“Can you help them?” was the question.
When Kim Cooper and her partner, DeeDee Diaz, agreed to go “have a look” at a pack of feral dogs near their home in East Texas in April 2012, they had no idea what they would find.
The 13 severely malnourished dogs, all sick or injured and with varying degrees of sociability, were being fed by a woman, Tonya, and her special-needs son after having lured the animals onto their property to save them from starvation or being shot.
No one was sure how long the dogs had been to left to survive on their own, or what their lives had been like before, but Tonya knew she needed help. She called Cooper, a former dog handler and experienced animal rescuer, to see what could be done.
Cooper describes the first time she saw the pack:
Some of them had mange so severe that their skin was bleeding and falling off in chunks. Their bones were protruding from their sides, and their skin was sagging like a secondhand coat that was two sizes too big for them, and then there was little Timothy — crawling towards the food that Tonya had poured out for him on his little deformed front legs.
She and Diaz had initially just planned on trapping the dogs and bringing them to their ranch until they could be taken in by an established rescue group. Cooper started a Facebook page simply entitled “Sick and Injured Feral Dog Pack in East Texas” and uploaded photos of the dogs to be shared, in order to find help. Unfortunately, according to Cooper, many rescue groups simply aren’t equipped to deal with ferals, and help never came.
Spay/neuter expert Ruth Steinberger estimates the feral dog population in the United States at around 6 million. Dogs who get lost or are abandoned — most commonly in rural areas — band together and form packs.
“Their offspring are completely feral, and mange, worms, starvation, other wild animals, and hunters who shoot these dogs make survival a constant struggle,” Cooper adds.
Despite how overwhelming and hopeless the situation seemed, animal lovers Cooper and Diaz decided to do their best to care for the ragtag pack of feral dogs now living in their backyard. They’d first have to heal their broken bodies, but the hardest task would be healing the dogs’ broken spirits.
What happened next is truly an inspiring story of support, encouragement, and community.
Cooper decided to keep the Facebook page she had created about the dogs, and began to update it regularly with more pictures and stories, which read like journal entries. She and Diaz gave all the dogs names and started describing their personalities and how each one was doing as the rescue efforts progressed. More and more people began visiting the page, and now just more than a year later, it has more than 2,400 likes and a solid following of supporters from all over the world, who call themselves the “People Pack.”
“They [the People Pack] have spiritually adopted these animals, and we have become a wonderful community — a family,” says Cooper, who regularly organizes raffles on her Facebook page to help raise money to care for the dogs.
The Facebook page got the attention of Janice Wolf from Rocky Ridge Refuge in Arkansas (who Dogster has profiled before — remember foster mom Cheesecake the capybara and her puppies?) and she offered to take in and treat the two sickest pups, Timothy and sister Teaspoon.
Little Timothy had deformed front legs likely caused from severe malnutrition and having spent most of his short life in a tiny cage in which he couldn’t stand up. He and Teaspoon were also suffering horribly from both demodectic and sarcoptic mange. But in Wolf’s care, and with continued support from the People Pack, both Timothy and Teaspoon made full recoveries. Timothy still lives with Janice at Rocky Ridge Refuge, and Teaspoon has been adopted by a loving family.
In the past year, Cooper has documented the ups and downs of caring for these feral dogs on the Facebook page. From the birth of lead female Smiley’s puppies to the tragic death of original pack member, Roman, she and DeeDee have been transformed by the experience.
“These miraculous creatures have changed the way we view the world,” Cooper says. “We stopped smoking, stopped eating meat, and have a much better understanding of what it means to believe, and, most importantly, to never give up.”
And the couple has certainly not given up. Thanks to their continued commitment, the “before” and “after” photos of the dogs are just amazing. In addition to putting on weight, getting spayed/neutered, and recovering from severe mange and flea infestations, the dogs have undergone psychological transformations as well and are slowly learning to trust — and love — people again.
“Pack Person” Kathy Fischer, who has followed the pack since the beginning, talks about a particular post from the Facebook page that really touched her. She explains that when Cooper and Diaz were transporting Gibson (“Mr. Stink Eye”), Cooper had curled her ungloved fingers through the bars of his cage to move it. She [Cooper] saw Gibson make a move for her hand and braced for the bite to follow. But no bite came; he licked her fingers with pleading eyes to not hurt him.
But caring for these animals has been a huge commitment, financially and otherwise, and not everyone in Cooper’s life has understood why she and Diaz fought so hard to save the feral dogs.
“Some people don’t see the value in saving these dogs; all they see are the limits that have been placed on our lives by taking them in. What do I say to them? How do I explain it? I don’t. If your actions are being directed by love, you are doing the right thing, so just keep on doing it,” she says.
And thanks to encouragement from the People Pack, Cooper is also currently writing a book about her experience with the feral dog pack.
What’s next for Cooper, Diaz, and the pack?
They are currently trying to raise funds in order to build a fence around a two-acre wooded area of their property, to better house the dogs and ensure their safety and comfort. And even though all the dogs are in good health now, flea, worm, and heartworm prevention (in addition to necessities like food and supplements) continue to be considerable monthly expenses.
“It’s often a struggle to stay afloat, but I would not trade one second of it for anything. We have made our place a sanctuary for the pack and they are welcome to live out the remainder of their days here — happy, healthy, and loved.”
All photos via Sick and Injured Feral dog pack in East Texas’ Facebook page.
About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found blogging over at Crystal Goes to Europe.
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