In August of 2013, after a three year investigation, a multi-state dogfighting operation was raided. Three hundred and sixty seven dogs were seized, making this the second largest dogfighting bust in US history. It took nearly two years of court battles, evidence review and red tape but it resulted in harsh prison terms, huge fines and the rehabilitation of not just the dogs who were seized, but for the puppies born while in custody.
Due to the numbers of dogs needing care, the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA both set up safe shelters to house them. I met roughly half of these dogs while volunteering with the Humane Society. At the HSUS shelter, staff and volunteers worked countless rotations with the goal of helping these victims of cruelty overcome their former lives. Urgent medical treatment was given, every milestone documented and we rejoiced over tiny acts of courage by the dogs from eye contact to handling.
Each time I returned to the shelter, the improvement in the dogs was evident. They began to trust again and learn about toys and treats. They experienced shelter from the weather and looked forward to regular feedings. They finally knew what life off the chain was about. There were some dogs who struggled quietly; they didn't respond to their new world very well. One of those dogs was Homer. Homer had a comfy kennel with a warm bed in an area designated for quiet and calm. He stayed in the back of the kennel, cowering in the presence of people and cringed when touched.
Homer didn't show improvement with each of my visits to the shelter. Nothing would change and it was heartbreaking. I started to wonder if he'd ever be okay.
The HSUS has a partnership with rescues skilled in the needs of victims of cruelty and when dogs are released from their custody, these rescues step up to start their work with the intention of placing them in loving homes. Bark Nation founder Kelly McLaughlin met Homer during her volunteer time at the shelter and knew her rescue could help him. Exactly six months after he was rescued from the chain, Homer was released through the courts. Kelly, along with her sister and Bark Nation co-founder, Kerry McLaughlin, brought Homer and two other dogs who were struggling with fear, Zander and Taco, to Michigan. The three dogs had lived apart at the shelter but they shared a common bond.