Let me preface this work by saying that I am not vegan. I grew up on a farm. I do not fish or hunt, but I’m not diametrically opposed to those who do, if they do so legally. Those statements are as likely to piss off some people as they are to reassure others, but they are the truth. That said, years of volunteering with the local humane society as well as other organizations have shown me that we here in Ky have a lot of work to do in the realm of animal welfare.
My sisters and I grew up on a small family farm in Ky surrounded by animals of all varieties. Of course we had dogs and cats. We also had horses, cattle, chickens and, for awhile during an ill-advised period in my dad’s farming operation, pigs.
Levi the german shepherd is the first dog I can remember. When I was 4 or 5, a car ran over him while he was following Dad’s tractor to the field. He survived, but he was paralyzed in his back legs. He managed to get around amazingly well and lived seemingly contently for another couple years though. Husky and Brownie were black and blond labs we had through most of our childhood. They were outside dogs and were typical Labs. We wallowed them and rode them. The most violent behavior ever displayed by either was to knock my baby sister Katy down with their wagging tails when she was a baby.
A parade of cats lived in our barn over the years. A beautiful three-legged Persian female stayed around the longest, but there were calicos and tabbies too. I don’t remember any of them being fixed or vetted for the most part. Spaying and neutering was not as prevalent then, at least around here. Several litters of kittens were born in that barn’s hay loft.
After Levi, we didn’t have any inside pets except goldfish and parakeets for years. Mom worked full-time as a social worker. I guess between raising three kids and working, cleaning up after an extra mammal was her limit. When Katy was a tween, she begged and begged for a dog. The result was Cocoa, a cute but not overly intelligent miniature poodle. Katy babied and slept with him for awhile but eventually, as kids sometimes do, grew tired of him. He and Mom continued their dysfunctional relationship well into my 20s until his merciful death.
I was between 6 and 8 when I got Toby, a Shetland pony mix. He was already old when I got him. Dad bought him off someone in another county. He was foundered, but he was said to be gentle with kids. I had been taking riding lessons for a year or so, and Mom and Dad thought he would be a good first horse. I spent hours brushing him, cleaning his hooves and riding him around our yard. We even entered him in the county fair leadline event one year. We stood out like sore thumbs, me leading him and my sister Mandy on his back. He was short and dumpy compared to the quarter and walking horses in the ring, but I thought he was the most beautiful creature there. One time my friend Stacey and I were riding him barrel-style around the trees in the yard. The saddle started slipping until she fell sideways onto the ground. Toby stopped in his tracks to keep from trampling her. I came home from a slumber party on a winter Saturday morning when I was 15 to find Dad throwing up outside the house. Toby had been having more and more trouble getting around and was blind in one eye. Dad had just gotten home from taking him to the back field, shooting and burying him.
We showed cattle in 4-H in high school. My first show calf was Eppie, a black Chianina-Angus cross heifer. Eppie was not a big cow, as most Chis are. She was generally good-natured, but she could have an attitude, as evidenced by her headbutting Mom off her feet into a bush. She stayed with the herd for years after her show career ended.
Note: A modern misdemeanor cruelty to animals law went into effect in Ky in 1974. Prior to that, most animal laws centered on the issuance of dog rabies and licensing tags and dogs running at large.
Leo was my first big girl dog. I got him from a backyard breeder (the one and only time) when I was young and dumber in my early 20s. I had just recently seen a chow and thought it was the cutest thing ever. I knew nothing about their temperament, there was no google and I had not bothered to do any research at the library before getting him. He was to be a Christmas/birthday gift for my boyfriend at the time. Leo failed puppy kindergarten by refusing to obey even the most basic commands. He had a mind of his own. He hated rain but loved snow. He refused to enter dog houses or baby pools or my first apartment. He barked at leaves and strangers, especially men. Despite being fixed, he humped my leg before going through doorways. However, he loved other dogs and took to every stray I brought home.
Broadway got his name because Bob, my ex, and I found him running across Broadway in downtown Lexington dragging a chain. We ended up taking him home, where he was welcomed by Leo and spent the rest of his life. He was one of the smartest dogs I have known. Once he escaped his tie-out while I was at work and walked over to my grandmother’s house for a visit. He developed epilepsy later and life and had to take daily medication, but it did not slow him down much.
Shortly after getting Leo, a neighbor Cynthia spoke as we were on a daily walk. I found out she was involved with PAWS, a humane society in the process of getting a local animal shelter built. The shelter at that time was a pound, where dogs went into an outside pen together with little food and a lot of disease. Dogs rarely left the pound alive. I had never been able to bring myself to actually go there. I went to a PAWS meeting in the bank basement and heard about what the group was doing, including building plans, fundraising, and grant writing. The new shelter opened in October 1997. It had several dog runs, a cat room, a puppy room, a surgery room, a garage and reception area. An outside play area would come later. I volunteered for a few years with PAWS and eventually became a board member. We did Petsmart adoption days, helped clean cages and walk dogs, did bingo, golf tournament and silent auction fundraisers. I left the board in 2003 when I adopted my son. Today the PAWS animal shelter is ranked among the top in the state.
Note: Animal shelter standards did not exist under Ky law until 2007. KRS 258.119 lay out some simple standards. However, there is no agency designated to provide oversight of these standards.
Around the fall of 2011 my son Bersain decided we had been without a dog for long enough. We looked at PAWS, and one of the workers directed us to a cute little Jack Russell mix Warner, who was jumping up and down at the gate of his run. I needed an active dog for my active little boy, she said. I should have known they would be double trouble.
Then in December 2015, after the Homeward Bound rescue hoarding case yielded over 170 dogs in need, we fostered Splash, who could have been Warner’s brother. We figured our four-legged family was complete at that point.
Last summer problems came to light at the Albany Ky animal shelter. Volunteers went public with evidence of animals not being fed or watered, dead cats being found and animals being unnecessarily and improperly euthanized. The shelter was also ranked third last in the state by a vet study. I saw a social media post for a little brindle pit about to be put down there, and something in me had to save her. I drove the five-hour round trip to pick her up one night after work. She was to go on to a foster and rescue. However, my husband fell in love with her. So, Mila is our third (and last?) dog.
Note: A felony animal cruelty law known as Romeo’s Law was finally enacted in Ky in 2008. The only major pro-animal law to pass in the state since was the felony dogfighting possession bill last year. There is still no shelter reform, bestiality law, or felony cockfighting law in the state.