An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

For Belle's Sake: Protecting those without a voice

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It is human nature to desire companionship and love in one form or another, according to Ivan Pavlov's (an accomplished Russian physician with nationally accredited and studied theories and publications) hierarchy of needs. Some get fulfillment through caring for babies, others enjoy the company of family and friends, while still others truly connect with their pets.

However, sometimes having a pet can prove to be a more difficult challenge than owners expected, stretching their resources, patience and time further than planned. When these problems become a reality, it often leads to pets being neglected, abused or simply abandoned.

Staff Sgt. Shelby Bird, 20th Force Support Squadron Airman Leadership School instructor, and Tech. Sgt. Christian Bird, U.S. Air Forces Central NCO in charge of the network operations security center, have come to realize the reality of such things and have taken a stand by opening up their home and rescuing abused animals.

In honor of a particularly memorable rescue, a dog named Belle, the Birds started "For Belle's Sake Rescue and Rehabilitation," an animal rescue, rehabilitation, adoption and pet watching service.

Belle was a pit bull mix, or pibble, which are bred to be less aggressive than pure pit bulls (which are generally known for their aggressive nature). Belle passed away April 1, 2012, hours after being rescued. She died from complications resulting from her original owners' maltreatment.

When the Birds received a call to rescue her, she was in critical condition. They found her on the side of a road, malnourished, with open wounds and fire ants on her body.

"We got a phone call in the late afternoon about a dog who had been hit by a car," Shelby explained. "A woman was at a stop sign, looked over into a grassy field and saw a head peering over the grass. So she walked out into the field and found Belle laying there."

"Belle couldn't stand and was surrounded by cans of dog food and chicken. She was covered in red ants, which had to have been very painful. We brought her home and set her up in a crate. When we carried her into the house, I flipped her over and her wounds were terrible," she continued.

"We immediately called an EMT to come evaluate her since the nearest after hours vet clinic was in Columbia at the time. It was then that I named her Belle."

"She had two shattered back legs, a broken back, all of the skin and muscle was missing from her hind legs from road rash, and she was in organ failure," Shelby explained "We knew if we tried to save her, it would be a long and painful process and she more than likely would not survive it. She needed blood transfusions and both hind legs amputated. The EMT said she was in shock and her body was shutting down."

"He said her wounds appeared to be at least five days old," Shelby said. "Meaning she suffered that duration alone in excruciating pain."

"Someone knew she was there because they were trying to feed her," she continued. "But no one helped."

"The entire time he was evaluating her, her tail was wagging," she said. "I knelt before her, held out my hands, and asked a very simple question. 'Belle, what do you want?'

"She rested her head in the palm of my hands and closed her eyes," she explained. "Her breathing got slow and she told me she was ready to go. Everything we do, we do for Belle's sake."

For Belle's Sake's mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce mistreated or abused animals with little to no chance of survival back into the world, and eventually, find a loving home through adoption. They also focus on removing animals with a low survival rate (usually more aggressive or skittish animals) from shelters or pounds before they are euthanized.

The typical pound or shelter offers little to no luxuries, love and or affection for pets, Shelby said. Shelby recalls her common experiences with such institutes.

"The pound is all concrete," Bird explained. "The cells are 4 feet by 4 feet with cinder block walls on three sides and the building echoes enough to make your ears ring."

"It is dark and there is no heat or good air flow," she continued. "The dogs are not given anything to lie on but the concrete floor; no cot, no blanket, nothing. The dogs are not allowed to come out of their cells ever."

"The staff just sprays the floors clean with high pressure hoses. The dogs get wet and filthy and the floors never really dry. The dogs are laying and standing in water all day and night."

"They are fed once a day and the food is scooped into dirty, rusty buckets through the cage wire," Shelby said. "Many are terrified so they huddle in the back drain with all of the feces and urine."

"The floors are just cleaned with water and not sanitized so most of the puppies will die from parvovirus and other illnesses," she added. "They receive no human interaction except when someone walks by and dumps food in or they spray the kennels out. Most will die within a week or two."

"Shelters and pounds differ," Shelby explained. "But that has been my experience many times. Shelters are usually better run, but they are still loud buildings and scary for the dogs."

In order to truly understand the effects that living in such conditions can have on the psyche of an animal, first-hand experience is required, Shelby explained.

"I'd challenge anyone to spend a day working at your local pound and see what those dogs go through each day," Shelby said.

"We've seen dogs torn apart from being used as bait dogs to train fighters," she said. "We've seen dogs beaten with baseball bats, run over by cars and left to suffer for days; dogs whose teeth have all been pulled out and dogs infested with maggots."

"We've seen puppies born in a shelter without a blanket onto ice-cold concrete that froze to death before we can (could) get them into the warm truck," she explained. "It's enough to bring the strongest man to his knees."

The Birds work tirelessly to avoid such living conditions for pets and have saved more than 200 dogs this year alone. However, saving and rehabilitating pets is just the beginning. The ultimate goal is to find a loving home they can flourish in.

"We consider ourselves limbo. We are better than being put to sleep in a shelter, but don't compare to them having their own home and family," Shelby explained.

"Many pets have left for their new homes, and many have come to us in their place," Shelby said. "But nothing beats getting pictures of adopted pets sleeping on the floor with big goofy grins on their faces; they all deserve that life."

For Belle's Sake has a facebook page with information regarding their program and photos of adoptable pets or the Birds may be reached at (803) 494-2299.

They currently have 39 dogs (from St. Bernards to Chihuahuas) and one kitten that are eligible for adoption.

Prior to becoming eligible for adoption, each pet goes through an extensive process to ensure they are ready to be introduced into a home environment.

"First, we let every dog settle in and evaluate their temperament after they are comfortable," Shelby explained. "A fearful dog can be unpredictable. They may have suffered extensive mental trauma from the pound or other places they have come from."

"We work on leash training and basic commands," she continued. "We test them for compatibility with cats as well as see how they behave around our children in a controlled environment. All pets are vaccinated for rabies and spayed or neutered prior to adoption. We also do a heartworm test."

A lot of dedication goes into getting them back to being healthy and happy, she added.

In addition to rescue, rehabilitation and adoption, they also offer long term boarding solutions to pet owners.

"There are many local people and facilities who offer short-term boarding for pets ranging anywhere from $15 to $30 a day," Shelby explained. "We only offer long-term boarding, as the average person cannot afford to pay that daily amount for months."

"We offer rates by the month versus daily," she continued. "The animals become a part of our family and we work on basic obedience and behavior training (per the owner's request). We also take photos and send them to the member and keep them updated on their pet as much as possible."

There is no limit to the amount of time they will board an owners pet, from months to years.

They encourage military members going on extensive temporary duty assignments or deployments to utilize their services so they can keep their pets without paying daily boarding fees or having to give up their pets.

The peace of mind, and eventual reunion, the Birds offer pets and their owners is invaluable. Even when separated for years a pet remembers their owner and are ecstatic to be reunited, Shelby explained.

"All venues we contacted were either full or never gave a return call," said Ashley Gabel, wife of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. William Gabel, 20th Component Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare leader. "We heard about For Belle's Sake and gave them a call.With one visit we couldn't believe all of the pets they helped. We quickly knew this would be a perfect spot for our dog Molly to stay safe so we could focus on tasks ahead of us."

The Birds consider what they do not only a blessing for animals and owners they help, but a vital part of the Air Force mission; positively impacting the community.

"We are an Air Force that dedicates ourselves to the community," Shelby said. "This is another avenue for our military members to serve."

The Birds encourage anyone looking to provide a loving home for a pet to adopt through them...for Belle's sake.