Jewel, a white pit-bull mix with "sad brown eyes,” is waiting for her forever home and is one of the lucky ones in the vastly growing animal population of Pottawatomie County.
When rescuers found Jewel in Shawnee, one could see the outline of her ribcage and that she was severely emaciated. She cowered as they slowly approached. Her stomach was flaccid and hanging from her body like a rag.
It jiggled to and fro as she trotted over to a rescuer holding out a treat. Upon closer inspection, they realized her stomach was covered in ulcers and her ears were overflowing with tumors.
As they rushed her to the vet, Friends of Shawnee Animals realized Jewel’s health issues were more than just accidents.
“This is years of neglect. This isn’t something that just happened,” Jennifer Dixon, Friends of Shawnee Animals (FOSA) board member and Jewel’s foster mother said.
For more than two months Dixon has fostered Jewel, who was found starving and with numerous health issues.
“At the beginning stages of getting Jewel she was posted on Facebook by Friends of Shawnee Animals and they were just looking for a foster to foster her for a few days because she was only given a 24 percent chance of living…,” Dixon said.
The foster mom explained she was supposed to be a hospice foster for Jewel, but the dog started healing and her health improved.
Dixon said Jewel had and still struggles with several health problems including heartworm, diabetes, cancerous mammary tumors and tumors in her ears from chronic untreated ear infections.
FOSA is one of several rescues throughout Shawnee and the surrounding areas that try to help other dogs and animals like Jewel.
According to FOSA member and rescuer Trisha Foreman, on a daily basis the rescue receives calls from around Pottawatomie County regarding stray, abused or abandoned animals.
“It’s all about the animals really…We just do the best we can. We help as many as we can,” Foreman said.
She explained there is a serious issue of animals overpopulating the area and there are several ways to maintain it, but it requires help from pet owners and members of the community.
“We need spay and neuter. We need more fosters. We need laws to be followed. People need to keep their dogs in their fences and keep them safe,” Foreman said.
FOSA works with other rescues, Foreman said, and while they do as much as they can and help as many animals as possible, they themselves need help with funding, fostering and other resources.
“There’s four good rescues in the area and we can’t keep up. We all try really seriously hard but there’s just too many,” Foreman said.
For the future, the animal rescuer said she hopes for people to take better care of their pets, for spay and neuter laws and for the rescues and shelters to be able to help stray animals.
Similar to FOSA, the Animal Rescue Center of Shawnee (ARC) is also a nonprofit animal rescue that picks up strays, offers certain prevention services for pet owners and helps animals find their forever home.
“We were organized back in 2008 as a liaison to bring all the recuses together so we could work for the same cause of rescuing strays and promoting a low-income spay and neuter clinic,” ARC resident Kay Heinz said.
ARC was not originally an adoption rescue, but Heinz said after seeing so many stray animals throughout Shawnee and surrounding areas, they decided to address the problem.
“We usually take all the strays in the county because the county dogs are not helped. There’s no protection for them and there are a lot of dogs being dumped all over the place,” Heinz said.
Like Foreman, Heinz explained the best way to maintain and prevent this issue is for people to spay and neuter their pets.
“We have a low income spay and neuter clinic and the spay and neuter clinic is every six weeks and it’s for anyone who wants to have their dog or cat spayed or neutered and all they have to do is contact us to find out when our next one is,” Heinz said.
None of the rescues in the area has its own building because of the financial difficulties and all are foster based. However, Heinz said ARC is attempting to raise funds and other resources for a facility of their own.
“Primarily our mission at the beginning was to raise funds for a Tri-County no-kill animal shelter and we’re doing that right now with ongoing building funds of about $24,000 and we welcome donations of land, building money (and) anything to help the cause,” Heinz said.
Heinz explained the shelter would be a central place for rescues in Pottawatomie County and surrounding areas to hold adoption events, care for strays and just work together to help those who can't help themselves.
Kesha Miller is an Animal Welfare Officer for the Shawnee Animal Shelter and she explained it's her job to patrol the streets for strays, deceased animals and ensure the city is running smoothly regarding its animal population.
Miller said after the shelter became a low-kill shelter a few years ago, it stopped them from euthanizing dogs in a gas chamber, but it made it more challenging to maintain the overpopulation.
“It’s rough right now. People are no longer spaying and neutering their pets like they once were so populations are growing,” Miller said. “We can only house so many, so until people start spaying and neutering, we’re going to continue having strays running around.”
The officer explained the shelter has limited space so it's almost always at full capacity.
"We’re trying to communicate to the community it’s not that we don’t want to help, it’s our options are limited. When we’re full there’s nothing we can really do,” Miller said.
Most animal rescues and organizations throughout the area face this problem. While they do everything they can and utilize all their resources, it's impossible for them to handle the problem alone.
Amanda Shannon, operator of Shannon Farmz Animal Rescue, runs her rescue out of her home in Harrah, but she said her mission is to partner with other rescues including those in Shawnee.
"Just in Pottawatomie County I mean the dumping is huge. It's spring time so it's puppy season and people don't know the avenues and things that they have in order to get their dogs specifically spayed, but neutered as well," Shannon said.
The dog lover said helping these animals is what motivates her every day and it's heartbreaking to see the mistreatment they go through.
"Pets are for life. You can't have a puppy and then the puppy grows up and you don't want it anymore," Shannon said. "That's of course another type of neglect that we see a lot, but there's so many options. I wish people knew what options are out there."
Shannon said she has love and compassion for helping animals and she enjoys making them happy. Shannon Farmz is in the process of becoming a 501 C3, but now works with other organizations.
"It should be a rescue community. It shouldn't be all for one or one for all. We should be able to have meetings with all the rescues in Oklahoma," Shannon said."It's going to take an army to fix this...I'm just one person. I can't be the army by myself."
Dixon has joined that army by fostering Jewel and said since coming into her home, Jewel has been doing much better physically, mentally and emotionally.
Jewel will remain with Dixon for the next several months as she continues her medical treatments and then FOSA, Dixon and a shelter in Colorado will help the dog find a new forever home.
“She’s already eight years old so she’s not going to have a crazy long life but I think that she deserves a home in her last golden years being loved and spoiled...,” Dixon said.
By fostering Jewel, Dixon said she became part of FOSA as a board member, the Event Coordinator and an advocate for animals in need.
“She kind of started a lot of stuff for me, so she’s going to be one that’s close to my heart because she’s the one who got me in everything,” Dixon said.
Dixon said she's not the only one Jewel inspired, as the dog has received quite a bit of attention on social media and in the community.
“Her story has really made us more aware in this community because…I didn’t know there could be a case like this in Shawnee…,” Dixon said. "She’s really made an impact on everyone.”
According to members of the local rescues, there are several other dogs and animals with stories similar or worse than Jewel's.
While she was fortunate enough to be saved, there are so many more like her who need help from both the rescues and the community.
“Once you’re a pet owner you need to take responsibility and find someone or try to take the responsibility of taking care of that pet,” Heinz said. “They’re not just gifts that can be thrown away…”