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March 2005

By Kymberlie Adams Matthews


Reverend Billy

I have a ‘thing’ for seniors. In fact it may just border on the brink of innocent obsession. I truly find sweetness in their stinky breath, and can’t get enough of their doleful expressions. And there is nothing quite like that moment—that twinkling of the eyes when your recently adopted senior dog realizes that after a lifetime of waywardness, they are finally home. It’s no myth, all dogs have personality, but senior dogs, they have soul. I have been adopting senior dogs for over four years now. Each arrives with a past completely unknown to me and leaves me with a story I will never forget. This is Jack’s tale.

A Lucky Find
I came across Hearts and Homes for Homeless Dogs—a local no-kill animal rescue group—on the Petfinders website and a photo of “Lucky,” a partially blind Maltese senior. I called the number listed with a sincere offer to foster “Lucky” and arranged to pick him up as soon as possible. The man told me to meet him in front of a local Barnes and Noble at seven that evening where he would transfer the dog to me. Extremely eager to meet the little critter, I arrived there at six-thirty. They arrived at half past seven.

When I first saw him my heart skipped a beat and then another. And as I took him from the woman’s arms I realized how light he was—emaciated, he was just a skeleton. He barely had any fur and the bits remaining were matted with dried feces, urine and blood. A large gaping wound covered his right hip. And you couldn’t see his eyes. He practically didn’t have any. In their place were bloody, puss-seeping sores. Where the actual eyeballs should have been, were two holes. It looked like someone had jammed a pencil point into each eye. I caught my breath. And I felt my sister Kristi—who stood next to me—tighten in an attempt to catch hers. I could tell she was thinking the same thing I was—try hard to act like nothing is wrong. Seasoned animal rescuers, we had no doubt we were face to face with an animal cruelty case and had to play it cool.

No paperwork to fill out, no questions of me asked, no exchange of any personal information. I was simply handed the frail dog and they bid us farewell. They made little attempt to explain Lucky’s condition other than to inform us that they were currently housing 25 dogs in their one bedroom apartment—that it was especially hard on the little ones. Also with them was a puppy—a little German shepherd mix—who was being shown to a potential adopter. The puppy was extremely skinny, had severe dandruff from a very apparent skin rash and a white scar that completely circled his muzzle. I had seen this type of scarring before on dogs that had to endure a tin can or rope placed around their mouth area to control barking.

It was obvious that “Lucky” was suffering, as he lay limp in my arms. On our way to the animal hospital, my sister and I discussed the possibility that this little guy would have to be euthanized.

Our veterinarian confirmed what we already knew: the dog needed immediate attention. Weighing in at just four pounds, he was given antibiotic and stabilizing fluids, his eyes were flushed and blood was drawn. Tests showed that he was less than half his normal body weight, anemic, blinded by severe ulcers in both eyes, and suffering from a bad case of worms. Although definitely a senior, there was no good estimate as to his age. The two main ways of telling are through the eyes—no luck there—and teeth, which were rotten, broken, and unnaturally chipped; all signs that this dog had probably tried to eat rocks—a symptom of starvation.

The good news was that with care, he could pull through. I took him home, disinfected and cleaned him up a bit. He was infested with fleas so I tried bathing him. However, the fleas took the opportunity and rushed to the poor guy’s head. It was a disgusting and intense battle to pick them all off, but he gave me no opposition. Preening over, I wrapped him in a fleece blanket, and he easily settled himself asleep on my lap, waking up only to empty his food dish. Although fortunate to have been found, that evening “Lucky” became known as Jack—a new name for a new beginning.

The next morning, I placed a phone call, desperately trying to find out more information on Hearts and Homes and where their apartment was located. I left a voice message, thanking them for “Lucky” and offered my services as a volunteer. No reply. For weeks, our attempts to contact them went ignored. My sister and I even attempted a few stake-outs—hiding in her pick-up truck—in the Barnes in Noble area hoping to get a glimpse of them walking dogs. We also asked dozens of people walking in the area if they knew the house where all the dogs lived—where Hearts and Homes was located. No one knew a thing. We knew we needed an address to report them to the authorities. It was all so very frustrating.

And the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months…

Six Months Later
This past January marks six months since Jack’s rescue. He has regained partial vision in his eyes, although he will be on eye medications for the rest of his life. His fur has grown back into a semi-luxurious white coat, and he has more than doubled his weight.

On the downside, because Jack was neglected and abused he suffers from low self-esteem that manifests in severe separation anxiety. There is a spot on his right hip that he will gnaw till raw and bleeding if I so much as leave him alone for five minutes. Jack likes to be in the same room as me at all times and when I do go out, I have to hire a babysitter and slip him a happy pill in his favorite treat. Lucky for him, he can nestle himself into a dog-bed under my work desk all day and NYC has many pet friendly establishments to keep his mom from feeling deprived of a social life.

On the upside, he likes to play. He loves to have his belly rubbed, and it’s hard to find a time when his little pink tongue isn’t poking out of his mouth. It’s all so worth it.

Also this past January, Hearts and Homes was thrown open. The Daily News headlines said it all “Animal control officers rescued four mangy mutts from the basement kennel of an illegal Brooklyn animal shelter and found a dead pooch stashed in a van.” A total of seven dogs—six live, one dead—were removed from the Hearts and Homes facility. The founder and director Carmello Salamone, better known as Mel, actually led the agents to the brown and white dog corpse in the van—stating that the dog had died over the weekend but he did not know what to do with the body. The truth about the Hearts and Homes facility had finally been found out. “All of these animals are in poor condition and the dead dog’s coat was stained with urine and matted with feces,” Special Agent Joe Pentangelo of the ASPCA stated. The six remaining Hearts and Homes dogs are now improving at a city veterinarian’s office.

On February 22, after a month-long tedious investigation, Carmello Salamone was officially arrested, charged with seven counts of animal cruelty. Each count, considered a misdemeanor, carries a penalty of up to one year in prison. Further investigation is being carried out on other possible suspects. Managers of the shelter Todd Puma, 38 and his wife Jamie, 19 have not yet been charged but are barred from returning to the site. Mel is also being investigated for possible improprieties in the shelter’s use of donations by the state attorney general’s office. Hearts and Homes was also found to be an unlicensed facility, failing to attain a nonprofit status after 11 years of collecting supposed donations. The director of an upstate animal sanctuary removed 11 dogs and five cats from the shelter on January 10 at the request of shelter volunteers who reported deplorable conditions. Animal rights advocates continue to state that other animals are missing and they assume them to be dead. The investigation remains open.

More Harm than Good
I can’t say for certain what went wrong with Hearts and Homes. Did they start off with good intentions? We like to believe that all animal shelters are safe havens for stray animals and that all shelter workers are benevolent people. In most cases, of course, this is the case. Sadly, however, the fact is there are simply some terrible animal shelters with poorly trained staff, unsanitary conditions, etc.

People become tormented by the homeless dog and cat crisis and try to help by keeping large numbers of animals in their homes or in so-called “no-kill shelters.” All too often, folks with the best intentions quickly find themselves overwhelmed with both work and expenses, and the situation for the animals deteriorates, sometimes to a horrific degree.



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