Kelle Mann Davis is the face of animal rescue in America. The 54-year-old Texan is slender, soft spoken and specializes in dogs on the run, big dogs on the run who are often on the heels of escape from deeply abusive homes. With a strength that comes not from brawn but from something much deeper, she begins the delicate art of capture.
Feeling drawn to an area of Houston known as the 5th Ward, where hard economic times have led to widespread abandonment and neglect of pets, Kelle turned to friends and colleagues on Facebook a few months back and posed the simple questions, “Will anyone help?”
The response nearly knocked Kelle down. After all, she was used to a smidgeon of interest from a few nearby animal lovers, but not an all out army. But for some reason, this was the time. This was the place. With a major kick-off donation of more than $10,000 from the Harmony Fund international animal rescue charity, Kelle was able to form an all volunteer group now known as The Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward.
Introducing River, the One Who Wouldn’t Stop Running
One of Kelle’s most recent rescues is a white and brindle young male who had been on the streets for many weeks, and every time Kelle saw him, he was running.
“It seemed to me, he was trying to find his way home,” Kelle explains. “I saw him four times in six weeks, always in different places, miles away from the last. I had numerous calls, emails and texts from others who had seen him too. No one could get near him. Everyone was concerned.”
In his restless daily runs through the busy city of Houston, the dog began crossing Interstate 59, a briskly traveled four lane highway. Kelle feared that he’d be killed before she could catch him.
“I started looking for his body on the side of the road,” Kelle explains sorrowfully.”It seemed impossible that he could survive the many miles of busy streets and highways that he was travelling. But the tips of his whereabouts just kept coming in. Every couple of days, I’d get word of his location and each time I would say a prayer of thanks that he was still alive and I would ask for a miracle that somehow we could help him.”
All of a Sudden…He Stopped
And then one day it happened. The dog actually stopped running and claimed a territory at, of all places, the River of God church. Yes,the dog who’d crossed hundreds of streets and backyards, parking lots and alleys, finally found a place where he felt safe. He was given the name River, and now that he was staying put, a full fledged rescue was in the works.
The pastor and congregation were pleased to allow River to stay on the property. Two other dogs, abandoned at the church months earlier and now living there as permanent pets, made fast friends with the wanderer and they began to comfort one another. Each day a man name Faustino, who lives at the church, would offer food and water and attempt to get a little closer to River. And although direct contact was never established, there was apparently a sense of safety for River.
“I had seen such changes in him over those weeks on the run,” Kelle explained. “His once-white fur was becoming more and more dingy and now he was limping and losing weight, skin sagging. I think he may have been hit by a car.”
After a few days of searching for a foster home, a volunteer from Pals for Pooches agreed to take the dog in. And all that was left was bringing him into custody. Kelle baited a large humane trap with “some juicy steak and smelly cat food” and within 45 minutes, she had him. She loaded the cage into her car and headed down the road.
He Was Lead in With Love and Respect
“When we got to the veterinarian, it was very important to me to get River on a leash and to lead him in like a loved and cared for pet,” Kelle said. “It took me about five minutes to convince him to come out, with leashes around his neck, and he jumped out and allowed me to stroke him. I always wonder how long since these dogs have been touched with love, and with each one, that is very important to me to do before they head off to the next step of their journey of love.”
“River walked in, shaking, but with head held high. I spent about 15 minutes in his kennel there with him, reassuring him that he was safe, and petting him. This one I left with tears in my eyes. It has been a unique journey and I never thought I would see the day he was safe.”
River is in good health and now joining his new foster family where his “dad” will be taking him for daily runs alongside his bicycle or rollerblades. He finds that the exercise is a great stress reliever for dogs like River and the outings instill a sense of trust and belonging. And River is just one of many who are finding their way again with the help of the Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward.
“We have had two dogs who needed amputations, another with a severely embedded wire in his neck, several with heartworm, gunshot wounds and broken bones,” Kelle explains. “So sad is the plight of the forgotten, but I am so very honored and privileged to be able to help. I know deep down in my soul is that I am supposed to be doing this. I rely daily on divine guidance and am assured that those that need us will be placed in front of us, and we won’t turn our backs on them.”