Five-year-old beagle Dixon cuddles up next to his owner, Molly Attwood, in their Mount Pearl home.
His old troubles are a world away, thanks to Beagle Paws.
Three years ago, Attwood and her mother had one dog, Odie, but were looking to find him a friend, so Attwood and her boyfriend went to Beagle Paws.
“I just remember this dog barking and running away to the corner.”
It was Dixon.
A “very skinny” Dixon travelled to St. John’s from the SPCA in St-Pierre, France, in 2015 after they had no luck adopting him in that country.
He was badly abused by a man — he still has the scars — and that’s why he ran away when he saw Attwood’s boyfriend.
They originally chose a different dog, but he didn’t get along with Odie, so Attwood and her mother brought Dixon home.
“I did a lot of training with him, and a lot of research, and it’s all been worth it because he’s so much better now. He’s like a completely different dog,” says Attwood.
He’s still timid at first around men he doesn’t know, but “he’s come a long way.”
Today, he’ll curl up in blankets with Attwood and her boyfriend.
She says the love shown to Dixon by the volunteers at Beagle Paws was why she decided to become a volunteer.
“He was at that shelter and cared for every single day over six months just because they cared for him so much that they didn’t want to put him in a home that he wouldn’t be comfortable in. So, I wanted to give back and do that for other dogs and other families because without that love for six months, I wouldn’t have had Dixon.
“Beagle Paws is so committed to every dog that comes to them.”
Attwood is now one of about 100 volunteers with the organization.
She volunteers at the shelter and helps out with fundraisers, a key part of keeping Beagle Paws running.
Today the organization marks 15 years of rescuing beagles.
They’re celebrating with a reunion and dog walk at Bob Whelan Field in Bowring Park on Saturday at 1 p.m.
From neglected hunters to adored pets
Sheila Lewis founded Beagle Paws in 2003.
“I had a beagle as a pet at the time and I wasn’t aware of how they were used for hunting, and a lot of the neglect and abuse that the breed was going through here in the province,” says Lewis.
“When I did find out, I was shocked.
“My goal was to start promoting them as a family pet, that they can be more than just a hunting dog.”
She says that took a lot of education and awareness.
At the time, beagles were rarely kept as family pets in this province, and myths about them abound — they were thought to be stinky and noisy. People thought if you interacted with them too much, they wouldn’t be good hunters.
“The shelters were only keeping them for a day or two and they were putting them down because nobody was looking for the dogs. At that time, there were a lot of dogs in shelters, and when the beagles came in … most people didn’t even look at (them).”
Through the Beagle Paws website, Lewis received a lot of interest from people in British Columbia wanting to adopt the dogs.
“On the west coast, beagles weren’t used for hunting. People were going to breeders. They were paying a lot of money for purebred beagles.”
Soon, the adoptive families in other parts of Canada wanted to get more involved with the organization. Today, there are Beagle Paws volunteer chapters in Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
“I could have never imagined how it would have grown,” says Lewis.
She says when they first started it was rare in St. John’s to see a beagle on a leash.
“At one time, I knew every beagle. If I drove around and saw a beagle on a leash, I knew who that dog was. But now it’s to the point I don’t.
“A lot of people are considering them for pets. … There’s a lot of beagles in the city now.”
For Lewis, the best memories over the past 15 years are seeing how much the beagles change when they’re loved.
“Seeing dogs that have never experienced love and attention, or even experienced what it’s like to live in a home or to walk upstairs or on a leash, and to see how far they can come in such a short time.
“That experience is really rewarding, to be able to show a dog that there are good things in life and there are kind and loving people out there, and to be able to give those dogs a second chance. That’s what it’s all about for us.”
48 fosters and counting for one couple
St. John’s couple Jackie and Jamie Hutchings have fostered 48 dogs for Beagle Paws since they started fostering 13 years ago.
Still, Jackie says they’re “foster failures” because they’ve also adopted five.
“You get so attached to a dog that you can’t give them up,” she says with a laugh.
Currently the couple has two beagles they’ve adopted and one long-term foster that they’ve had for nearly three years.
Whenever Beagle Paws asks them to foster a fourth dog, they say yes.
“Four is kind of our normal limit because we figure we’ve got one per hand between the two of us,” she says, adding they’ve broken that rule on a number of occasions.
“We’ll take in a fifth if it’s just for a very short term. That gets a bit crazy, but it can be fun. We do what we can, basically, to help.”
And the Hutchings help in heaps.
Other than fostering, they also help with fundraising and doing home assessments for potential fosters.
Mostly, Jackie says she enjoys helping beagles “get healthier and happier.”
Take their beagle, Joni, for example.
“When she came into the care of Beagle Paws she was dehydrated. She was skin and bones. They had to get her to a vet to get her on IV fluids to just give her a fighting chance.
“We decided to take her home and foster her, and she literally sat in the corner and shivered and would pee if you tried to pick her up. She was just terrified of everything, the poor little thing.”
But the Hutchings family cared for her, gave her needed medicine, worked with a trainer who helped Joni with her anxiety, and after nine months of fostering, they adopted her.
She’s been a part of the family for four years now.
“She’s still skittish and a bit quirky, but she’s come a long way from when we first brought her home.
“She’s a very happy dog now.”
Fast facts about Beagle Paws:
- Founded in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2003
- 2,450 beagle adoptions to date
- Thousands with health concerns found long-term foster homes
- $140,000 in veterinarian bills annually
- One per cent of annual income from government funding
- About 100 volunteers
- Always looking for foster homes