Out to the west of Nashville, after a long slog on US 40 and several smaller highways that took us through Paris and Pillowville, we arrived in Greenfield. Our destination: the police station. We’d come to meet Tabi, officially the records clerk for Greenfield Police Department, unofficially-the keeper of the dog pound.
Tabi is a friendly, cheerful soul, despite the situation she faces every day regarding the fifty-nine dogs in her care. She greeted us and invited us to follow her to the city pound, just a few blocks away. It was under the water tower, next to a few unmarked run-down pole buildings, but out of sight of the highway (so as not to be an eyesore for the people who have abandoned these dogs).
Six kennels sat on a concrete slab under a small corrugated roof. Five were filled (one must be kept empty at all times in case a police officer needs a place to put a dog). Each had an igloo dog house or a hollowed out plastic barrel for shelter.
“They’re out here? All the time? Even in storms? Even in the winter?” I asked.
Tabi nodded and explained that these kennels were much better than the old kennels, which she pointed to across the road. Literally under the water tower, was a small clutch of falling apart kennels, with rusting chainlink and barbed wire, that looked more appropriate for rabbits than dogs.
“How long have these dogs been here?”
Tabi rattled off the stats on each dog, several had been living in these kennels for more than a year.
I asked who took care of them. She does. I asked if any volunteers came to walk them, play with them? No. Just Tabi. Every day cleaning their kennels and feeding them food she buys herself. She said she can’t feed them the crap the city was buying-food from the dollar store.
“How did it come to be like this?”
Tabi started at the police department twelve years ago. Back then the officers put the dogs in the pound (the original falling apart one under the water tower), held them three to five days, and when no one came for them (because no one ever did), had them destroyed. (I really can’t use the term euthanize when it comes to perfectly adoptable dogs being killed for no reason other than convenience and cost.)
When she learned this, Tabi said, “I got pissed. So I took them home.”
Only Tabi couldn’t keep all the dogs that kept coming. She found another resident who would allow her to use a piece of property, along the highway just outside of town. She moved the growing number of dogs there in makeshift kennels or staked out on lines. This worked for a while, but then the public began complaining. It was an eyesore. The mayor told her she’d have to move her dogs (who were really Greenfield’s dogs). She told him she would but she had nowhere to put them, so he gave her a small spot about a mile from town, down a narrow road, out of sight.
That’s where we would follow Tabi next to meet the rest of the dogs, and the family that cares for all of them on a daily basis. Amber and her husband Brandon and their four kids clean out the kennels, feed the dogs, take care of their medical needs, drive them to the vet, do whatever is necessary, and recieve not one penny for this work. They do it because they love dogs and because rescuing them is in their blood. Without them, Tabi couldn’t do what she does.
I asked Tabi how she decides which dogs live in town and she told me the five in town were the ones who kept escaping out of the kennels on the other site.
“So the city pound is really the high-security dog prison?”
She laughed. “Yeah, pretty much.”
At Tabi’s rescue, there were fifty-four more dogs in outdoor kennels a bit larger and more protected than the ones in town. Each dog had a raised kurunda type bed and an igloo or a plastic barrel for shelter. A few had toys, mostly Kongs. They greeted us, jumping and barking, but then settling back down and waiting for Tabi.
Seeing the kennels and all of the dogs, made me grapple with how fragile this situation was. There was no money to pay Amber and her family for the work they did. I didn’t want to be rude and ask how they could afford to do this, as they didn’t strike me as the independently, wealthy type (but I sure hope they are independently wealthy). But what if they weren’t there to do it? What if health or life or some unexpected challenge got in the way? What would become of these dogs. Tabi was only one person — and an older person not in tip-top physical shape who had a full-time job away from the kennels — she could not run this show on her own determination and the occasional donations.
It was clear that they loved every dog and knew it well. The kids clamored in and out of the kennels, playing with the dogs, helping when asked. Amber applied flea/tick preventative to a big coonhound and a small black happy pittie pup. All of the dogs looked healthy, and considering their situation, happy. There was no board, no wealthy benefactors, although Tabi did tell me she has one lady who sends her $150 a month which she uses to buy dog food. I’d guess that $150 would only feed this number of dogs for a week, tops.
I asked her why she didn’t ask the city or county for money to support these dogs, which were technically their responsibility and she said, “I’m afraid if I did, they’d just go back to killing them.”
Like so many people I have met in rescue and in shelters, she’s afraid to make waves. They are afraid their demands will be met with not just resistance, but interference.
If the county or city took over, put up a building, set up guidelines, they might tell Tabi that she has to euthanize sweet Maxine, the longest resident who is gray all over now, but has a sweet smile and a happy attitude. Her only crime being an elderly large dog in a county that doesn’t care.
During one of their encounters, the mayor did tell Tabi to write a business plan. “I don’t know how to do that, and I don’t have time to do it either-I’m too busy trying to save dogs.” And keeping the records for the police department. And scrambling to find enough money each month. And driving dogs to meet rescues. And loving on 59 dogs. And answering calls about stray dogs or dogs living in dangerous conditions or dogs people want to dump. There are no Animal Control Officers in Greenfield. There is just Tabi. Who could never do what she does without Amber and her family who show up every day because they choose to and not because they have to or because they are receiving a pay check.
Some of the dogs have been living out here for two years or more, most at least several months. The rescue does what they can to find adopters or rescues for the dogs, but finding time to take pictures or write up clever information about the dogs is not easy. I asked if anyone ever came to adopt them and Amber laughed and said, “We get someone out here maybe every couple months.” The rest of the dogs are moved out through rescues, mostly out-of-state.
That’s where Laura comes in. Laura was our host during our trip. She lives in Columbia (two and a half hours east). She works full time, but spends the rest of her time moving dogs for Tabi and other rescues and shelters in the area. She has a vast network of rescues all over the country and her own transport van, plus a garage stacked with crates. While we were staying with her, we witnessed her preparing a transport of dogs to leave for Illinois on our last morning at 5am. One had already arrived at the house, but the rest would begin arriving that night and fill her finished basement.
We left Tabi and Amber with a few donations of treats, dewormers, toys, and flea/tick preventatives. Despite their meager budget, Amber does manage to give the dogs heartworm preventatives every month. Most of the dogs are not neutered or spayed. There is no vet in Greenfield and the ones that they find beyond are not willing to give any discount to the rescue, so they travel forty minutes to Paris to a vet who works with them there.
As I took this all in, I thought of the Williamson Shelter, where we’d been yesterday with their well-stocked inhouse veterinary suite, on-staff vet (and two techs), their army of volunteers. Williamson is over two hours from Tabi and Amber, but would make a great big-sister shelter. I wondered how they could help. Share some of their wealth? Take dogs on a regular transport?
The other thing I wondered as I drove away was, What if something happens to Tabi or Amber? What then?
How can there be a place in this country- a place with an adorable downtown with a wide street and slanted parking and a train track running right down main street, with cute cafes and stores, a city hall with a flag flying out front, and its own police department, that doesn’t spend a penny to take care of its lost dogs? But instead, depends on a single woman with limited income to care for all the unwanted animals in their town, to pick up the strays, respond to calls for help, and deal with abuse or neglect? How can this town do nothing to help or change the situation? Is it because they don’t care or because they don’t know?
Back at Laura’s, I looked through the pictures that Ian took. I just loved a big black and white dog named Meathead. He had a bulldog’s face and a goofy smile. How long will he linger alone on his cement floor? He is well loved by Amber and Tabi and Brandon and the kids, but their love has to stretch fifty-nine dogs thin.
What about the young, blond pitbull that just arrived? I scratched his chin and laughed later as we watched him soaking in his own personal baby pool, cooling off from the ninety-degree heat. He was six months old. Will he still be here in a year, like Claude and Maude, siblings who also arrived with Tabi at six months of age?
Today we are headed west again. This time we will travel with Trisha and see the situation through her eyes. I wish that Tabi’s situation was rare, but I’m pretty sure in this part of our country, her dogs are the lucky ones.
Thanks for reading. More tomorrow.