my first pet rescue, two puppies playing together
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My First Pet Rescue

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As a child, living in the small town of Cumberland, Maryland, an animal control facility opened in our neighborhood. By zig-zagging our way through overgrown back yards, ducking under barbed wire and climbing over chain link, my friends and I could make it there in a matter of a few minutes. We loved looking at the unwanted animals, having no idea what would happen if they were not adopted. Their sad and tragic faces called to me as if to say, “Get me out of here!!!”

One day I asked my parents about it. When I found out the animals were killed if they didn’t find homes, I was mortified. I spent a few sleepless nights tossing and turning, trying to figure out a way to find homes for the poor souls. As a child, I didn’t have any experience placing rescues. I had never been involved in rescuing a pet except once.

On another day my friend Nancy and I were playing outside. We saw the saddest, most pitiful old dog shuffling down the hot pavement. He looked old because the fur on his face was mostly white. He seemed to be a Basset hound or a closely related mix. As he struggled to come toward us, his metal tags jangled. There was a rabies tag and another with the name and phone number of his family. We were so excited because we thought we would get a huge reward for finding this dog.

Nancy’s mother called the number and the people came right over. They drove up in a car from the 1940s. It was as old and slow as the Basset hound was. Two elderly people took their time getting out of the car. The woman had tears in her eyes when she saw her dog. The man shook Nancy’s father’s hand. They couldn’t thank us enough. Somehow that old guy had walked clear across town!  They loaded their dog into their antique and left. Where was our big reward? 

I asked my mother about it and she said, “Did you notice how old the car was?”

I said, “Yes.” Their car looked very old indeed. My mother explained that they probably didn’t have any money to give us as a reward. The reward should be that I did something good for another person. That idea stuck with me. But, I had to think of another way to help the animals at the shelter. This time, I’d do something good for the animals. 

Somehow, all of my thinking paid off. I came up with a plan. Since the statute of limitations for this crime ran out many years ago, I can confess it to the world now! 

Earlier, we had seen some puppies with their mother in an indoor/outdoor run at the shelter. The puppies were all loose because they had squeezed themselves under the chain link fencing of the kennel where they spent their time with their mother. I will admit now, I was definitely the ringleader of this little escapade. The neighborhood kids and I decided we would steal some puppies the next day.

I laid out my crazy plan to my co-conspirators. Nancy’s brother would distract the guard. Yeah, we called him a guard because he wore a uniform. I was really young at the time – give me a break! We didn’t know he was just an animal control worker who wore a uniform that was deceivingly like a police uniform. While the guard was being distracted, the rest of us would each grab a puppy and take off running full tilt. Our parents would surely let us keep them! 

Boy, I really did not think this plan through. I was very passionate about the idea and talked everyone into it. I was also extremely persuasive; and I had my friends under a spell. Or, so I thought. 

By the time the distraction of the witless guard was over, we’d be long gone with our puppies in tow. Of course, it didn’t work. The puppies were all inside the kennel, and I had to stick my hand under the fence and pull my puppy out. When I did, he squealed out in alarm! Didn’t he know I was trying to save his life?! I guess not. 

Nancy’s brother took off running and so did the rest of us. We never looked back as we snaked through yards, over and under obstacles like it had been a well-rehearsed course. We never stopped running until we were safely in our own little neighborhood. It was probably about a half a mile running through back yards. When we got back to the neighborhood, I asked everyone to present their puppies. I proudly extended my arms to reveal the puppy I stole. It turned out I was the only one who had the guts to take a puppy. Everyone else was afraid. So much for my being persuasive…

We named him Cookleburger, Cookie for short. My parents were about ready to kill me. Cookleburger had to stay outside. Did I mention, he howled all night? Poor thing. He was big enough to be away from his mother, but emotionally, maybe not so much.

One of our neighbors found someone to take the puppy after a few nights. I was happy he found a home, but I was unhappy he wasn’t with me.

Many years later, in 2014, I was talking with Nancy’s mother who was visiting Baltimore after having heart surgery. We were talking about my puppy theft. She couldn’t remember his name. I said, “How can you forget Cookleburger?”

She said, “No, not that time. The dog after that one.” 

I had never known all of these years, that after we moved away the puppy thefts continued. I had started a trend back in the 1960s and never even knew it. But for me personally, I continued rescuing animals of all species.

Please leave your comments below. 

Read more by Holli Friedland.

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