When little 12-pound Gina’s labor started right around Christmas, she was homeless on the streets of Anaheim, California. So she found the quietest spot she could—under a car—and gave birth to five puppies. They had her eyes, but they looked more like American Eskimo pups with their fuzzy white coats and short pointy black noses, presumably inherited from dad.
Two concerned boys found them and took them to a local animal shelter, assuming they were rescuing the helpless family of wee canines. The overcrowded shelter, like many in California, had limited resources and a high-kill rate, and it slated the 2-day-old puppies and their brave mother for euthanasia the next day. Luckily for this family of six, West Seattle’s Karleen Brigham, who routinely intercedes on behalf of California death-row dogs, caught wind of them and made it her holiday mission to save their lives—fast.
Dubbing them the “Polar Bear Puppies,” Brigham knew what she had to do to get the dogs into safe hands. First, she had to pay the shelter a “pull fee.” When I asked her why the shelter would charge her for rescuing dogs otherwise slated for death, she explained: “It’s a sickening fact that the shelters get more money for these animals by selling them to be rendered for dog food than to hand them over to a home.” Having researched and written about what is in commercial dog food, I knew exactly what Brigham was talking about. Yeah, dogs eating dogs. But that is another article—not this one.
To rescue the dogs from their imminent fate, Brigham also had to line up a foster home and a licensed rescue organization that would agree to take the dogs into its custody, vet them, and eventually find homes for them. Brigham explained to me, “I have 4,800 Facebook friends. It’s because of my dog rescue network. These are all people who love dogs and want to help them. They foster, transport, vet, and home them.” To be precise, as of today Brigham actually has 4,918 Facebook Friends.
The fosterer she found was Laurie Nash in California. Nash took in Gina and her puppies, who had picked up respiratory infections at the shelter. Nash told me she almost lost one of the male puppies, but kept him alive with medication and stints in the bathroom with steam from the shower. His vet bills alone added up to $500. Nash toilet-trained the puppies on a mat in her home because parvovirus, which can be deadly to dogs, is widespread in California. Until puppies receive three vaccinations for the disease, it is generally not safe to let them outside.
Thanks to Nash’s devoted care, the Polar Bear Puppies reached eight weeks and were ready to be transported up to North Seattle’s Ginger’s Pet Rescue, which had agreed to finance the dogs and find homes for them.
Ginger Luke, who runs Ginger’s Pet Rescue, specializes in “death-row dogs.” She explained to me that many of her dogs come up from California because there is a huge homeless animal overpopulation problem there. Many are Chihuahuas or Chihuahua mixes that are brought by rescue groups from Mexico, where they are seldom spayed or neutered because of financial limitations or cultural beliefs, which Ginger calls “machismo.” Hollywood fashion dogs, often purchased and discarded like accessories, also contribute to the problem of dog homelessness in California. Brigham told me, “They’re literally tossing them out of their car windows on the highways.”
According to her website, Ginger has rescued 4,801 dogs to date. She takes dogs of all sizes, breeds, ages, and abilities, including handicapped and special-needs dogs, often with only a few hours’ notice.
Heading north to Seattle, Gina (guessed to be a Papillon Chihuahua mix) and her puppies traveled in a cramped van with 50 other rescue dogs to the Greenwood vet in North Seattle. Once there, Ginger handed many of them off to adoptive families she had arranged in advance—two on Bainbridge Island. Gina went to a foster home in Seattle. And, combining Karleen’s and Ginger’s ubernetworking with the puppies’ sheer cuteness, all five of the “Polar Bears” found homes quickly.
Interested in adopting Gina the Wonder Mom or fostering or adopting another death-row dog? Contact Ginger!
Photos by Laurie Nash and Sarah Lane.