September 7, 2011
Special Delivery at Vermont Animal Shelter
Love’s labor not lost
by Gail Berrigan
While the fires in Texas grabbed national headlines, Vermont residents braced for more water damage as heavy rains continue to besiege the state.
Only a week after Tropical Storm Irene closed roads and destroyed homes, volunteers at The HSUS's emergency animal shelter in West Halifax feared the worst as clouds gathered over the weekend. Heavy rains—residual effects of Tropical Storm Lee—were predicted.
A few grabbed coats and headed to their cars as the rain began to fall on Labor Day, uneasy about the prospect of being stranded on unsafe or impassable roads.
Road safety and travel conditions uncertain
The fears are well founded: many of Vermont's key highways, including a main east-west route between Bennington and Brattleboro, are closed. Finding alternate routes makes travel difficult and slow. Other roads damaged by Irene but still passable are dangerously close to being washed out. Many roads are seriously eroded and in need of repair.
Late afternoon on Monday, shelter manager and HSUS Vermont state director Joanne Bourbeau called together a few HSUS volunteers to discuss staying overnight at the shelter. She expressed concern that the road to the shelter would be closed, preventing access the next day.
In the end, a few volunteers did stay late into the night, but not because of the weather.
A pregnant Labrador dog—one of the dogs rescued from a Vermont puppy mill in July and housed at the emergency shelter—went into labor on Monday evening.
Within hours, five tiny brown pups had emerged; all looked well and the staffers overseeing the delivery headed home. By the time the morning crew arrived on Tuesday—the evening rains not as bad as expected—a total of seven squirmy, mewling chocolate Lab pups were ready for breakfast.
Then it was on to the day's routine of feeding, cleaning, and caring for the animals at the shelter. In addition to the puppy mill dogs, the shelter houses six locally owned cats and one dog belonging to a National Guard volunteer temporarily stationed in Rutland. Custody of the puppy mill dogs is pending resolution of the case; a hearing is scheduled for September 9.
Aftereffects haunt a community uniting to recover post-Irene
That afternoon, Bourbeau drove to Wilmington to drop off several hundred pounds of free pet food at a local distribution warehouse. Wilmington was severely impacted by Irene; one of the state's fatalities occurred here when the driver of a car was swept off a flooded bridge and into the Deerfield River.
To find out how to help the Vermont shelter, please call 301-529-3378.
For Bourbeau, a longtime resident of the area and veteran of disaster response, the damage from Irene strikes close to home. Friends have lost businesses which won't reopen. Students returning to school this week are advised to bring bottled water; local drinking water is contaminated. Her six-year-old daughter is still fearful after hearing that a family member's home was shaken from its foundation by a raging river.
Nevertheless, residents are doing what Vermonters do so well: helping out their neighbors and taking care of things. The natural disaster has nurtured the spirit of solidarity and community—while many of the volunteers at the shelter are digging out at home, they are also making time to help the dogs. “Playing with puppies is more fun than cleaning up hazardous waste,” says Bourbeau.
All of this is good news for the dogs at the shelter, who are benefitting from the outpouring of love and attention. Bourbeau hopes that the next big news from West Halifax will be notice of an adoption event.
By then, she hopes, the weather will once again be the subject of small talk—or no news at all.
Gail Berrigan is the editor of HumaneSociety.org.