When she was eight years old, Teri Cole came upon a black lab in trouble. The homeless dog had eight puppies. Cole carefully brought each one and the mother home with her to care for them. That was her introduction to the world of animal rescue. Today, decades later, she runs Teri’s Dogs, a dog rescue operation on Bainbridge Island.
I say operation, but what I mean is Cole. Although she also runs a landscape business, Teri Cole Gardens, she does most of the caretaking of the animals herself. She explained that it takes many hours to train a volunteer, and then most of them flake off after one or two days of work.
Cole owns the small farm across the street from Bay Hay and Feed. She takes in stray dogs, sheep, goats, geese, and chickens. She once found a home for 33 geese. Cole said she has sheep that “are old enough to vote twice.” The dog shelters she has on the farm are “big enough for ten people to have a cocktail party.” Although the farm is set up for her rescue needs, she has put it up for sale. She’s hoping to find some land in a less-c0ongested area where the dogs “will bother people less.”
Some of the dogs she takes in are mysteriously dropped off in the middle of the night and appear tied up to the gate of the farm. The police will often bring her stray dogs they find during patrols. Cole reunites them with their people. Some dogs are what she calls “foreclosure divorce dogs.”
One of the many dogs Cole has helped over the years is Angel. Angel is an albino mix of breeds. She was found in an animal rescue operation in an orchard in eastern Washington. Many of the animals found that day were frozen to death in the snow where they had been chained. When rescuers approached what they thought was yet another dead dog, Angel’s tail started to wag. She was bone thin and covered in bite marks, so she was likely a bait dog used in dog fighting operations.
Angel was taken to the Moses Lake Shelter. That’s where they realized that she was deaf, not uncommon for an albino dog. Cole saw Angel over the animal rescue network, and she brought her home to her own shelter. Cole takes her shelter dogs home with her at night, and when she took Angel into her house, she realized that the dog had never been indoors before when Angel freaked out and started leaping from countertop to tabletop.
So Cole started working with her outside. She says that the neighbors fell in love with her. One local couple sponsored Angel and began walking her regularly. After a year and a half of constant work, Angel was ready to be put up for adoption.
A couple of gay men from Seattle saw Angel online and showed up at Cole’s farm in their convertible. Angel, who was not a fan of enclosed spaces, jumped right in to their open car and gave Cole a look that, she said, was the equivalent of, “I found my forever home.” When she told this story, she teared up. Cole has remained in touch with the couple who have since taught Angel sign language. They worked with her for two and a half years before she was completely settled down.
Cole admitted to what those in the business call “compassion fatigue.” She said she would lie down in front of a train for a dog, but that there are days when she wants to run away and get all the sad stories out of her head and not have to think about what people do to animals. But then in the next breath she said, “I love being in dog rescue.”
Her home is not what I expected. For one thing, it’s clean and organized and full of lovely, breakable objects. She has covered her furniture in quilts she gets from the Salvation Army for $10. The effect is that of a charming, cozy bed and breakfast—for dogs. And the dogs, like most guests at a bed and breakfast, are calm and well behaved. They get along, and each claims a special place for napping.
She told me another animal rescue story. Norton was a huge, emaciated dog that the owner said was part wolf. Norton had been living in a condo and his person couldn’t manage him any more, so Cole took him in along with nine pages of care instructions about his special diet for dogs with digestive troubles. He was so thin, she said, that he had to be carried in on a blanket. Cole threw the instructions and his special diet food away. She picked up the phone and called a couple of Suquamish elders and asked them how to care for a wolf.
Cole began feeding Norton several pounds of raw meat a day. He started to perk up. Over a year, he became strong and healthy. He also became very protective of Cole. She started to worry about Norton and her ability to care for him. That’s when she called the Olympic Animal Sanctuary in Forks. The tag line of the Sanctuary is “We save dogs you’d rather see dead.”
Steve Markwell, who runs the sanctuary, showed up in his pickup. The bed of the truck was covered in hay and there was a hunk of raw meat in the hay, ready for transporting Norton to Forks. He took one look at Norton and said, “That’s not a dog. That’s a timberwolf.” Markwell took Norton to his sanctuary, where he can roam free during the day within the large fenced property and hunt salmon. He has paired up with a white wolf.
Although Cole does so much of the caretaking herself, she was quick to express her gratitude toward Paws and Fins, Winslow Animal Clinic, Kitsap Humane Society, and Bay Hay and Feed, all of which have helped her out over the years, squeezing her in for emergency appointments, providing her with supplies at cost, and working with her to find homes for animals. She said that a rescue dog will cost anywhere between $5 and $1500 in initial vet visits. Food is another money drain: Norton’s raw meat diet alone cost $50 per day. She always needs bedding, toys, and treats as well. So Cole is always looking for help.
She talked about how the difficult economic times have hit the Island hard. She frequently gets calls from people who can barely speak because they are trying not to cry, asking her to take their beloved dog or cat because they can no longer afford to. One woman was living in her car with her three dogs so she would not have to give them up. Cole helped connect the woman with the woman’s aunt, with whom she and her dogs are now living.
The hard times have hit Cole and her business as well, although she has no intention of stopping her dog rescue. If you want to help, she asked that you make donations directly to her accounts (Teri’s Dogs) at Winslow Animal Clinic and Paws and Fins.
Photos by Sarah Lane.