Rescue Mission

There are dozens of non-profit animal shelters, farms and facilities, breed rescue groups and pet adoption agencies across the state. Here are rescue stories with happy endings and information on how you can help.

All four dogs pictured here are rescues. Click here to read about their stories. Photo by Kaylee Greer, Dog Breath Photography

He was starving and shivering, abandoned and alone, terrified and tied to a tree deep in the woods, with only a small cup of water for sustenance.

Miraculously, utility crew members who happened to be working nearby last fall heard the pitiful cries and plaintive whimpers of the four-month-old purebred Siberian husky puppy.

“He was only a baby and someone took him out there and left him to starve to death. He was extremely malnourished and very thin. He needed medical care. If those guys hadn’t found him and notified the authorities so he could be brought to us immediately, he certainly would have died like that,” says Lisa Dennison, the executive director of the 143-year-old New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Stratham.

“We named the puppy Pinecone because he was found tied to a pine tree,” she says.

For several weeks, Pinecone received nutritious food and top-flight medical care to heal his body. He had safe shelter where his broken heart and wounded soul were healed. He learned to trust and love again.

“When the seven-day stray hold was up, one of the utility guys came back and adopted him because he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, forget him. Pinecone is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. He’s a great dog, and now he’s with a great guy. He’s in his perfect forever home,” Dennison says.

Pinecone deservedly got his happily ever after. But the cruelty, abuse and abandonment this husky puppy suffered isn’t unusual. 

This purebred Siberian husky was found tied to a tree deep in the woods, abandoned by its owner. By sheer luck, “Pinecone” was rescued by a utility crew that was working nearby. One of those workers decided to rescue him twice, adopting him from the shelter seven days later. 

That’s why there are dozens of certified non-profit animal shelters, farms and facilities, breed rescue groups and pet adoption agencies across the state. At each of them the dedicated and relentlessly hard working staff and the equally committed volunteers help homeless and innocent animals get a second chance at love, and at life.

There is a myriad of reasons why animals of all species, stripes and sizes end up in rescue.

Some are seized by legal authorities from the person supposedly caring for them because of negligence, neglect, cruelty or hoarding. Others, like Pinecone, are discarded and deserted or dropped off at the shelter door, sometimes without even a collar and ID tag or a simple note. A great many are surrendered by owners no longer willing or able to care for them properly.

The explanations for voluntary owner surrender vary. The most common are the lack of time to devote to the pet, divorce or domestic violence, marriage or a new baby in the home, moving to a different residence, physical ailments or mental illness like advancing dementia, foreclosure and other financial factors.

“The ones that always hit me the hardest are when senior citizens come to the shelter — it happens several times a year — and tell us that they have just gotten this horrible medical diagnosis, or they’ve reached the point where they love their pet so much but they can no longer provide it with the care and quality of life it deserves. They are in tears, are extremely emotional, and they tell us that they hate more than anything to have to give up this animal they love so much, but this is the responsible thing to do. It is really heart-breaking,” says D.J. Bettencourt, the community relations and development director for the Salem Animal Rescue League (SARL), which has served the southern part of the state since 1992 and rescues and adopts out close to 800 dogs and cats annually.

The NHSPCA, which is the oldest and largest humane organization in the state, is the only one able to provide full services for a menagerie of small and large animals of almost every type. Dennison, now in her 22nd year at the helm, attributes money problems as the most prevalent reason for owner surrender.

“Finances is the big one,” she says. “The cost of veterinary care is hard for many people. They are able to acquire the animal, however they’ve been able to acquire it, to feed it, and hopefully do the heartworm and flea and tick preventatives. But then when there is a problem, like a broken leg, and it’s a $1,500 vet bill, now it’s a problem. We see a lot of that. What we find is that the animals that are coming to us, particularly dogs, through an owner surrender may have more medical needs. There is a higher percentage of this than there used to be.”

The Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire, located in Bedford, also serves the entire state and has facilitated an average 1,591 adoptions per year of small animals, including birds, rodents and reptiles as well as dogs and cats, over the last six years. But it is much more than a shelter.

“We improve animal welfare by helping pets and the people who care for them. Our goal is to keep animals in their loving homes whenever appropriate and possible, and we have been able to do that by providing programs and supports, such as our pet food pantry, behavior consultations, low-cost spay/neuter clinics ‘Spayapalooza,’ Save Haven [temporary housing] and the annual rabies and micro-chipping event, ‘Bow Wow Bedford,’” says Director of Communications and Community Relations Katie Schelzel.

Veterinarians and animal welfare advocates agree that not only does the simple and low-risk surgical procedure of spaying and neutering contribute to the animal’s better long-term health and behavior, it significantly reduces the number of unwanted and homeless pets and keeps the population in check.

“Over the years, the community has completely embraced the importance of spaying and neutering,” Dennison says. “There are lots of reason to spay and neuter. I believe in New England we have led the country in reducing our over-population problem.”

That doesn’t say much for the rest of the country, particularly the South, and that’s why shelters and agencies like SARL and the Animal Rescue Network of New England (ARNNE), which hosts pet adoption days in Pelham, are among the many importing animals by transport for adoption.

“Titu” was 10 years old when she came into the Animal Rescue League because her owner passed away. Understandably depressed, she was grateful to receive hugs and love from Jenna Abreu, the League’s director of medical and integrative care, during her morning rounds, and was adopted in less than a month into a new loving home.

“The southern states have a major pet over-population problem and it’s because people are not as conscious of spaying and neutering their animals. Sadly, but also interestingly, the spay and neuter culture isn’t as strong there as it is here,” Bettencourt explains. “We have a relationship with a number of shelters in the southern states. We bring animals set to be euthanized in those shelters up here.

“The harsh reality of it is, if an animal gets out in New England, its chances of surviving the winter are very slim. In southern winters, where the temperatures are much more temperate, the reproduction cycle can spin out of control. That’s why the southern shelters are flooded with animals and stretched to capacity. Unfortunately, that’s puts them in the position of being high kill shelters,” he continues. “We work very hard to rescue and transport up to Salem as many of these animals as we can when we have the space to do so. Any time we can step in and save some lives we will do that.”

Chewy, a 6-year-old Yorkshire Terrier mix, was one lucky dog. Warehoused in a Texas shelter and on the euthanasia short list, by a stroke of sheer luck in September he became part of a Pelham family that was grieving the recent loss of a beloved 15-year-old Shitzu-Poodle mix named Abner.

“My mother reached out to ARNNE to see if they had any dogs with [long] hair available for adoption and at the time they didn’t. But our representative at ARNNE quickly got word of a dog in this shelter,” explained Amanda Andrews. “Within an hour of being euthanized, the rep put this poor dog on a bus up here.”

Chewy was terribly traumatized from his time in the Texas shelter, not to mention what preceded it, and he didn’t even know how to walk on a leash or eat from a bowl. It took time, effort and patience to bring this timid little guy around, but it was well worth it.

“Words cannot express how happy we are to have little Chewy in our lives. To see how far he’s progressed since being an hour away from death is astounding.” says Andrews. “We don’t know why some family surrendered him to the kill shelter in Texas, but we are glad they did. He is our little Chewbacca now, and he’s not going anywhere.”

“Bonnie” came to the Animal Rescue League of NH from the ASPCA’s Rehabilitation Center in NJ for fearful dogs, such as those confiscated from puppy mills and hoarding situations. She was initially rescued from an overwhelmed animal shelter that needed the ASPCA’s intervention due to her level of fear. Bonnie spent seven months at the rehab center, and then another month at the League before she was adopted. Photo courtesy Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire.

It’s the success stories and happy endings that drive and reinvigorate those whose mission is to rescue and rehome the animals in need.

“Three hundred and sixty-five days a year we are here for homeless animals. It’s not depressing. It’s joyful when these animals find a good home. We focus on the positive. It doesn’t matter what the age of the animal is. They can be with us longer due to age, but our policy is ‘open admission, unlimited stay.’” says Dennison. “Our agency has been blessed. We have an amazing 100 percent release rate to a new forever home for any animal that is treatable and/or trainable.”

Not all animals needing a good and loving home end up in the shelters, foster homes or at the farms and off-site facilities they operate.

Reckless ‘n Lively is a thoroughbred horse but despite being the great granddaughter of the legendary racehorse and leading sire Caro, she wasn’t competitive once in the starting gate. Winless in four starts while being dropped down the class ladder, the race she most had to win was the one into someone’s heart.

“I got her off the track at Rockingham Park,” says Kathy Whedon, who with husband, Jim, adopted a Golden Retriever, their fourth, as a Christmas gift to each other and welcomed Max into their Loudon home. “I bought her when she was 3 years old, put her in the trailer and took her home, and have had her for 13 years. My passion is thoroughbreds, and she and I have a connection like no other horse in my life and I’ve had horses all of my life. I call her Leyla and just hack around on her. She’s a very happy girl.”

Whedon had Leyla vetted at her own expense before the purchase, but when adopting from an agency the animal has already passed medical, behavioral and personality tests. Moreover, the professional adoption counselors are highly adept matchmakers and that makes the process far preferable to getting a pet from Craigslist, a puppy mill, pet store or backyard breeder.

“Captain” was 9 months old when he was surrendered by his owner, who had allergies. As you can see, he was excited to be adopted quickly. Photo courtesy Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire.

“If you adopt from a reputable shelter, you know that pet is adoptable. That is our main goal and we take it very seriously,” Schelzel says.

“Every animal adopted from SARL leaves our campus 100 percent healthy and good to go. If there are medical issues that are long-term, we make the adopter aware of that,” says Bettencourt. “Our expert staff sits down with the potential adopter because it is extremely important to us that when we adopt out an animal it is going to its forever home and is not going to have to come back to us for whatever reason. We never want to set any animal up to fail.”

For those determined to adopt only a purebred dog, there are individual rescue groups for each of the 184 breeds currently recognized by the American Kennel Club and many have chapters in the state headed by aficionados who volunteer their time and resources.

“We get tons of applications from people wanting to adopt a purebred Shetland Sheepdog but we don’t get in enough of them for all who want one. But over the years we’ve found wonderful new forever families for about 600 dogs,” says Jody Abrahamson, who started Granite State Sheltie Rescue in 1986. “We are all volunteers and the dogs we take in are placed in foster homes with people who are Sheltie knowledgeable and where they can be fully evaluated and treated for any problems. There are some heart-shattering stories, but there are so many more that are heart-warming. Everything we do is for the dogs.”

Sometimes the best way to help pets is to help their owners. If, for instance, someone is unable to care for their pet, many of the animal shelters across the state will keep the pet until the owner recovers.

D. J. Bettencourt of the Salem Animal Rescue League explains: “We call it our safe home, safe pet program. We will take in the pet free of cost if the person is in a domestic violence situation or facing a military deployment, or if it’s a foreclosure situation and they can’t care for their animal at that time. Instead of having to surrender their animal to us entirely, this program allows us to care for that animal free-of-charge to that person. This gives them time to get back up on their feet and work out the situation.”

Kathy Whedon bought “Leyla” off the track at Rockingham Park after the winless throughbred was dropped down the class ladder. Whedon says Leyla is a “very happy girl.”

Another issue for owners — big bills can rack up mighty quickly when your pet is sick or injured, and even routine care is a drain on the piggy bank.

The compassionate doctors and staff at Windham Animal Hospital in Windham are doing their part to help. “We work with 30 different rescue organizations. As long as they have 5013C charitable status, they get 50 percent off all medical and surgical services. Some things we don’t charge at all for,” says hospital manager John Klardie.

The program was initiated about 10 years ago by owner and senior veterinarian Dr. Timothy Butterfield. “Doctor Butterfield feels we have an obligation to do something about society’s problem rather than just be in business to take care of the pets who have a home. The rescue groups are true non-profits with volunteers who are giving up their own time to bring in pets who need care, so we can help with the big discount. It’s giving back. Somebody has to do something for them,” says Klardie.

And sometimes that somebody falls in love. “Several of the doctors and staff here have adopted rescues that were brought in for treatment, and they have done that many times over the years. I’ve done it myself. The last two dogs I’ve had were rescues that walked through our door,” says Klardie.

Valentine’s Day, the holiday of the heart, might be a good time to consider a gift you can love that will love you back. After all, a new best friend is better than chocolate and roses — hands (or paws, hooves, wings and fins) down.

Homer, a rescue from West Virginia, was recently sprung from his kennel at the Salem Animal Rescue League after years in “the clink.” Long stays are not uncommon to allow animals time to adjust after lives of neglect or abuse. Homer was a “sweetheart,” according the SARL representatives, but needed basic training to ensure that his adoption was to a forever home. Photo courtesy Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire.

Top 10 Reasons To Adopt a Pet

A “second-hand” pet is in no way “second-rate,”  and anyone who has adopted from an animal shelter or rescue organization will tell you that love really is lovelier the second time around. Why not give a homeless animal that second chance it desperately needs? Here is a little incentive:

1 You’re saving a life. All animals available for adoption have been lost, given up or abandoned often through no fault of their own. Millions are euthanized each year when there is no home for them.

2 Shelter animals make fantastic pets. Experts agree that they understand what they’ve been through and are grateful for being adopted. Happily, they will bond to you and love you forever.

3 The pets are healthy. They have all received medical care and are up-to-date with vaccinations or any treatment and are good-to-go.

4 The perfect match is waiting for you. The pets have undergone personality and behavior tests and the adoption counselors are great at selecting the right one for you and your lifestyle.

5 Adults and seniors make great pets. Most are already house-trained, obedience trained, and have good manners. You don’t have to worry about biting, chewing, clawing or other destructive behavior.

6 You’re breaking the cycle of pet over-population. All adoptable animals have been spayed/neutered.

7 You’re helping to stop abusive puppy and kitten mills. At the same time, you’re supporting a valuable non-profit community institution and resource.

8 Adoption is cost-effective. Adoption fees can’t begin to cover the cost of each animal, but they are kept low to help homeless animals. They cost much less than the price of an animal sold for profit.

9 You encourage others to adopt. When someone asks where you got your adorable, amazing, perfect pet, you can tell them.

10 Because love is unconditional. You’re not only changing an animal’s whole world, you’re changing yours, too.

The Happily Ever After

Photo by Kaylee Greer, Dog Breath Photography

The opening photo for this story (shown again above) is a portrait of four dogs who each have a story that began with abandonment, suffering and misunderstanding and ended with a happily ever after. Here are the heartwarming tales of these pups who found loving homes and humans.

Kika (bottom middle) and Katchka (bottom right)

Kika and Katchka were rescued in Key West, Florida at a young age. Both dogs were taken to a veterinarian to be put down due to aggression issues their previous owner couldn’t handle. The vet, who was not comfortable with putting down such young, healthy dogs, instead called a local rescue. Luckily, since they are a bonded pair and could not be separated, they found an owner who could adopt both Kika and Katchka. Since then, they are both are rehabilitated and are now, says photographer Kaylee Greer (who took the above photo of all four dogs), “two of the most unbelievably polite and well-trained dog’s I’ve ever had the privilege of photographing.” Today the 13-year-olds are also accomplished nose work competitors and both have their Canine Good Citizen Certificates.

Here’s Sarik’s (bottom left) story from his owner:

“I lived in Massachusetts and was training dogs for a non-profit organization called Boston Dogs Organization. The organization’s goal is to have owners and canines stay connected. People who had pets with behavioral issues contacted us for low-cost training. I was in a rural area training a dog, when a pregnant lady approached me with a box containing three little puppies. These puppies were less than two months old, already on their own and were clearly not socialized. I fostered Sarik and found two other fosters for the others. They needed a family with another dog for undivided attention and further socialization. I fostered Sarik and took care of his bills and food. He was never legally in a rescue, just under my care. He had many problems that came from not being socialized and/or being separated from his mother early on. He was also very hyperactive, which resulted in an inability to grasp impulse- and self-control. He was like the Energizer Bunny without the off switch. I had to train him alot, including teaching him to relax and eat slow. We cured his resource guarding issues, we were able to socialize him and now he loves everyone he meets and is finally coming around with his training. Sarik, who is now 5 years old, has his Puppy STAR Certification and is trained in obedience. He also started intro to agility, Intro to nose work and barn hunt training. He is also a certified therapy dog. He is the happiest dog one will ever meet and has no traces of his past in his behavior. He is fully rehabilitated.”

Honey Bear's (back middle) story as told by her owner:

"Honey came to the shelter at Clay County Animal Control in December of 2013. She came in with her puppy, another male and she was pregnant. She was also heartworm positive and her pregnancy had to be eliminated by the shelter to save her life – heartworm positive dogs can't have a healthy pregnancy and it is dangerous to deliver these puppies. Honey, her puppy and the male companion were not socialized. They were not used to human touch, being on a leash or the concept of love towards humans. They were brought in as strays when someone found them running around in a rural neighborhood.

When I met Honey, she would not let me touch her; she was always on the very far side of the dog run. She would not even come out on the leash – we had to carry all three of them into and out of the kennel. Two volunteers took them under their wings as a pet project. They took the dogs out on a weekly basis to get used to leashes, humans and so that they could just be dogs. Honey and the male were the least trusting of the three. Three months later they were all adopted out. Sadly, two of them came back. Honey Bear and her male companion Duke were returned – both from different families, for different reasons. Honey was returned in May 2014 and due to her skittish nature, she tends to shut down in the kennel. She will stop eating, drinking or eliminating when in the kennel. Upon her arrival to the shelter, our volunteers plead for a foster so Honey wouldn’t have to go back to the shelter.

Nobody stepped up, so I agreed to take her home and foster. She was such a mess. She had lived outside chained, and she was so much more skittish than the first time I saw her. She was matted mess, had a skin infection, was missing hair and was just so scared. It took us weeks to work on trust and bonding. She loved my dogs since day one but didn't care for me or Evan. Eventually, in a month or so, she started to come around. She always exhibited extreme shyness towards men and started to avoid them. She would charge any man she met. Her deep growl and bark were very scary. We continued to work on socializing her, her reactive behavior towards men and her prey drive towards small animals such as my cat. A rescue called Friends of Clay County Animals sponsored her heartworm treatment.

Now, Honey loves everyone she meets. She has absolutely no issues with anyone. She is working on her Canine Good Citizen Certification, she is training in rally obedience and is starting barn hunt training. She is also classified as an emotional support animal and just recently became a service dog. The whole point of Honey staying with me was to donate her to a veteran in need of a PTSD dog. I trained her on so much and then found out she doesn't like men, so we had to undergo more training. By the time she was done with training, she was far too old for the program and her heartworm status was still early on in the treatment. She was deemed as unfit for the program due to her age and her HW status. Honey is about 4-5 years old now and in the best health and condition."

A Voice for the Voiceless

Photographer Kaylee Greer with Joshua. Photo by Sam Haddix.

While working a job she knew she wasn’t made to do forever, Kaylee Greer (who shot our cover photo and this story’s photo of the four rescued dogs) thought about her favorite thing in life — dogs. Knowing that she’s a creative person, she looked for a way to combine her two passions — art and her canine friends. For five years now she’s been living her dream as a professional dog photographer who shoots both commercially for companies such as Purina and PetSmart and privately for clients who want portraits of their furry companions. 

The path to her profession started by volunteering with the MSPCA where, among other things, she took photos of adoptable animals with her point-and-shoot camera. It’s also where she met “the love of her life” Joshua, a rescued pit bull (that’s him with Greer on the left) who was close to death and not expected to survive when he arrived at the shelter. The 1-year-old dog had been starved, locked in a basement and weighed just 23 pounds when he was found by authorities. Happily, he’s now 4 and a healthy 85 pounds. From the moment Greer saw him carried in, she knew she had to change his life with love and kindness. Now, she says, this “cool dude” is “my light in all of the darkness.”

Greer continues to volunteer at rescue shelters — sometimes traveling globally, which has inspired her to work on an upcoming international animal rescue book. She still pitches in to take photos of adoptable animals. “A photo can actually save a life,” she says. “Animals have no voice of their own so you have to step in and be a voice for them.”  After all, it’s much harder to pass up a soulful photo of an adorable pup than it is to overlook a written description. Her photos, she hopes, get people in the shelter door where the dogs will take it the rest of the way. “If a photo connects with a person, then you’ve changed a dog’s life,” says Greer. “It’s my little way of giving back to the world.”

See some of Greer’s work or contact her at


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