EL CENTRO, Calif.–Sitting in the window of Dobson’s Antiques here, a six-year-old basset hound-dachshund mix named Lulu is the target of smiles from onlookers and customers as they walk down Main Street.
Little do they know how much time, money, and most of all love, that it took for her owner, Cathy Dobson, to rescue Lulu along with approximately 100 other stray and abused dogs she has rescued in the past 20 years.
Saving forsaken pets started when she was living in Los Angeles. “I found a dog lying in the trash can that was only a couple hours old. And that was my first rescue,” Dobson said. She nursed the puppy to health and after a few months found it a home. “Then it just became a thing.”
If the dog had a collar, she would call the owner. However, if it did not, she would take it to the veterinarian and have it scanned for illness, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and then try to adopt it out.
Dobson said that the amount of time it takes to get the dogs ready for adoption usually varies anywhere from a week to a month. “It really just depends on the dog.”
The least amount of money she’s ever spent on a dog rescue was around $50 since some dogs won’t end up needing as much maintenance.
However, Dobson recalls her most memorable rescue–a dog that was at the time an unrecognizable breed and in extremely critical condition, costing her $4,000.
“I don’t think I’d ever do $4,000 again,” she said, “but it was worth it, he turned out to be a wonderful dog.”
It took Dobson four months to actually capture the dog, and she says, “I had him for a whole year before he even let me touch him.”
The animal had mange, a condition where the dog is so chronically infested with ticks that they begin to grow and live inside the hair follicles making it impossible for any hair to grow on the dog. The dog had also been poisoned with battery acid and Freon, showed deep chain marks all around his neck, and cigarette burns and rat bites all over his body.
With plenty of medical treatments and vet visits, Dobson said, “It took several months for him to start growing hair and looking normal.” It was only then that they learned he was actually a German shepherd who soon became known as Max.
Even after he began to appear healthy and normal, Dobson still continued to take Max to the vet at least once a week for a whole month.
“The doctors said that he wouldn’t live past two years old. I had Max for nine years.”
Dobson says there are probably only a handful of organized animal rescue efforts in the valley, but the technology of Facebook has made reuniting pets with their humans a clear success by banding together hundreds of people in the shared effort. Since the Imperial Valley: Lost and Found Pets page went live almost two years ago, dozens, if not hundreds of pets have found their way home. “At least one or two a day,” Dobson said.
Sue Colt Masters, another rescuer and co-founder of Spay and Neuter of the Desert Society, or S.A.N.D.S., says she has rescued approximately 75 dogs within the last 15 years, and her experiences are quite similar to Dobson’s, rescuing everything from tiny Chihuahuas to giant Mastiffs. “Sometimes people call me because they find them, or I just find them walking on the streets.”
Masters also starts off seeing if anyone claims them, by leaving them with Imperial County Animal Control for a week. If they are not claimed, she pays to get all of their medical treatments done, and then finds homes for them by placing their pictures in the local newspapers and veterinary offices.
She often works with Man’s Best Friend, a rescue and adoption facility in El Centro, in hopes of finding someone who will adopt from there.
In fact, Dobson’s beloved dog Lulu came to her through that rescue shelter when the last efforts to adopt her failed.
Due to a traumatizing accident that had taken the life of her previous dog, Dobson was reluctant to adopt Lulu. “But the owner of Man’s Best Friend called me and said, ‘This dog is waiting for you, Cathy.’ And so there I went.”
Dobson adopted Lulu on September 4th, 2010, and they’ve been inseparable ever since as both spend Mondays through Thursdays at Dobson’s Antique Shop.
“She makes the customers feel warm, welcomed, and gives the store a really nice atmosphere,” she said.
In September 2011, the Imperial Valley Independent Business Association awarded Lulu with a $500 prize check for “Best Customer Service Rep in the Imperial Valley,” beating out 20 human nominees.
Half of the check was donated to Man’s Best Friend, and the other half was given to Devon Apodoca at the Humane Society of Imperial County, who also devotes the majority of his time at work caring for and trying to find homes for the animals at the shelter.
The Humane Society receives anywhere from 400-500 strays per month. “Eighty percent of the animals that leave, get sent to another shelter, 20 percent actually get adopted,” says Apodoca.
“People have this huge misconception that as soon as an animal walks through the door, we put it down,” says Apodoca. “Obviously that’s not true, there’s 80 cats running around [here].”
It costs $140 to adopt a dog at the society, a fee that includes all of their vaccines, their spay/neuter procedure, and one free trip to the vet.
Private purchases may cost $400 for any other dog, depending on the breed and/or condition of the dog.
That’s why people involved in the rescue of animals like Dobson, Masters, and Apodoca, encourage the adoption of a shelter or rescued pet, because not only is it cheaper, “It’s for a good cause,” says Apodoca.
And, Dobson suggests,
“Rescues make the best pets because they are so thankful.”