Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fur baby on board

Loki winged her way across the country to find a better life.
All photos courtesy of Kelly Baxter-Osborne.

I was waiting to catch a Southwest flight out of Kansas City when I had a familiar sensation.

I’m referring to the uncanny magnetism between animal rescuers recognizing their own kind. It could be called animal attraction, this bond cultivated from common experiences in the trenches.

This time, it was Kelly Baxter-Osborne who crossed my radar. The 32-year-old was traveling back to Seattle from her hometown in Missouri, and we promptly struck up a conversation while people milled about at the gate.

When animal rescuers get together, it’s not long before we lapse into our own vernacular. We speak rescue. Our insider language springs from the assumed knowledge we’ve picked up from years working in the system set up for discarded animals, whether at shelters, sanctuaries or independent rescue groups.

Kelly, who has been riding horses since she was just a toddling two-year-old, gave me some fascinating tips on equine rescue. And she talked about her volunteer work as a member of the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team. The organization buys horses from slaughterhouses, then trains them to be adoption-ready with the help of choreographed drill exercises. The drills balance out the horses’ skittish natures by building up their confidence.

Kelly gave me a peek inside her duffle bag, which contained a nine-week-old Husky-Australian Shepherd puppy she had rescued from dire circumstances. Even though Kelly had been out of town on a family vacation, she couldn’t turn her eyes away from an animal in trouble.

Fortunately Southwest doesn’t pre-assign seating, so Kelly and I stowed the pup and ourselves into an exit row and got to work.

As is usual, we knew people in common, and we began trading information. We talked about groups we knew, rumors we had heard, and all the gossip -- disputed and credible. We discussed projects we had worked on. For example, Kelly had rescued a dog from a hoarder house I was planning to penetrate to survey the conditions of the animals. Rumors described the place as a putrid mess, but Kelly said it checked out fine.

As it turned out, it was lucky that Kelly and I were traveling together for another reason. The pup went down so hard on sedatives that we were worried she might never wake up. That’s when I was able to share something with Kelly that I’ve learned as a rescuer. I don’t sedate animals because I get nervous about their drug reactions in the air when I’m far from a veterinary clinic.

I've taken pet CPR, and Kelly's spent her share of time around animals too. We were both concerned. We brought the duffle bag up from under the seat and kept a close watch over the puppy. Periodically, we checked her breathing, looked to see if her gums were healthy and pink, and pulled her eyelids back to see if she was responding. She stretched and gave a couple of yawns, so we got back to rescue speak.

Upon arrival, the puppy's head popped up right on cue. She was just fine.

When Kelly and I parted ways at baggage claim, she hadn’t yet decided if the dog she had called Loki would be staying with her permanently, or moving on to another home.

Either way, I don’t doubt that Loki will end up somewhere safe.

Whether traveling by plane or pony express -- or should I say puppy express -- Kelly will make sure of that.

Kelly takes the lead in the Cowgirl Spirit Rescue Drill Team procession.

Loki lounges on the lawn before her big adventure in the friendly sky.

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