A couple of months ago, Susan Waldron of Anniston was driving along a narrow, curvy road when a movement caught her eye. She stopped for a better look and spotted a dog, foraging in a ditch alongside the street.

“It was pitiful,” she said. “It looked starved and mangy, trying to get food out of a take-out container that had been thrown away.”

Susan called out to the dog, who came right to her. “Her eyes were almost swollen closed and she was skin and bones. I can’t imagine the agony she was feeling.”

She wrapped the animal in a towel and took it home. She named the dog Gracie because she believes the animal was saved by the grace of God.

Mary Ann Couch has seen dozens of dogs in similar circumstances. “Imagine leaving a baby on the side of the road,” she said. “A baby can’t take care of itself, and neither can a dog.”

She believes people abandon unwanted dogs this way because they don’t want to take the dog to a shelter where it might be euthanized. “People might think it’s OK to dump a dog somewhere, that someone will find it and take it in, but that’s highly unlikely,” Mary Ann said. “It’s more likely the dog will starve to death. Starvation is a horribly painful way to die and it’s a very lonely way to die.”

As is being hit by a car or attacked by other dogs or a coyote or any of the many other ways abandoned dogs die. “Even worse,” said Millie Harris. “They could fall into the hands of a sick, cruel person or be used as bait in a dog-fighting ring.”

That’s what she suspected happened to Maggie, an injured dog she spotted at the family farm near Lincoln. “Her teeth had been ground down, which is a practice of dog fighters so the dog can’t defend itself,” Millie said. Maggie underwent surgery to repair a torn belly.

Susan Waldron’s Gracie didn’t need surgery, but did receive her first set of shots and was given medicine to treat mange. Her age was guesstimated to be 3 months, and she weighed 6 pounds.

Within a month, Gracie had gained an additional 12 pounds, and she was growing new fur and living a life much different than the one she had when Susan found her in that ditch.

Gracie is not Susan’s first rescue. One day, when she was at the local animal shelter helping dogs get some afternoon exercise, a stray was brought in. “She must have had a hundred ticks on her,” Susan remembered. “Even the space between her toes was packed with them.”

Susan was on her way out of town for a business trip when the shelter called to report that, due to the massive amount of ticks, the dog was severely anemic and needed a place to foster for a few weeks. She called her husband, Craig Waldron, and asked him to go get her. “By the time I got back from my trip, those two had bonded and we adopted her.” That was a decade ago, and Sadie is still part of the Waldron family.

Mary Ann certainly understands that type of bonding. She believes animals are put on this earth to teach us unconditional love. “Rescuing an animal is one of the most rewarding things a person can do. It gives me great joy,” she said. “Dogs that have been abandoned are terrified, but when they find safety in a loving home, their true nature comes out, and so does the love they give back.”

Rescuing stray dogs is an expensive project. “SAVE (Saving Animals Volunteer Effort) has helped me with spaying and neutering, and individuals come forward to help with expenses,” Susan said. “There are many wonderful people in this community who rescue and foster animals.”

One of Susan’s most beloved rescues was a German Shepherd she named Annie. “I named her after Anniston because she roamed there for so long,” she said. “Millie Harris spent weeks, if not months, trying to catch this poor dog.”

Annie wandered neighborhoods, giving birth to litter after litter of puppies, always eluding capture. “One day she got trapped in a neighbor’s garage and Millie took her to the vet,” Susan said.

Millie remembers that day. “The poor dog was in terrible shape. She was almost dead.”

Annie was treated for starvation and sarcoptic (contagious) mange. Once she was released from care, Susan volunteered to foster her. “I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she said, looking back on it. “She came to me as a 60-pound dog with no hair on her tail and only nubs for teeth. I can’t imagine what she looked like before spending three weeks at the vet’s office.”

In a loving, caring home, Annie’s weight almost doubled. “The transformation was incredible,” Millie said.

At the time of her rescue, Annie was estimated to be 10 years old. She lived another four years — “another four wonderful years,” Susan clarified. Tears filled her eyes at the memory of Annie. “She became my heart dog, my protector.”

Susan loves all animals, but is especially fond of seniors, who are afraid and wary at first. “But once they are able to trust you, they become grateful, loving companions,” she said.

Mary Ann agrees. She once rescued a dog that was estimated to be 18 years old. “He was out in the middle of the street,” she said. Once she got him in the car, Mary Ann realized the poor creature was both deaf and blind. “I named him Henry, and he was so sweet and kind. He only lived another six months, but let me tell you, it was the best six months of his life.”

Under Alabama law, abandonment of an animal is a crime. It doesn’t need to be considered the solution for an unwanted pet. “Oftentimes a simple Facebook post will result in responses from local rescue groups willing to help,” Millie said.

 “Have compassion,” Mary Ann said. “Try every way possible to re-home your pet so that it can live out its days in safety and love.”

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at donnabarton@cableone.net.

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