The moment she picked it up, she knew that this dog was unlike any dog she had ever seen. She’d rescued animals for many years, and she’d been around hundreds of dogs during that time. But there was no dog like this one, and she immediately knew that there had to be a story as to why the dog ended up there. Considering it was so common, she would probably never learn why.
If Natalie Olivieri hadn’t put in the work two years prior, she may have never even met this dog. Natalie is the proud vice president of a dog rescue organization in Orlando, Florida called, Furever Bully Love Rescue. In the beginning of the month, Jessie Pena, the vice president of another rescue group called the Redland Rockpit Abandoned Dog Project, made a phone call to Natalie. Jessie needed Natalie’s organization to help, and they immediately agreed.
The group that Jessie worked with was founded a few years prior by Ale Ochoa. She’d been informed that the Redlands, a rural area in Southwest Miami-Dade, had been turned into a dumping ground for dogs. She decided to drive there to see for herself. “I came across injured, sick, and malnourished dogs. They were everywhere,” she recalls. Ale and a few friends created RRAD and started their mission to help, but it was a tiring job.
The members of RRAD go to the Redlands every single day to feed the many stray dogs that call the place their home. They also make sure to take pictures so they can raise awareness and encourage the county animal services to get involved. But there’s only so much that they can do alone. Volunteers believe that there are thousands of dogs in the Redlands, but the animal groups involved refuse to give up on the dogs.
Jessie made contact with Natalie’s group, as well as other rescue organizations in Florida, to get together a rescue team. They raised money to buy supplies and food, and then made their way to the Redlands. “We pulled onto this dirt road, it was all remote. You would never find it on your own,” said Natalie. As soon as the volunteers put out food, the dogs began to show up. Their goal was to trap and rescue as many dogs as they could. But one dog would stick in Natalie’s mind forever.
Five dogs walked up to the food and began eating, well except for one of them. This one appeared to be a one-year-old female hound mix. The RRAD volunteers recalled seeing her before, believing that she had been there for about four or five months. But she didn’t act like the other dogs. As soon as she got near the volunteers, she dropped to the ground our of fear. Natalie was confused until she saw something.
Natalie noticed that there were strange marks on the dog’s head and back. It didn’t take long for her to realized that they were scars. The dog was also malnourished. “She was definitely abused and neglected,” said Natalie. She knew that they needed to take her away from the Redlands. “There was no way we were going to leave her there,” she said. Unfortunately, her rescue would be much harder than expected.
It took a few tries, but the volunteers finally managed to put the lead on the dog, who was later named Harper. But as they tried to move her to the truck, Harper wouldn’t budge. Even as they pulled the leash, Harper stood her ground and refused to move. The rescuers didn’t want to harm Harper, so they tried to do things a bit differently.
It was obvious that Harper was afraid of people, but she wasn’t aggressive. Natalie decided to try picking her up and putting her into the truck on her own. Natalie bent down and gently, and slowly, scooped up Harper from behind. She was shaking, but Harper didn’t react with hostility. The moment that Natalie had her in her arms, Harper clung onto her with all of her strength. Natalie was shocked.
“I had never had a dog hold onto me so tight,” Natalie said. She was obviously traumatized, and it was clear that Harper needed affection. The volunteers decided not to use the crate, and instead, put the dog right on the blanket in the backseat of the truck. Harper, and the other dogs rescued, were brought to the vet in Orlando to be checked out. Harper was treated for worms, a tooth infection, and anemia, but that’s not the only healing Harper needed.
Harper barely moved during her entire stay at the vet. “For about three days, she never stood up,” said Natalie. But they refused to give up on Harper. The rescue didn’t have an actual shelter, so Harper was brought to a foster home. Cheryl Kessler, Harper’s caretaker, promised to give Harper all of the love she needed to overcome her stress. It only took a few weeks for Cheryl to notice changes.
“She leaves her crate and runs around outside. She’s doing donuts in the backyard, and just being a very normal, typical dog. I love seeing her come out of her shell, and her personality come through,” said Cheryl. “She’s learning that she’s going to get food every day and that she’s going to get love every day,” she explained. And Cheryl couldn’t be happier. Harper is well on her way to a better life, but the problem at the Redlands still stands.
“It is clear that local animal control does not take the issue seriously. It is tough on nonprofit, donation-run organizations to make these trips, but we care about these animals, and we will do whatever we can to save them,” explained Samantha Cooper, a rescue group volunteer in Brevard country. But the Miami-Dade representatives have a different story to tell.
Alex Munoz, the director of the Miami-Dade Country Animal Services, was contacted by the Miami New Times about the work being done in the Redlands. He claims that over the past three years his agency has rescued 1,128 dogs from the area. He also claims that this has led to a decrease in phone calls about the Redlands strays, and that Animal Services has offered nonprofit groups resources, such as free neutering and spraying. But there are disagreements all over the place.
In 2012, voters approved a measure that would increase the property taxes by approximately $15 per home to fund the animal sterilization and pet retention programs. Unfortunately, Mayor Carlos Gimenez vetoed the measure, claiming that most residents didn’t approve. The government decided to increase shelter funding by millions of dollars. Only time will tell which effort would be most effective.