Hard workers who are committed to helping our county’s shelter animals come in all shapes and sizes. The Dalhart Animal Wellness Group and Sanctuary (D.A.W.G.S.) in the Texas panhandle is proof positive of that!
This very special animal rescue group is run almost entirely by children. One historic spring in 2003, school teacher Dianne Trull was talking to her students about pet over-population and one child earnestly inquired, "Why do the dogs have to die?"
Luckily, Diane was able to grasp the power in that moment. Unwilling to tell her students that they were powerless to help these homeless animals, she instead took it upon herself to empower these young leaders. As Diane puts it, together, her students, her family and she set out to "change how the world works."
And change the world they have indeed! Both for themselves and for the more than 5,000 dogs and cats they have so far placed in loving homes. And they have done all of this in spite of tremendous obstacles.
Diane’s commitment, and that of her students, was tested early on when the community forced them out of their existing shelter and had them move over 500 animals during a blizzard to another nearby location. Regardless of season, the weather in Dalhart continues to pose some of the most greatest challenges; wind speeds up to 70 mph and temperatures that can range from 70 degrees one day to below zero the next. That’s not to mention the tornados and hurricanes that frequent the area.
However, Diane is reluctant to focus on these challenges. She invariably brings the conversation back to the animals saved and the amazing kids. The original group, now in high school and mentoring other young students, is still hard at work helping the animals.
With volunteers like fourth grader Hannah, we can be sure the animals are in great hands. The shelter is like "the little engine that could," she says. "We just keep thinking we can, thinking we can, thinking we can... and finally we make it!"
Diane shared a particularly touching story that has me tearing up as I retell it now. Not long ago, a woman came to her to adopt a dog. The woman had lost her own beloved black lab a year earlier and was only then ready to consider getting another canine companion. She had been grief-stricken since an animal control officer at her local shelter had reported that her missing dog had been found deceased after being hit by a car.
As Diane and the woman walked between the kennels to view the dogs for adoption, they heard one dog whining and barking a few rows over. Diane went to check and was puzzled to find the typically very quiet and shy dog jumping up, pacing back and forth and making a lot of noise. As the visiting woman rounded the corner, she immediately ran to the dog and broke into tears. The dog she had grieved for a year, who had also been grieving for his long lost human, was there in front of her. The previous shelter had confused her dog, called Hope, with another. Diane had pulled Hope out of the overcrowded local shelter a year earlier when his allotted time was up. Had she not done so, the reunion of a lifetime would never have occurred.
Hope's name, it turns out, couldn't have been more apt. "It was an unforgettably happy day for the kids and me -- one of those moments you are reminded of why you work so hard for the animals and those who love them."
Happy endings like these keep Diane and the kids who run D.A.W.G. sanctuary doing the work that matters most to them. They have currently set their sights on raising enough money to start a spay/neuter program that could ultimately help solve the pet over-population problem in their area.
I’m going to go with young Hannah on this one and say, "I think they can …I think they can…"
Dr. Pia Salk