The Ernie Chronicles

New friends might not know this, but for many years I ran a very large no-kill animal sanctuary. We used to pull dogs from all over the United States and find them homes. Many places in this country still have amazingly high kill rates. We targeted shelters that were over 90% kill and tried to help them see that lives could be saved.

Some of these places didn’t care at all. Some of these places cared very much, but were helpless for many reasons…or there would be a small group of people doing everything they could to save these lives. Some of these people drove 22 hours straight to get dogs to us, in places that were 97-98% kill. It’s hard to believe that there are places like that still existing in this country but there are. Many of them. More than you would believe. Some making no effort at all to find homes for animals, basically just serving as a killing center. Some don’t even hold your lost pet for more than 24 hours before killing them.
I am tempted to go into stories of such places, there are so many. There are tales of horror that I still lose sleep over, and there are beautiful tales of people who did their best, and struggled daily to save lives, in a system that was terribly, horribly, and almost irreparably broken.

Ernie found himself in one such place.

This place had two big runs. The first were for dogs that came in that day. One big fenced in run. Ten feet high. One open space. Every dog that arrived, or was picked up, or surrendered to the shelter that day, went into that run. There could be anywhere from 5 to 30 dogs in that run. The run right next to it was for all the dogs that had come in the day before. Each day, every dog in that run…was put down. Every morning at 6 am, the vet showed up and killed every dog in that run, emptying that space for all the dogs that would come in that day.

Sometimes he had less to kill. Why? Because you could be a poodle and be put into that run with German Shepherds, rottweilers, pit bulls, or any other large dog – and sometimes the dogs would fight all night long, often killing each other in the process.

And one day, Ernie found himself picked up and brought to that “shelter” and put into that run. Each morning the dogs were all fed around 8am, (after the vet had gone and all the bodies had been disposed of). Ernie liked that part, and being Ernie, he quickly learned that part.

So it comes to happen that on day two at 6am, the vet and the clerk count the dogs, and realize that one dog is not accounted for. Yep. Ernie is missing. They look, but there are no holes in the fence, no holes UNDER the fence, no dead dogs IN the fence. Hmmm, could he have possibly CLIMBED the fence? No way, it was ten feet high. They were perplexed, but they went about their murderous business. The vet left. At 8am the food trolly came out, and suddenly there was Ernie, dancing around the trolley, happy as pie!

The clerk was mystified, but he fed Ernie and put him back into the kill run.

Guess what happened the next day? Yep, you guessed it.
The same exact thing. No Ernie.

Feeding time!

Finally on day three of this the clerk had enough, he was determined that Ernie WOULD get the injection the next day and he decided to lock him in his office for the night and do him first in the morning. Now this being Arkansas, it was kind of warm, and in that office window there was a window air conditioning unit. Well…c’mon….that’s ridiculous. That isn’t even a CHALLENGE for Ernie. He quickly chewed out the plastic accordion sides of the A/C unit and jumped out, I’m sure assuming some mistake had been made in locking him in there in the first place. After all, there were adventures to be had. Places to go. Things to pee on. Animals to chase. Possibly people to meet!

He headed out to find some greener pastures.
Unfortunately….or perhaps FORTUNATELY…those pastures had to be reached via the highway.

And so there was Ernie at 9pm at night, running down the middle of the highway. One of my friends, Joy McMannus, just happened to be heading home from a meeting and just ALSO happened to be an animal rescuer, and so she slowed her car, pulled up alongside Ernie and paced him, opening her window and politely asking him just where he thought he might be going? And so when put like that, Ernie thought about it, and stopped, considering. Hmmm. Where was he going? And so my friend Joy opened her car door, Ernie paused for a second and then decided this was a great idea. He hopped right up into the car, across to the passenger seat, paws up on the dash, looking out the windshield and turned to her almost as if to say “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get this show on the road!!”

And that’s exactly what they did.

Now Joy being a rescuer knew the horrors of the local shelter, so she was NOT about to bring him there, but her own kennels were completely full. She really could NOT manage to keep this little escape artist for too long. And then she recalled her fellow rescue friend, Kerry, who often pulled dogs from her, and she thought how much this little JRT looked like Kerry’s personal dog, Jasper. SURELY Kerry would take this one.

But Kerry, (that’s me) had just had a transport in. It was a huge rescue mission where we had taken in over 200 dogs. 200 dogs – and we were completely swamped with animals. Both of our facilities full to over-flowing, dogs outside in runs, inside in runs, in crates, in offices – everywhere! We had no space at the inn. None. We were on a complete intake FREEZE and would be for some months as we vetted and adopted out all these new arrivals. No way would we be taking in any more dogs.

And Joy said she realized that, but could I just look at this picture of him and could I just listen to his story? And I said NO because as long as you don’t LOOK at the dogs needing a place to go, you don’t get sucked in, but the SECOND you look at them, you’re just done. Done. JUST DONE. Don’t look. You just can NOT look into their little eyes. EVER. So I politely told her that no, I am so sorry but we simply could NOT help at this point. And I went about my merry way, figuring Joy would never let a dog in her care die, she would FIND a place for this Ernie creature to go.

And you know what that witch did?
Yeah, she is a rescue person.
Full of crafty wiles, and manipulations, and tricks up her sleeve.
Well…she texted it to me.
And I opened that text and there were no words with it. Just his little white face grinning at me. GRINNING MIND YOU! GRINNING!
And Joy had said she had NO ROOM, and if she couldn’t find a place for him to go, she had to bring him back to that shelter.
That’s what she said in the next text.
She would never have done that.
Would she? Some doubt crept in.
No, no, never, she would never.

I did say she was freaking crafty, didn’t I?
Let me add manipulative in there too!

Yes….so there I am..powerless.
His little white face.
He really did look like Jasper.
So cute!
And he was grinning.
Did I mention that in the picture he was GRINNING at me?
He was.

And so I start with all the issues about transport. How would he get from Arkansas to here, who was going to deal with it, I was totally swamped and couldn’t coordinate any such thing.

But Joy wasn’t just fresh off the street.
She was like old ripe fruit.
She knew everyone, and everything, and all the in’s and out’s and before I could even text her back about it, suddenly transport was arranged, one leg at a time, with drivers each driving two hours to meet the next transporter, all the way from Arkansas to New York, with a night time stay over in Tennessee with (my now friend) Anita Campbell, another long time animal rescuer, transporter and all around good person (UNLIKE THE EVIL TRICKY Joy McMannus!)

And so, she also fell in love with Ernie. Really…how could you not? He is so affectionate and so cuddly and so lovable. He really is such a sweet, friendly dog. Unlike many JRT’s this one LOVES all other dogs. Just LOVES them! And they seem to love him right back. When the other dogs are out, and I go to let Ernie out, it’s like a scene from Cheers, when Norm walks in. Every single other dog stops what they are doing and races over to greet him, wagging their tails furiously. NORM!!!!! Yep, that’s Ernie.

When he arrived it was 2am and one of my staff (that’s my friend Sue again – the first to see Ernie!) was there to greet and settle him in. So I didn’t get to see him until the next day. I have to admit I was keeping close tabs on his transport, and was rather excited to meet him. I had NO INTENTION of adopting him. ZERO. NONE. Really…I didn’t. I actually had someone in mind for him. Tom says though that I would tell him every day “Just two more days until Ernie arrives!”, “Just one more day until Ernie arrives!”, “Ernie comes today!”, but I don’t remember it like that. I remember a casual interest. That’s all.

And so the morning when I knew he would be there, I didn’t even go to my office, just went right to the kennel and ran down the length of the runs looking into each one to see where he was. And then THERE HE WAS! I opened the door, AND HE BOLTED OUT OF THE RUN, BETWEEN MY LEGS and DOWN THE CORRIDOR!!! 200 dogs all barking furiously as he raced around greeting them all and then darting away before I could catch him.

Oh, that was fun.

The very first day I met Ernie!

Well, I finally got him and brought him up to my office for a while. I mean the kennel is loud and he is so small…seemed so, well, so …. cruel to leave him there. There was no reason he couldn’t hang out with me and my dogs in my office, right?

And then it came time to go home and I kept finding things to do..and finally I couldn’t put it off anymore. He had to go back to the kennel and I had to go home for the night.

And so I leashed him and we walked down to the kennel and as I opened the door, all the dogs started barking, like crazy, and Ernie just stopped dead and froze and he pressed himself to the floor, shaking.

It WAS really, really loud.
I mean, what kind of person would I be to force him in there at that point? What kind of horrible person would do that?

I had no choice.
He had to come home with us.

And so I pulled up into the driveway and got out of the car trying to word what the hell I would say to Tommy, and then Tommy was at the door looking at me and said …I’ll never forget it – “What is THAT dog doing here?”.

To be fair…we had…like…a LOT of dogs.
We didn’t need another dog.

And I sputtered and stammered and I dunno what the hell I said.
But somehow Ernie stayed and by morning I think Tommy was in love, but I still tried to adopt him to the people I thought would love him. We had an event that night that they would be attending, and so I brought Ernie TO THE EVENT!!! I did that. I’m not ashamed. Joy McMannus taught me a couple of things I daresay.

But oddly the couple I had thought would fall head over heels in love with him….just casually “liked” him. That was all. And said maybe if he was still there in a few months they would think about it.

A few MONTHS???

In the kennel?
That loud, noisy kennel??

So that was it.
We adopted him.
I mean c’mon.
Clearly there was no other choice.
Was there?

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