A few months ago, I shared some sad news about losing my dog Grendel after nearly 13 years of companionship. But now there's some happier news to share.
We've adopted a new puppy, and this rescue dog has had quite a journey to finally reach our home.
My daughter, Gretchen, could barely contain her glee when she first met our new pup Fezzik in the parking lot of a hotel in Colchester where we picked him up.
Like many rescued dogs that end up in the northeast, Fezzik actually started life in the deep south of the United States. Kylie deGroot, director of development and communications at the Humane Society of Chittenden County, says that in Vermont there’s more of a demand for adopting stray animals rather than giving them up.
“We're really lucky here in Chittenden and Grand Isle County," she says. "There seems to be an insatiable desire to adopt here, so last year — we're so proud — we found homes for 940 animals, which is really incredible here. We see almost a thousand animals come through our doors, the past few years.”
DeGroot says that while 70 percent of the dogs that the Humane Society of Chittenden County finds homes for come from the local community, the southern pipeline of rescued dogs is also a big part of their adoption process.
“We've transported 80 dogs so far this year from the south," she says. "We have a wonderful donor who funds our dog transports called 'Under the Weather Pet.' Because of this donor we're able to pull 80 dogs so far this year from the south and literally save all of their lives.”
That's because unlike the Humane Society of Chittenden County, which houses animals as long as necessary until they're adopted, deGroot says many southern shelters are overrun by stray, unwanted dogs that sometimes have to be put down.
“They just don't have the space, and they have huge hearts, and they're working as hard as they can to save as many as they can, but it's just not a luxury that they have down there,” she says.
Fezzik was one of the lucky ones.
He was saved by a man named Glen "Rusty" Russell Morphew. Morphew had seen several generations of puppies born to wild dogs who roam an abandoned property next to his home in Guntersville, Alabama.
But when the most recent litter was born, Morphew said he couldn't sit on the sidelines any longer.
“I've never been able to catch them so it just keeps propagating," he says. "I know I probably shouldn't feed them but I couldn't watch them starve, so I’ve been putting food out for them under an empty old trailer that's sitting on that property.”
He said the last, and most crucial step, was getting the trust of the litter's mother.
“One day, I just took a little chance and just crawled under the trailer," Morphew recalls. "And she moved over about six feet and then just laid down while I played with the puppies ... they were probably three or four days old. And then once they got big enough to come out from under the trailer and start running around, they would come to me and so that's how I was able to get my hands on this litter.”
Morphew and his wife Ruth then contacted a local shelter and they helped provide some fencing for an outdoor pen, and the litter of four had a new home, at least for a while. Morphew says he and Ruth grew close to the dogs in those first few weeks.
“It was tough to see them go. We got really attached to them," he said.
The next person that helped Fezzik make his way to Vermont was Denise Grigas. She works for Northeast PA Pet Fund & Rescue in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and is used to having dogs in her home — sometimes as many as 10 at a time.
Like so many people who do work for rescue organizations, she says, it's not a paying gig: "My husband and I, we opened our house to all these animals, and no, we don't get a penny."
Grigas works the night shift as a respiratory therapist. She has three kids who also help out when they can.
They rely on donations from local companies for some of the food, chew toys and such, but the rest comes from out of pocket. The dogs stay for as long as they need to until they find a permanent home.
“I usually take puppies," she says. "Sometimes they can stay for about a month; older dogs sometimes take a little longer to place. So the longest foster I've ever had is eight months, and that is very rare."
She does it because she just loves dogs. And, she says, her family took a real liking to Fezzik in particular.
“That face ... He kind of reminded us of our maybe third foster we had, his name was Rudy," Grigas recalls.
"My kids fell in love with this Rudy and I think it kind of tore their hearts. They kept saying 'send them Maya [Fezzik's sister], they won't know the difference!" says Grigas.
So why all this sacrifice and effort for a dog? Well, any dog lover knows that particular tug of emotional connection that makes the human-canine relationship so unique.
And as deGroot will tell you, finding homes for rescues like Fezzik wouldn't be possible without those dog lovers who are willing to donate their time, and their hearts.
“We could not run this place without volunteers and that's the honest truth of it," deGroot says. “We have a staff of 15 people here but a lot of the work that is done here — a lot of the cleaning, the feeding, the help with events, help with getting our message out there — is done through volunteers and we couldn't do it without them.”
And that volunteer spirit made it possible for Fezzik to make it from Alabama to Pennsylvania, and finally to to become part of our family here in Vermont.