Southport/Oak Island Animal Rescue: One Dog’s Story
Story By Jack Floyd | Photography By Kristin Goode
Southport/Oak Island Animal Rescue (SOAR) has its graduates and then it has its honorgraduates. And then it has Sadie. Sadie is Summa Cum Laude.
One day in late summer 1997, the founder of SOAR, Jeannine Friday-Bicknell, got a call from a lady in Boiling Spring Lakes who told her that her neighbor had a dog tied to the house next door and that the dog waswithout food and water. She said the neighbor had not been home in a while and the dog had no one to take care of her. The dog had just had puppies and was trying to take care of them but was unable to do so because she was tied up and couldn’t reach them. To make matters worse, the dog seemed to have a broken hind leg. Mother and puppies were in a desperate situation. Could Jeannine please come and do something?
Jeannine went there, and although she was very reluctant to go on someone else’s property, she could see that it was necessary. As she neared the dogs she realized that the area was infested with fire ants. She had to be very careful — not only in how she approached the dog but also in how to do so without getting herself covered with fire ants. She got to the dog and untied her. Because of the dog’s damaged back leg, and the fire ants, Jeannine very carefully walked the dog to her car. Jeannine had counted five puppies. When she returned to retrieve them she found that three of them were already dead, killed by the ants. Jeannine took the remaining two, but one of these died shortly thereafter.
Jeannine later made contact with the owner and learned that he was a policeman who had been in a training course far from home. He had arranged for someone to come and take care of the dogs, but apparently that someone didn’t do it. So the dogs were alone. The owner told Jeannine that the dog’s name was Sadie and that she had been a police drug dog. Sadie had broken her leg in the course of her work and was retired because of it. The leg had been operated on and pinned but this pin must have broken, leaving Sadie to get by on a leg that did nothing but flop. She also may have gotten the leg entangled in the restraining chain while she was trying to rescue her puppies from the ants. The owner said that it was okay for Jeannine to keep Sadie and to look after her and her remaining puppy. The puppy was adopted out rather quickly.
Jeannine took Sadie to a vet, whose first task was to get rid of the fire ants that covered her underside. This took a week or so. Then he turned his attention to her leg. The vet determined that a bone infection existed that was beyond treatment and her leg could not be saved. Sadie’s left rear leg, including the hip, was amputated.
Jeannine brought Sadie home to recuperate. Because of the circumstances that brought Sadie to SOAR, her wonderful temperament and the fact that she was now disabled, Sadie took over a spot in Jeannine’s heart. Jeannine kept Sadie in her home and made no attempt to adopt her to another family. The missing leg didn’t seem to be a disability to Sadie. The leg had been of no use for such a long time that its removal was actually a boon to Sadie.
During this time, a man named Rick Hairston was coming to SOAR to help Jeannine. Rick was operating an organization called Carolina Canines for Service, which trains dogs to assist people with disabilities. They have done so much good for the disabled of southeastern North Carolina. Rick was at SOAR and met Sadie the day Jeannine brought her there.
One day in late 1999, Carolina Canines got a phone call from the director of the Commons at Brightmore (CB), an assisted-living facility in Wilmington, with a request for a helper dog for the facility. The director had previously owned and loved a Springer Spaniel and insisted that this helper dog be a Springer.
Rick tried to dissuade her from using a Springer because a larger, stronger breed would be able to do more tasks. But the director remained adamant; it had to be a
Springer. Rick thought of Sadie, but he had reservations. Not only was
Sadie a Springer, which made her small by helper dog standards, but she was also a small Springer. And she only had three legs. And even if Rick were to choose Sadie, would Jeannine part with the dog? Rick doubted it.
Sadie had been at SOAR for two years and had become Jeannine’s erstwhile companion. Rick felt he could not pry her away. But he decided to inquire. He told Jeannine about the good home that Sadie would have and the potential for good that Sadie could do. To his surprise, Jeannine consented. Sadie went to Carolina Canines and trained to live with, help and befriend the residents of CB.
Sadie’s training program was not as stringent as programs for dogs that were going to have to do chores for their owners. She would not be asked to open doors, retrieve objects, alert people to ringing phones, get the mail or the million other things that Carolina Canines trains dogs to do. One skill that Sadie did need to know was how to get out of the way. No one wanted a resident tripping over her. She also had to learn to be comfortable around a lot of people. To accomplish this, Rick took Sadie everywhere with him—to grocery stores, restaurants, on errands, everywhere.
After a while Rick took Sadie to CB for short visits. Then Rick began to leave her there for short periods. And the periods became longer and longer. And then it was a month, and a successful one at that. It was then obvious to everyone: Sadie belonged at CB.
On April 5, 2000, a placement ceremony was held. It was a big deal. Decorations were put up, Sadie was dressed up, speakers spoke and residents and employees attended. Channel 7 news was there to record the event, and it was shown on the news that night. Everyone had fun and Sadie’s new home was now official: The Commons at Brightmore.
Sadie quickly fit in. She was taken to meet and visit with each of the residents. Sadie “‘adopted” an employee, first Kristin Warlick, a therapeutic specialist, and later Meri Hines, a recreation director, and she would follow them as they did their jobs.
Sadie quickly learned which residents were not “dog people” and she wouldn’t go into their rooms. She also learned, at an even faster rate, which residents were dog people and most likely to give her treats. The giving of treats was a problem that was never cured. The residents were told many times over that this was not in Sadie’s best interest. It was put on the bulletin board, it was mentioned in meetings and gatherings, it was put in the newsletter — all to no avail.
Sadie had her own room at CB, with her bed and food and water bowls and even pictures of other dogs on the wall. Sadie didn’t spend a great deal of time in her room, though; she wanted to be with people.
Sadie went everywhere with the residents: to their activities, beach outings and picnics. She was so popular and so many residents wanted to take her out for walks that a sign-up sheet had to be used. Initially a schedule was established for the employees to be responsible for taking her outside for “business” and exercise, but this schedule very quickly went by the wayside because there was an abundance of residents all too happy to perform this function.
The residents benefited because they got lots of exercise from walking Sadie and throwing her ball to her. Sadie was therapeutic in lots of ways. If her missing leg didn’t hinder her, maybe, the residents thought, their own infirmities shouldn’t hinder them.
Kristi Rudolph, a recreation director at CB, explained why Sadie was so good for the residents: “I can bring Sadie to people who don’t necessarily get out of their rooms very much. She’s a good motivator. In nice weather she gets people to walk outside and exercise. They’re able to reminisce about dogs they had growing up and she goes with us on outings to get ice cream or to the beach. Sadie loves everybody. She brings a lot of joy to a lot of people.”
In late July 2003, Sadie developed a bad cough. It was persistent and required a visit to the vet. X-rays disclosed a mass on her lung, and a subsequent biopsy confirmed cancer. The vet said that Sadie could be operated on and possibly be cured, but the odds were long. The cancer would most likely return and Sadie would never be able to go back to her current living arrangement with all the activity there. She would have to be kept quiet and in a place with a minimum of activity.
CB decided to go ahead with this operation and an employee agreed to take Sadie home with her where she would live out whatever remaining days she had. But before the operation could be done, Sadie went into convulsions. She was hurried to the vet, who recommended euthanasia. CB concurred. On August 14th, 2003, Sadie died.
Sadie had been a police drug dog and had survived a broken leg, abuse, neglect, fire ants, the death of her puppies and an amputated leg. She had trained for and gained a second career as a therapy dog and lived her final three years bringing a better life to the residents, employees and visitors of CB.
Rick and the two CB employees most familiar with Sadie, Meri and Kristi, said that what they heard most often was that no matter what Sadie’s life had been like prior to CB it could not have been better than while at CB. They say she lived in total comfort and happiness surrounded by people who loved her. It would be very difficult to imagine a better life for any dog. Everyone at SOAR believes that no dog deserved it more.
Helping Animals SOAR
Southport/Oak Island Animal Rescue (SOAR) is one of several Brunswick County animal shelters. Founded by Jeannine Friday-Bicknell, it has operated continuously since 1992 and has placed thousands of animals into adoptive homes. SOAR receives no government funding and exists solely on the contributions of animal-loving people. SOAR is open for adoptions on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and at other times by appointment. To volunteer, make a donation or adopt an animal, contact SOAR at:
3376 St. Charles Place
Southport, NC 28461