EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is the first in our “Angels for the Animals” series spotlighting individuals in our community who care for stray, orphaned and abandoned cats and dogs.
BLUEFIELD — Dee Braun and her daughter, Shontel Braun, are providing a unique service to the stray animals and pets of Mercer County by taking in many foster animals. However, their specialty is taking in newborn puppies.
Most would think that a specialty in puppies is the dream of a foster family, but puppies are a lot of work, especially the ones the Brauns care for. “My daughter and I are partial to puppies,” Braun explained. “We have had as many as 13 puppies from different litters at one time of various ages, abilities and some of them are malnourished, some of them are hurt, some of them are part of dogfighting groups, which of course, is illegal.”
The pair recently rescued one such dog, suspected to have been bred for a fighting ring.
“We went down to McDowell County a couple of months ago and rescued a pit bull that was chained to a dog house and he was in terrible condition. He was a great, big massive dog that had been used for breeding for dog fights,” Braun said. “As soon as we took him off that chain he was giving us kisses and wagging his tail. He has just been a delight to play with. He is just a big baby and as much as they are abused, they forget it right away, they want to crawl up on your lap and be hugged and loved.”
Michelle Cole, W.Va. Third Congressional District Leader of the Humane Society of the United States praised the rescue efforts of Dee and Shontel.
“Dee and her daughter are taking a passion of caring for animals and turning that into a much-needed service for our community,” Cole said. “Their ability to take in nursing moms with puppies and provide them with a safe haven until they are transported to rescue organizations out of West Virginia alleviates the burden on the county shelter to house them. Since these rescues are in larger populated areas with a demand for puppies, due to higher spay and neuter compliance, they can thrive within the safety of a foster home until they are old enough to be adopted into permanent homes. The mothers are spayed and then adopted into forever homes too.”
Cole calls the Brauns, and other rescues and fosters throughout the area, “Angels.” It’s an affectionate term for the people she has worked with before the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout it.
Dee Braun said that she and Shontel started fostering animals about two years ago when they found a stray dog wandering the streets, rescued the animal, and fostered him through ALIVE Animal Services Group, Inc.
“My daughter and I ended up being the ones that sponsor puppies because a lot of people do not have the time or inclination to take care of puppies because they can tend to be nasty. They make a mess everywhere and tend to chew on stuff,” Braun said. “Through ALIVE animal services group, we have fostered 200 puppies in the past two years that are all rescues for one reason or another.”
The pair don’t just foster a lot of animals, they help transport the animals to new homes up and down the east coast. Dee told the story of traveling to Wytheville, Va. recently with her daughter to pick up a mistreated dog, only to drive him to a veterinarian in Christiansburg, Va., get him treated and turned him over to another rescue in Montgomery County, Va. where he has been adopted. This large web of networks is what makes Mercer County’s “angels” so successful.
“We go everywhere north and east of the W.Va. state line,” Braun said. “We have even taken dogs up into Canada because everywhere up north of us are kill shelters, so the only resource to get a dog or a puppy is through a breeder or a pet store and a lot of people do not want to do that. We send anywhere from five to 50 dogs at a time to rescues up north. They all have volunteers waiting to take them into their homes and foster them until they are healthy or trained and adoptable.”
The Braun’s incredible work would not be possible without Shontel, who is the primary care-giver of the animals during the day.
“My daughter’s name is Shontel Braun and she has special needs and not able to work outside the home, so it is mainly her responsibility to take care of all these creatures during the day while I am at work,” Braun said. “It is just designed perfectly for her, she is gentle and kind and has heart for these animals that are suffering. God just worked everything out.”
The Brauns have three dogs and one cat of their own. Their foster animals learn from their pets, helping them become adoptable as soon as possible.
“The puppies learn from our dogs, a lot of potty training, not getting aggressive over food,” Braun said. “We try to get them used to having a collar or a halter and walking on a leash and learning some commands. It is a good thing that we have our cats because then we can tell potential adopters that they are good with cats and we have neighbor kids, so we can tell the potential adopters that they are good with kids under a certain age. The more we can do and the more positive information that we can provide to the shelter, the easier time they have of finding an adopter. There are dogs for everyone, there is no shortage of homeless dogs and cats.”
While rewarding, the work can also be heartbreaking. Dee told the story of fostering a cat recently that was skinny and unhealthy but ended up having a kitten on her daughter’s bed.
“The kitten didn’t make it, so we called Second Chance for Cats and they did not have any nursing kittens that we could replace because our momma cat was really distraught,” A lady called in a couple of hours later and said that she had seen someone throw an animal or something out of a car and she stopped to check and it was a little black and white kitten. So, Darlene from Second Chance for Cats gave her my number and she brought the kitten over to us. Our mommy cat that had just lost her baby and this kitten just bonded. She has been taking care of the kitten for about a week and a half.”
The ups and downs of animal rescue are all a part of the process for the “angels” of Mercer County and their camaraderie is illustrated in the above anecdote. Without that communication, what would have happened to the abandoned kitten? Would the grieving mother cat have survived without a surrogate kitten to care for? These are questions that don’t need to be answered, thanks to the tireless work of these organizations.
ALIVE Animal Services Group, Inc. is a volunteer and donation-based animal rescue, something that is at the forefront of Dee Braun’s mind when she is caring for her foster animals. They need volunteers, foster families, and donations. Braun called the organization “a big network of people that have a heart for suffering animals.” For more information, visit ALIVE Animal Services Group, Inc. Facebook page.
Cole echoed the need for fosters and donations for ALIVE and other rescues in the area.
“The need for additional fosters is great and anyone who has a passion for helping animals and the ability to house them temporarily is encouraged to reach out to me via email at email@example.com and I can help put you in contact with the proper local organization,” Cole said.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org