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Column: Happy Dog Year!

Chloe Miller is one of Roberta Miller's rescue boxers who lives in Perham. "Those people that foster I give them so much credit," Roberta said. Chloe and Hanna only had a few days with a foster home before the Millers' gave them their "Forever Home." Photo by Robert Williams/FOCUS1 / 8
This is Hanna Miller, Roberta's other boxer she saved who now resides in the comforts of the Miller home in Perham. Photo by Robert Williams/FOCUS2 / 8
Thanks to the efforts of Julie Drake, adoption day for Tegen and I was a wonderful experience. "A friend who volunteers asked me to ride along on a transport one weekend, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to become an official volunteer," she said. Photo by Heather Wilde/Special to the Focus3 / 8
"I have always loved animals, dogs in particular.  I've never not had a dog in my life. To me, they are members of a family and more than just a 'pet.'" - Melissa Kearns Photo courtesy of Melissa Kearns.4 / 8
My parents were kind enough to instill the love of dogs in me upon birth with my first beagle, Queenie Williams. Photo by Pamela Williams/Special to the Focus5 / 8
During state tournament road trips, my girl Tegen, left, spends quality time with her best canine pal Ziggy Williams, the family Cairn Terrier. Photo by Pamela Williams/Special to the Focus6 / 8
I saw this face on the Midwest BREW adoption website and just knew, "that is my Beags!" Photo courtesy Midwest Beagle Rescue, Education & Welfare ( / 8
The Beags and I were instant pals sharing a smile at first cuddle. Photo by Heather Wilde/Special to the Focus8 / 8

It was my very own season of the itch this past summer when I up and decided it was finally time I got a dog. My year 2012 will be remembered for three things and those are adopting my new best friend, the joy she brought to my life and what I learned during the process.

I felt like I had finally reached the point where I could call myself a man - there was an inkling of maturing there, no kidding. Well, if dogs are man's best friend, it made sense I get one. Calm down that young man that lives inside me and make a commitment to something or someone outside my own self-absorbed take on existence. Lord knows I'm not the marrying type.

With an August birthday road trip to St. Louis planned I aimed to find a beagle on the way back and began an online search. Thanks to input from friends, it was decided for me that I would adopt a dog in need. Felt like the right thing to do, too.

I found Tegen, affectionately called The Beags, as in - sure, there are other beagles out there and other dogs, but my little girl is The Beags. While she is a happy, funny and crazy little dog now, when she was found, her condition was far from being a spoiled little honey dog. It was a situation of utter spoil, sadness and maltreatment.

She was saved, however, by a saint.

According to that saint, Tegen's foster mom Julie Drake, of Westville, Ind., Tegen was picked up from a shelter in Dayton, Ohio by Midwest BREW (Beagle Rescue Education and Welfare). Her history before that is unknown, although she has had at least one litter of puppies.

The Ohio shelter employees cleaned the cages by tossing in bleach and water and swishing it around without removing the dogs and this resulted in chemical burns and fungus infection on Tegen's feet from standing in the bleach/water.

Julie picked The Beags up from one of the BREW directors on July 7, 2012. She was friendly and wagging, but could barely hobble on her sore feet. A friend who rode along on the pick up called his veterinarian on the way home, and on the vet's advice, they purchased cortisone cream, triple antibiotic cream and athlete's foot cream.

For the next nine days, Julie stirred together these three meds and rubbed them into Tegen's feet (three times a day for five days, then twice a day). From the very first treatment, Tegen improved, and by the third day she was trotting around fairly well.

"What a joy it was to see her take off running at the dog park shortly after that," Julie said.

As Tegen's feet improved and she became more comfortable in Julie's home, The Beags' personality began to emerge. She was comically known as the Walmart greeter at the local dog park; she made it a point to greet every dog and every person who came in.

"Hi! I'm Tegen! Welcome to the dog park! Poop bags are there on your right. Enjoy your visit!" Julie told me.

Aside from sainthood, Julie is also a card.

"Tegen loves just being in the middle of the pack, whether it is dogs, people, or a mix of both," she said. "It has been a total joy to see the beagle come out of the scared, scarred, little soul that was Tegen the day we met."

Midwest BREW covers Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and to some extent Wisconsin and Minnesota. They rely on volunteers to foster all of their rescues, and there is always a great need.

Having found out more about dog rescues since my initial search, and specifically beagle rescues, I quickly became more aware of the need for fosters and adopters and the day Tegen and I met in Kankakee, Ill., was the highlight of 2012 and my life has been richer by the day since we united. Adopting Tegen and gaining this new knowledge made my year a success.

There's a different feeling I don't know how to put into words when you find a backstory like The Beags' and start the lengthy process of adopting. You don't just show up to a kennel and take one home. Prepare for the third degree and be sure adopting a dog is reasonable. Those who save, foster, and aid in healing these precious little canines do not take it lightly and you and your "Forever Home" will be the right fit.

Interviews, paperwork, inspections, I submitted photos and precise descriptions of the area The Beags would be living in, not just my house, the town. Since I was so far away there was some leniency given for all the protocol and I made sure that I was earnest and honest with my intentions to insure that trust was deserved.

As a foster mom, Julie's responsibilities go beyond the basic needs of food, water and shelter. Many of the dogs come from backgrounds unknown, and it is her job to assess their socialization skills and their comfort level with cats, kids, car rides, and many other situations. In addition, she assesses their basic training: leash walking, housetraining, crate training, sit, stay, come, etc.

When someone is interested in adopting, the BREW Crew conduct phone interviews as well as a home visit to assess the basic needs and lifestyle of the potential adoptee. Then all the fosters within the Midwest BREW organization can recommend their pups if they think they will be a good match to the family. This insures that both the family and the beagle are in the best position possible to enjoy their lives together.

It was much better than engagement ring shopping, believe me. I was glad to be part of the process. It had a building anticipation as my birthday neared and I was finally cleared as a potential match for The Beags. When I got that approval email there was much rejoicing.

While covering one of the many 5k races in Perham this summer, I happened to meet Roberta Miller by wanting to pet the two dogs she had with her. When they were less than keen on my presence, I chalked it up to they must not like journalists or maybe they think I'm a mailman.

Hanna and Chloe Miller live in Perham and have quite the backyard set-up for their own personal use. Their back story is also a bittersweet tale of abuse. That maltreatment, however, was stemmed by the love, affection and patience of Roberta, who gave the pair of boxers their own "Forever Home."

Roberta found Chloe and Hanna at Minnesota Boxer Rescue in Woodbury. The dogs were located at a puppy mill crated together. When removed from the crate it was learned the dogs had been eating their food that was placed atop eight inches of feces.

"They had a hard time standing even," Roberta said. "The only time they would get out of the crate was to be bred."

Chloe and Hanna were foreign to climbing steps and even eating out of a bowl. The breed of boxers was new to the Miller's. Roberta had her hands full.

"We always had labs," Miller said. "We knew a friend who had a boxer and got him from there too. We decided if we were going to have more dogs we were going to get ones that really, really needed it. We wanted to do it for them."

Hanna and Chloe are still rather timid. They were not big on this photographer and disliked the camera even more. I still wanted to rush up and give them a bunch of pets but they weren't having it. Dogs have a long memory, despite the low-level static attributed to their brain power. Not everyone is to be trusted.

"It's been three years," Roberta said. "They don't have the trust."

Maybe with strangers, but watching the boxers with Roberta, she has definitely earned trust from Chloe and Hanna. I found Roberta to be a very kind, generous and special person. Like people, dogs are not perfect and she has made these two beloved despite what some pet owners might consider a lost cause. Kudos to Roberta Miller.

"We have never heard them growl at a person, never snapped at a person. They are fine with other dogs. They've come a long, long way. When we first got them it took me four hours to get them back in the house. It took forever to be able to walk them down the road. They were just scared to death."

Now Chloe and Hanna are living the charmed life, thanks to the Millers.

There's a resolution good for 2013. Rescue a dog, or like the Millers - save two dogs.

"They're really good with kids. My grandkids can play with them and pet them. They're not perfect, but they're better than my labs," Miller laughed.

"In a dog's life

A year is really more like seven

And all too soon a canine

Will be chasing cars in doggie heaven

It seems to me

As we make our own few circles 'round the sun

We get it backwards

And our seven years go by like one."

Song: Dog Years, Artist: Rush, Lyrics: Neal Peart.

Tangential to all of these rescuers is the thematics and willingness to not just say or even do, when it comes to rescuing dogs, it is something one lives with constantly, for the need is ever-present.

I would be remiss if I did not credit my friend Melissa Greenlaw Kearns, formerly of Detroit Lakes, who now lives and saves dogs in Connecticut for inspiring me to get involved.

Melissa's continual probing of, "Bob, you know you want a beagle," was incrementally more persuasive each time she mentioned it, and she reminded me frequently and often.

Kearns goes the extra mile with the enthused passion of a dog rescuer sending out a constant flow of online messages of dogs in need, especially those stranded in kill shelters. She also spends time volunteering at numerous adoption events.

Like Julie's, Roberta's and my story, there was always a "friend" who helped get fosters, adopters and life savers together.

"I got started in dog rescue when I moved up to Connecticut and was a stay-at-home mom," Melissa said. "A friend of mine in town started volunteering and fostering for a rescue group called Companion Pet Rescue & Transport of West Tennessee (CPR). I had some time on my hands and wanted to get involved. What better cause than saving the lives of dogs?"

CPR is not a shelter, but a network of foster homes in the two states.

According to Kearns, CPR rescues dogs down South where spay/neuter laws are less strict causing an abundance of unwanted dogs that fill up the kill shelters daily. Either that or they are just left to die or fend for themselves. The dogs are rescued, vetted, and sent up to New England via a state-of-the-art transport trailer. The dogs are then either adopted, fostered, or sent to CPR's adoption center in Southbury, Conn.

Adoption events, fundraisers, and open houses are held on a weekly basis. Since CPR's inception in 2004, they have rehomed over 10,000 dogs.

While it may seem it takes a saint or a bunch of saints to help these animals, what it really takes is simple - someone who cares.

"A lot of times we are called 'crazy dog people,'" said Melissa. "Crazy, yes, crazy and passionate about what we do in saving the life of a creature that does not have a voice. Through volunteering, I have met the most amazing, caring, giving, compassionate, and loving people. They have put hope back into human nature in a world that seems to be getting more and more horrible at the hands of ourselves. I can now say some of these people are my closest friends. I continue to volunteer and be involved for many reasons. There is nothing more precious than seeing wagging tails, welcomed doggie kisses, tears of joy, and smiles from ear-to-ear when a dog meets his or her new family for the first time. There are puppy mills and breeders putting dogs in horrible and sickening conditions for their own greed. Shelters and rescue groups are filled with mixes, purebreds, dogs of all kinds and sizes that are perfectly healthy and needing a forever home."

Kearns puts her money where her mouth is on rescue dogs, as well.

"I adopted a beautiful purebred Weimaraner from CPR last year and she is one the best dogs I've ever had. It's a shame and it's heartbreaking to think she could've easily ended up in a kill shelter and put to sleep."

As Melissa would say, "the list of reasons to volunteer, foster and rescue could go on 'fur'ever."

"Being involved can be as little as sharing a post on Facebook," said Kearns. "Anyone can be involved in some way whether it's fostering, adopting, volunteering, educating, fundraising, transporting, or simply spreading the word. There is a saying that I love and it's so true, 'saving one dog's life won't change the world, but it will change the world for that one dog.'"

As I can attest, it will definitely change the life of the human, also, and do so in the best way.


Happy Dog Year.

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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