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No one knew how long Ellen and Robbie had been living on the 22-acre property in rural Alabama—Ellen alone in a beehive of pens holding dozens of other sick dogs, and Robbie chained to a tree. When HSUS responders arrived to assist the Houston County Sheriff’s Department on that late February day in 2011, the scene was chaotic: people squatting on the property in dilapidated campers; a hodgepodge of animal enclosures constructed from old fencing, plywood, and other rickety materials; and heaps of trash scattered everywhere.
As responders navigated a narrow path through chained dogs and rusty pens, they discovered mange-infected dogs with cracked, thickened skin and open sores. Others animals suffered from fleas, untreated injuries, and swollen, weepy eyes. There was almost no dog food onsite, just stockpiles of expired hoagie rolls, says HSUS animal cruelty investigations director Adam Parascandola. Only a few pens offered water, rank with green algae.
While Robbie appeared healthy, Ellen had an ulcerated sore on her belly and what appeared to be bite wounds on her ears, possibly from clashes with other dogs. Robbie welcomed human touch, but Ellen cowered in the corner. Both were infested with heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, and tapeworm.
But their spirit to survive was strong. After receiving emergency care, they were transported from Alabama and bonded at a Maryland boarding kennel before finding their way to Second Chance Animal Shelter in East Brookfield, Mass. The shelter had taken in 13 dogs from the rescue, but three died while receiving heartworm treatment. Somehow, Ellen and Robbie hung on.
Hearing their story, Wanda Johnson immediately agreed to foster the pair at Devereux Massachusetts, a residential school for troubled youth where she runs the animal care program, in which students feed fostered dogs and cats and keep pet areas clean and tidy. Each day, Ellen and Robbie—now formally adopted by the school—enjoy a morning roustabout in the fields, then head to the classroom where the kids groom, play with, exercise, and read to them.
Working with animals is invaluable for kids who have been in the system their whole life, says Johnson. Like the 8-year-old boy who sidles up to Robbie whenever he’s having a bad day, or the 20-year-old girl who’d never had a dream until envisioning a career in animal care. “The right kind of human-animal bond can create miracles.”