely to be doing all three simultaneously.
Late at night, you might notice our Executive Director, Angela Cerci, huddled in front of her computer working out ways to offer better services to our human and canine (and feline!) clients. This task isn’t the last on her list for the day, and the morning was full of extinguishing fires, directing staff and volunteers where their skills are needed most and working with her own Rez dog foster pack. But keeping the train moving is a major consideration and if you’d looked a few months ago, you’d have seen her composing an email to the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (yes, THAT Ian Somerhalder.) The goal was to expand the Pinehill Clinic.
Angela’s email landed in the inbox of a superb animal person named Kate Harms, the Creatures Division Manager. One thing led to another and not only did ISF provide funding for the most recent Pinehill Clinic, they provided a four-person Veterinarian team to work the clinic as well. Kate was one of those team members.
In Kate’s words, “ISF is very involved in animal welfare. Our mission allows us to support efforts ranging from birth control programs for wild horses to collaborating with groups such as RezDawg Rescue. We seek to work with groups that have the experience as well as the organizational and operational skills to achieve their animal rescue mission.” She continued, “The Rez dog problem was already on our radar when Angela reached out to ISF. After speaking with her about RDR’s short and long term strategy to eliminate the problem and the results they’d achieved to date, I knew RezDawg was a group whose mission and people were closely aligned with the goals and values of ISF.” Kate facilitated ISF’s financial support of our most recent Pinehill, NM spay/neuter clinic. Per Kate, “We were honored to support the clinic and, in the end, the collaboration was even better than we imagined!”
Each group is a cog in the rescue wheel and the wheel doesn’t roll without everybody moving in the same direction. That’s the true beauty of rescue on the Rez. People of different races, beliefs and motivations can put their differences aside and work towards a common goal – to reduce/eliminate the Rez dog overpopulation problem on Native American Reservations. Education plays a large role in our approach. However, simply advertising the benefits of vaccinating and spay/neutering dogs/cats isn’t enough. That’s why we go back to Pinehill again and again. We roll up our sleeves and ask for nothing more than an opportunity to help those that want help keeping their dogs happy and healthy. This has gained us a measure of credibility and has led to more and more opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the animals and the people that care about them.
The result? Only one stray was sighted in Pinehill during the final day of the clinic. True, there were likely 5-10 roaming unseen in the surrounding area, but seeing only one dog on that Sunday is a significant improvement over what we’d have seen in the past. It’s also proof that our work isn’t done. So back we’ll go, again and again, until the job is done in Pinehill…
…At which time, we’ll move our operations to another Rez community and start the process all over again. The Rez dog problem is pervasive and solutions aren’t obvious or easy to implement. Basically, we’re going to need your help.
Would you like to become part of the solution? Do you enjoy hanging out with amazing humans for a whole weekend while you work your… uh… tail off for the benefit of the dogs (and cats!) of the Ramah Navajo Reservation?
We’d love to have you join us (the lasagna on the food table is off-the-chart good and worth investing a weekend of your life all by itself) at a clinic or adoption event. This is why I’ve posted our volunteer application here.
If pitching in at a clinic isn’t an option, there are other ways to support RezDawg Rescue in our mission to Save. Heal. Adopt.
If you are able to join us at a clinic, I guarantee your time will be well spent. From personal experience, I can tell you repeated acts of altruism will improve your life. Whether you act locally, join us at the next clinic or are able to contribute financially, we appreciate your time and attention.
As always, for more information, please delve into RezDawgRescue.org, The Rez Dog Biographies, or stevensable.com