Two years ago today, we opened our kitchen to eight beagles who had been released from an animal testing lab in Spain. The night prior to their arrival, Kezia had the brilliant idea of turning our kitchen into a beagle sanctuary. We removed all of the furniture, covered the floor, walls and appliances with yards of plastic. We had figured that the dogs would be frightened, quiet (since all previous dogs had been debarked), shy and afraid of humans.
After letting the 40 dogs out of their crates, we quickly realized that these dogs were much different. They were like feral dogs – barky, humpy, aggressive. I got nervous, like seriously nervous. How would we keep eight dogs from attacking each other when we didn’t have kennels or any other mode of separation? We decided to give it a go. So, we packed up eight dogs and arrived at our home at 12:30 a.m. We put down food bowls and filled them with kibble. Immediately, the food aggressive dogs pushed the less aggressive dogs away and ate their food. We knew we were in for a long five days.
Our plan was to adopt one the beagles. We’d spend time with all eight of them and decide whom we fell in love with. We set up the kitchen with dog beds, blankets and two space heaters that our friend Gayle brought over. Before she left, she warned us that they could possibly burn down the house. It was cold, so we took our chances. We decided that one of us would sleep in the kitchen in four-hour intervals. We left the door open so that the dogs could come and go as they pleased. Most of the dogs immediately sat up against the perimeter of the room, mimicking the fear that dogs who live in cages show. It seems to give them comfort to have their backs against a wall. One of the dogs seemed less fearful, and was interested in us. He was 36. The activists in Spain who rescued them numbered all 40 dogs to keep track of them, in addition to giving them Hollywood actor names. 36 was really sweet. He’d cuddle with both of us while we slept on the floor. During the day, he’d jump up on us and craved our attention. We thought this is going to be our dog. A couple of other dogs warmed up to us and got us thinking about the possibility of fostering another.
By day two, we were pretty frazzled. Our friend Alicia came over to meet the dogs and to help us out. Alicia decided that they could no longer be just numbers, and had to be given names. Kezia wanted to leave it up to their permanent parents to name them, so she agreed on nicknames based on their personalities and physical traits. 36 became Freckles, and we had Humpy, Leaky, Solomon, Geronimo, and so on. They named all of the dogs but one, number 40. 40 was so incredibly fearful he showed zero personality. There was nothing behind his eyes, but he was very, very, handsome. So they named him Handsome.
I didn’t really notice Handsome. All of the dogs had paired off or were busy being humpy and aggressive with each other. Not Handsome. When I noticed him for the first time in the kitchen, I noticed how striking he was. He was just so fearful. It took six days before he allowed me to touch him for the very first time. I still remember that moment vividly.
After almost giving Freckles to a potential adopter and then realizing he was our soulmate, we decided to keep him, and continue to foster 40 until he came out of his shell. We had experience fostering Malcom, who was also a very fearful dog, and felt like we could offer Handsome some help. We soon realized that beagles are best in sets of two, and that we’d be keeping both. Of the eight dogs, they had always been calm together. When we had to feed the dogs one at a time to make sure everyone got enough to eat, only 36 and 40 were capable of eating together without going after each others’ food.
We decided to name Freckles Frederick, after the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. We went back and forth on a name for Handsome, thinking of prominent people we could name him after, people who were as important. After playing with quite a few names, we realized we already had the perfect name: Douglass. Frederick and Douglass were also once slaves, and would be ambassadors for the abolition of all animals being used for animal testing. (The fact that my middle name is Douglas, with one S, was just a bonus.)
It’s remarkable to see how different they both are two years later. Douglass has gone from shy, nervous, little-to-no personality, to greeting every friend and service person who enters our home. Frederick went from being an outgoing and calm baby to brave, barky, and ridiculously high energy. They are both such good boys. I can’t imagine my life without them. They have changed me as a person and as an activist. I am so grateful to have them in my life. Happy two years of freedom anniversary, Frederick and Douglass!