Editor’s note: This is the final article in a three-part series that published this week regarding the issue of feral dogs. Check the Wednesday and Thursday editions for the first and second stories in this series.
SHERIDAN — Donelle Marquiss is the quintessential dog person.
She has several dogs of her own and she fully admits that if you get her started on talking about dogs, she can’t stop.
Her love for dogs suits her profession. On her property north of Sheridan, she owns and operates Donelle’s Doggie Diggs, a dog boarding facility.
But when she isn’t taking her client’s dogs for walks or going kennel to kennel feeding eager pets, she is working through obedience training with Tango.
“When he first showed up here, he was about as feral as it gets,” Marquiss said. “There was absolutely no life in his eyes.”
Tango was found running loose in the Texas desert. He was eventually trapped, then transported to a high-kill shelter nearby. There, if he wasn’t adopted or claimed within a certain amount of time, he was going be euthanized.
When Marquiss’ daughter arrived at the shelter and she came across Tango, he was on his final hour.
The numbers of dogs euthanized in these shelters are spotty, but the Humane Society of the United States estimates that annually around 1.2 million dogs nationwide are put down.
Increases in feral and stray dogs due to overpopulation in Texas have put the state’s shelters among the worst in terms of kill rates. Marquiss said it’s not unheard of for some high-kill shelters in Texas to euthanize more than 200 dogs in a single weekend.
“They euthanize a lot of dogs down there,” Marquiss said. “They kill a lot of them. But most of them could really have homes instantly here.”
The process often felt like two steps forward and one step back for Marquiss, but after two months Tango started to trust again and had gained 15 pounds.
Marquiss has been working to rehabilitate dogs like Tango for many years. Through the help of friends and family, she has taken in several dogs that were stray or feral and volunteered her time to train them to become part of a family.
“It’s gone from just taking care of dogs to wanting to do something with dogs,” Marquiss said. “And you can only have so many pets.”
Tango is now the sixth dog she has worked with. Many of the animals were pulled from as nearby as Big Horn County. Others have come from the high-kill shelters in Texas as Marquiss and her daughter work to give these dogs another shot at life.
“There aren’t a lot of high-kill shelters around here, so most of the time we have to go out and find them,” Marquiss said.
She eventually wants to work with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center to get dogs that have gone through traumatic experiences paired up with military personnel who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
While Marquiss rescues dogs independently, there is a large network of volunteers looking to save dogs like Tango.
Joan Adsit, an owner of a feral dog herself, is the coordinator of Herd of Wyoming, a herding dog rescue organization operating in several states in the Rocky Mountain West.
The problem is that many of the feral dogs are either too tough for the average person to deal with, or do not have the picturesque look that many want in a dog. So, many aren’t adopted and then are euthanized.
“There are a lot of areas that have a lot higher euthanasia rates than around here,” Adsit said. “But ultimately it’s not the shelter’s fault. It’s a societal problem where many people in these areas think of these animals as disposable.”
But individuals like Adsit and Marquiss, along with many others, have been working to find families for these dogs. Using foster homes, many dedicated volunteers have been able to work with the troubled animals and get them to an adoptable state.
On average, Herd places anywhere between 120-160 dogs per year in forever homes.
Only 5 percent of the dogs that go through the program are returned after being adopted, compared to a national average of 50 percent.
Dogs like Tango will always be a little wild, but there is life in his eyes again. Marquiss and her daughter plan on making a trip back to Texas soon to find another Tango who needs a home.
“He was well worth the time spent,” Marquiss said about the dog. “He’s become a very loyal and friendly dog.”