81-year-old woman operates no-kill dog rescue in Oakland
Just south of the Missouri-Arkansas line, down Highway 222 to Oakland, Arkansas, and then even farther down a long dirt road lies an oasis, of sorts, for dogs of all ages, shapes and sizes. Small dog-shaped signs lead the way to Gail’s Pets Second Chance, a no-kill dog rescue that shelters many dogs – including some that were abandoned in Ozark County or were surrendered by Ozark Countians who could no longer care for them.
Sitting in the large, air-conditioned log cabin at the end of the 1 1/4-mile driveway, owner Gail Ross picks up Tinkerbell, a small Yorkie mix, and looks at the many dogs scattered around her living room. Large and small dogs share the space peacefully. “This area has a need for it [a no-kill shelter],” said Ross. “I am providing that.”
Growing up in an apartment in Chicago, Ross did not start her life with a lot of animals. “I never had dogs,” she said. “As I grew older, I started showing horses. And horses and dogs just go together.”
In 2000, Ross and her husband, James LeChevalier, moved to Oakland from Barrington, Illinois. About three years later, she met the late Perry Boore, owner of Perry’s Orphans, a no-kill animal shelter in Oakland. That’s when Ross’ mission to help abandoned animals started.
She worked with Boore for three years until starting her own rescue in 2006. “I had the room, so I branched out,” she said.
Gail’s Pets was granted 501C3 status as a nonprofit in 2006. LeChevalier helped with the rescue shelter until his death in 2015.
Ross depends solely on donations and volunteers. She gets up early each day to take care of the dozens of dogs at her property, including those dogs who have health problems requiring daily medication or injections.
Ross carries large bags of dog food, cleans out dog pens, repairs the fences on the property and anything else that needs to be done at the rescue – all at the age of 81, with four knee replacements and a recent back surgery behind her.
“She does not act it,” said volunteer Tom Pendell of Mountain Home, Arkansas. “I will be 65 in February, and she outdoes me.”
A shelter with a difference
Ross is a big proponent of spaying and neutering. “When a dog comes in, one of the first things we do is have them spayed or neutered,” said Ross. That practice makes the shelter somewhat unique, she said, because “most rescues don’t have them spayed or neutered until they’re adopted,” she said.
Ross makes sure each animal is healthy before being put up for adoption. In addition to spaying or neutering and rabies shots, the dogs are tested for heartworm and parvovirus. If the dog tests negative, they are put on a preventive heartworm medication along with monthly flea and tick medications.
Dr. James Snodgrass at Baxter County Animal Clinic in Mountain Home has been the shelter’s veterinarian for many years. The clinic’s new veterinarian, Dr. Sarah Shedenhelm, also works with Ross to help with the animals’ medical needs.
Unlike in many shelters, dogs at Gail’s Pets are rarely in a pen by themselves.
“The dogs here are kept two in a pen so they have buddies,” said Pendell. “It’s better for the dogs.”
The kennels are outside, and most dogs have their own doghouses. Lean-tos for shelter from the summer sun are provided in the shaded pens, and many pens also have small wading pools for the dogs.
Ross credits the outdoor kennels for keeping most of the dogs healthy. “We’ve never had kennel cough here,” she said. “I like an open facility so the dogs get fresh air.”
When the weather is cold, Ross and her volunteers take each dog into the insulated “shampoo shed” for warmth at night. The dogs are put in individual crates and kept there until morning.
Many of the dogs at the rescue were surrendered by their owners. “There are a lot of reasons someone surrenders their dog,” said Ross. “Sometimes their owner dies or the owner has health issues and can’t take care of the dog. And sometimes they move into assisted living and can’t take the dog with them.”
The rescue has a low mortality rate, said Ross. For example, in 2018 only four dogs died.
The highest mortality rate was in 2016, when 16 dogs died. “We had a parvo outbreak that year,” she said. “Someone brought us a dog with parvo, and we didn’t know it. They even had vet papers saying the dog was healthy. Our vet bill that month was $5,500.”
Dogs of her own
Ross has 13 dogs in her home. Most of those dogs are “unadoptable.” They are usually too old, have too many health problems or have been too abused to be adopted.
For example, Rosie the Riveter has Crohn’s disease, said Ross. “She’s 15 years old, and I feel like she needs to be able to live out her years in peace.”
Another dog, Missy, is diabetic and gets two shots of insulin each day, administered personally by Ross.
One dog, Rowdy, a large chocolate Labrador retriever, ambles around the large home, full of energy and playfulness; he pushes against visitors for attention and happily shreds a dog toy, scattering stuffing all over the floor. When he came to Gail’s Pets, Rowdy tested positive for heartworm and is now being treated for the parasite. Rowdy is a “temporary” resident because his owners are unable to take care of him at this time,” but Gail has grown attached to him, like she does all the dogs, and said she would love to make him a permanent resident if his owners are unable to take him back.
From 2012 to 2018, Gail took in 953 dogs… and adopted out 815. Of those dogs, 14 were reunited with their owners.
Gail’s Pets currently has 29 dogs on the adoption list, and more will be added soon, including several puppies.
Most of the dogs are found in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, but when it’s time for adoption, many go to people in other states, especially on the East Coast.
“Out East there is a really strong spay/neuter program, and there aren’t a lot of dogs up for adoption out there,” said Ross. “They have waiting lists (for adoption) that are unbelievable.”
Ross said she doesn’t advertise, but the rescue does have a social media presence. Most adoptions come from word of mouth, however.
“Through the years, people out East have adopted from us, and they tell their friends and then they tell their friends,” said Ross. “It’s a great cycle.”
Volunteers and donations
The shelter is always looking for volunteers, said Ross. There is no minimum age, and the only requirement is that volunteers have their own transportation to and from the rescue.
“We’ve lost three volunteers in the past year,” said Ross. “Two have died, and one hurt her back and can’t help anymore.
“We need dog walkers desperately. After we clean the pens, there is often nothing left, no energy [to play with or walk the dogs],” she said. “And summer is especially hard on volunteers because it gets beastly hot.”
The shelter recently acquired the shed that was converted into the insulated shampoo shed, complete with a sink for dog baths and waist-high counters for grooming the dogs. The shampoo shed is air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.
Donations of food, toys, blankets and money are needed, too. “Our lifeline is donations,” said Ross.
To get a dog prepared for adoption costs about $200, she said. That includes parvo shots, spaying or neutering and rabies shots.
It does not include the cost of food and heartworm, flea and tick maintenance.
“We’ve been lucky,” said Ross. “Walmart used to provide us with all of our food, but they stopped that program. So now we have to buy the food or rely on donations. We buy from Orscheln because they help us out by giving us a discount.”
Ross said the shelter goes through at least seven large bags of food per week at $20 per bag. Some months they use more.
Those who wish to support Gail’s Pets Second Chance have a choice of several opportunities. Donations are accepted through their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Gails-Pets-Second-Chance). For more information, contact Gail’s Pets Second Chance at 870-431-8229, firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 83, Oakland, AR 72661. Or visit the website gailspets.org.