Why We Are Thankful For Animal Rescuers, In Two Photos

Azalea is in the sort of shape that makes it seem like her life has been very hard so far.

The dog recently got picked up as a stray in a part of northeast Florida. When she got to Clay County Animal Care and Control‘s shelter, her thin body was covered in ticks. She had infections in her front legs, is heartworm positive and suffers a low-grade heart murmur.

On top of that, like so many dogs, Azalea found the loud, new shelter environment very stressful.

“She was very depressed,” says Jen Deane, founder of the nonprofit rescue group Pit Sisters — which you can see, painfully clearly, in this photo.

Photo credit: Clay County Animal Care and Control
Photo credit: Clay County Animal Care and Control

Here’s how Azalea looked on Wednesday, as Deane was driving her off to her new temporary home.

“She seems so much more relaxed,” says Deane. “I had to take the picture because it really shows how much being in a shelter affects dogs, and how rescuing one dog really does change their life.”

Photo credit: Pit Sisters
Photo credit: Pit Sisters

Azalea’s life is about to get incredible. She will spend the next eight weeks at the Jacksonville Bridge Community Release Center — a “therapeutic community” in Jacksonville, Florida, where male inmates spend time learning life and vocational skills before release.

Pit Sisters places dogs with the facility’s inmates as part of a program called Teaching Animals and Inmates Life Skills, or TAILS. The inmates care for and train the dogs before they get adopted — and sometimes the dogs change the trainers’ lives as well.

That’s what happened with TAILS participants Sugar Mama and her trainer, now dad, Jason Bertrand.

Source: Pit Sisters
Source: Pit Sisters

Sugar Mama was rescued in a dog fighting bust. Bertrand spent nearly a decade and a half locked up. He says caring for Sugar Mama has “changed my life.”

“It breaks my heart to think of how people could neglect and mistreat this amazing dog. Despite everything, she passes no judgment and holds no grudges,” Bertrand wrote in an essay, that’s a finalist for the 2016 Petco Foundation Holiday Wishes campaign. (Vote here!) “Being in prison has made me somewhat calloused and hard, yet Sugar Mama melts my heart.”

Bertrand is so in love with this dog that he is adopting her. The two will be leaving Jacksonville Bridges, together, on Christmas Eve.

Photo via 2016 Petco Foundation Holiday Wishes campaign
Photo via 2016 Petco Foundation Holiday Wishes campaign

Christina Sutherin, director of the Clay County shelter, tells Shelter Me she’s grateful for the rescue groups like Pit Sisters, that “see the potential in dogs that are often overlooked at shelter, and frequently take on those whose care is too extensive for a county shelter to treat.”

“Without their support,”she says, “the neediest animals would have no chance.”

Azalea has every chance now. She will be at Jacksonville Bridges for the next two months, getting well, trained, and spoiled, before she goes up for adoption.

She’s already on her way to the good life. Here Azalea is on Wednesday, with her beaming new trainer.

Photo credit: Pit Sisters
Photo credit: Pit Sisters

Happy Thanksgiving to all the animal advocates and rescuers — and thank you for what you do.

You can support Pit Sisters’ TAILS program by sponsoring Azalea or another TAILS dog.

Reach out at aringreenwood@gmail.com with story tips!


Arin Greenwood

Arin Greenwood is an animal writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida. Previously, she was animal welfare editor at The Huffington Post. Arin is a former lawyer (J.D. from Columbia Law School, member of the New York Bar), life long animal lover, pit bull advocate, and devoted fan of cats and dogs who run for public office.

Her first novel, Tropical Depression — based on her five-odd, sometimes very odd, years living on a small island near Guam — was published by teeny indie publisher Back Porch Books in 2011. Her second book, a comic young adult mystery called Save The Enemy, was published by Soho Teen in November 2013. Hello From Dog Island!, Arin’s third book, will be published by Soho Teen in 2018.

Know a shelter with a great, innovative program? Have another animal story to share? Get in touch at aringreenwood@gmail.com!