Betty's Journey from Abuse to Love
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From In Defense of Animals (IDA) October 2012

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Mississippi at IDA’s Hope Animal Sanctuary. I hadn’t visited since 2008, and it was good to be back on the ground with the rescued animals and the amazing staff at the Sanctuary.

While I was there, an email was making the rounds asking for help for a pit bull mix in Greenville, Mississippi, just an hour and a half away from the Sanctuary. Betty had suffered horrible abuse and had arrived at the Allen & Griffin Animal Hospital after someone had tried to set her on fire. Her back bore the scars, and it’s hard to imagine the emotional toll this must’ve taken on her as well.

Her story touched everyone on staff at IDA, and because I was so close, I started looking into ways IDA could help. After much discussion it was decided that we would fly Betty back with me to Portland, Oregon.

My colleague, Karin Cereghino at IDA Africa, has a lot of experience working with abused dogs, and specifically pit bull-type dogs, and offered to help with Betty. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the easy part was finding some help and a place to stay for her in Portland– the hard part would be actually getting Betty out of Mississippi.

Betty burned dog

I learned that there are very few commercial airlines that fly animals anymore and, unfortunately, even fewer that will fly certain breeds – pit bull-types being right at the top of that list. But I got lucky and was flying on one of the few airlines that does fly animals – United. However, because animals must be flown in a pressurized cargo hold, I had to get to an airport with planes that had them.

I was hoping that would be Memphis, which is only about 2 1/2 hours from Greenville. Unfortunately, the Memphis Airport doesn’t have planes with those cargo holds and so that meant Betty and I would have to take a little road trip to the next closest airport – New Orleans – about 6 hours away.

I got my departure flight switched to New Orleans, and managed to get Betty passage on a plane scheduled for take-off a couple of hours before mine on Sunday. Everything was falling into place – but there was still one problem – because Betty was a pit bull mix (really more Boxer than pit bull, but try telling that to airline personnel) she was required to fly in an aluminum dog carrier.

If you’ve ever had to find an aluminum dog carrier in New Orleans on a weekend, you’d know that it’s impossible. However, not wanting to pick Betty up in Mississippi and drive 6 hours to New Orleans only to be denied passage for her, I did my best to try and find a metal carrier she could fly in.

I called a friend and fellow rescuer, Chris McLaughlin, whom I’d met during my time in Waveland, Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Chris lives in Massachusetts and has been doing transports out of New Orleans since just after the storm – I knew if anyone could help me find a metal carrier, it would be her.

She put me in touch with a really nice vet in NOLA named Dr. Antoine Saacks. Dr. Saacks had a metal crate he thought would work and agreed to meet me and Betty at his clinic on Sunday morning. More on that in a moment…

On Saturday morning I packed up in Grenada and set off for Greenville to pick up Betty. When I arrived and met her for the first time, I couldn’t believe how sweet she was – even to me – a total stranger and self-proclaimed cat-guy. She seemed genuinely happy to see me as if to say, “Finally! What took you so long?” For any animal that had been through what she had, her behavior was very surprising— and welcome.

We took a couple of photos, said our goodbyes to the vet staff and pointed our rental car towards New Orleans. Betty started out in the back seat, but quickly realized I was a pushover and moved to the passenger seat. From there she tried to move her entire body into my lap, but settled for just her front half. She slept most of the trip to New Orleans right there with her head in my lap.

We arrived safely in New Orleans that evening and got a hotel room where Betty had her very own double bed. She didn’t sleep in it though, opting instead to sleep pressed firmly against me the entire night.

The next morning I called Dr. Saacks and made arrangements to meet him at his clinic. Betty and I arrived, but unfortunately, the metal crate we were hoping to fly her in was way too big to fit in or even on top of the rental car. With Betty’s flight time fast approaching, I decided to just buy a plastic carrier and hope for the best.

As we headed to the airport, I was incredibly nervous. My flight was just two hours after hers. What if they denied Betty’s flight because we didn’t meet the silly minimum standards for flying pit bulls? Dr. Saacks had generously offered to board Betty if they refused her passage, but I didn’t want to do that. How could I fly out and leave her behind in New Orleans?

WWe arrived at the cargo terminal and I went in to let them know Betty had arrived for her flight. They needed to weigh her in her crate and I went back out to the car and loaded her up and carried her in and they didn’t even look twice at the plastic carrier. They did, however, ask if she was going to chew her way out of it, but I think they realized the ridiculousness of that question when they saw what a good girl she was, just sitting there quietly in her carrier. We checked her in and she was on her way to Portland!

Betty in her foster home

Brave Betty bears her scars.

Betty’s flight arrived in Portland a few hours ahead of mine, so Karin made arrangements to pick her up at the airport. For the first few nights Betty stayed at Karin’s house, then late last week she was moved to a more permanent foster care home.

Betty looks to her bright future

Brave Betty bears her scars.  

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