Happy tails is a new series about animals who have found great homes. This first one is about Gaye Campbell-Suhling and Heidi.
Campbell-Suhling told me in an email, “One cold winter night at the end of December I get a call from my daughter Liz Ellis asking me if, on the spur of the moment, I can leave and fly to Texas to visit forgotten dogs of the fifth for project??? I can’t but my husband can.” This was in 2012.
The rescue was part of the non-profit organization Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward Project. The group formed in November of 2011. According to the website, they foster dogs and help educate the residents, even providing vaccinations and worming. The organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is active on Facebook.
How did Campbell-Suhling and her daughter connect with this Texas-based organization? Campbell-Suhling explained, “My daughter and I had been friending rescuers in Texas and, in one post, Liz saw a dog that she wanted to save and was willing to go through any lengths to save it. The next day they raised funds and my husband and daughter flew to Texas to do a feeding route with Alisha McCarty, Kelle Mann Davis, Kevin Miller and others to see what it was like for the homeless dogs in Texas.”
What Liz learned was shocking. Campbell-Suhling related, “After less than two hours on the route, Liz started posting pictures on her Facebook page asking if some of these homeless dogs could be fostered or adopted here in Illinois. She and my husband rented a U-Haul and, to make a long story short, captured several street and brought back 16 dogs from forgotten dogs of the streets to safety here in Illinois.”
The trip was uneventful, except due to her poor diet, Heidi had gas. That couldn’t have been pleasant. But Heidi was special. Campbell-Suhling continued, “Heidi was one of the dogs being fostered by Kelle Mann Davis and I have always wanted a small quiet lap dog I could dress up. So after they were back for a day or two at my daughter’s shelter, I decided to bring Heidi home for Christmas.”
This wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven. Campbell-Suhling explained, “For some reason I was told Heidi was three years old and, since I don’t adopt puppies because I’m old and puppies are a lot of work, that was perfect. Lo and behold Heidi was a puppy!” Still, Campbell-Suhling didn’t send Heidi back and struggled on with her. Heidi had ideas of her own about who a dog, even a rescue dog should live. Campbell-Suhling related, “She refuses to let me dress her up and she is almost 70 pounds now!.” Yet otherwise things have gone well. “She has adjusted wonderfully to the other three dogs I have. My white lab Sally, who is 10 years old, is her mother figure. My five-year-old pitbull Moses is her best friend. And the old 17-year-old German Shepherd, I rescued at 15 years of age is who she tries to gain favor from.”
The rescue efforts between Texas and Illinois have continued, Campbell-Suhling commented, “My daughter has continued rescuing dogs from Texas and I am totally in favor of bringing those dogs up to homes in Illinois or wherever and to try to make people aware of what really goes on in Houston! Heidi is one dog who made it out of the Fifth Ward in Houston. But there are many more who don’t make it. It is a problem. It is a horrible problem.”
The Fifth Ward is a historical political district that is northeast to the Houston Downtown. After the American Civil War, the area had been settled by freed slaves. In the 1880s, the population was predominately black working-class. Now, the Fifth Ward is a high-poverty neighborhood. In a Houston Chronicle article City Councilman commented, that “The Fifth Ward is void of jobs, There aren’t any commercial grocery stores. There aren’t any places where young people can get a job.”
According to the Houston City Community Health Profiles for 1999-2003, the racial demographics are 63 percent black non-Latino and 35 percent Latino. The majority (70 percent) were native Texans. Only 18 percent were foreign-born. The unemployment rate was 7 percent.
This isn’t, of course, a tale about how to help Houston’s Fifth Ward. This is about how one dog was lucky enough to make it out. Campbell-Suhling said, “Heidi is well taken care of and much loved. She has a extremely large fenced in yard for her and the other dogs to play in. She gets regular vet visits. She is our baby girl. And we thank those in Texas who have the heart to go out and do this work. They are truly the heroes.”
Campbell-Suhling’s daughter Liz has “always worked at a shelter or for a non-profit,” Campbell-Suhling explained, adding that the transport of dogs occurs every couple of months.
If you’d like to help and adopt a dog from the Fifth Ward, visit Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward for more information.