A few weeks ago, a very pregnant, very sick hound was pulled from a South Carolina kill shelter the day before the needle met her skin.
Operation Paws for Homes couldn't bear to let it happen, so they called on friend and pilot David Roberts to fly the stray up to Warrenton, where she gave birth to 12 puppies just days later.
Hazelnut and her pups
With sad brown eyes and droopy ears, the Hazelnut resembles a beagle, but her breed, just like her past, is a mystery. Struggling for life, she was discarded at a South Carolina shelter.
Not only was she at a kill-shelter, but she was enduring the advanced stages of heartworm disease, which led to a respiratory infection. The two illnesses, coupled with pregnancy, made it difficult for "Hazel" to breathe normally.
"I don't like her cough," said Laurie Landers of Operation Paws for Homes. "She has a sort of slow cough all the time."
Hazelnut was too close to going into labor for her to endure the 10-hour drive up to Fauquier, so her rescuers flew her almost 500 miles to the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport.
Her original foster mom, Vicki Clough, was there to scoop her up, but the excitement quickly turned to worry.
Hazelnut went into respiratory distress. Her guardians rushed her to the Blue Ridge Animal Hospital.
And then she went into labor.
Twelve puppies met a very different destiny that night as they were born into a world of hope, opposed to never having a chance.
"Once she delivered, we realized how undernourished she was," said Landers. "She was still having difficulty breathing and she and the pups needed special care so they were transported to me."
Within the first few nights, five puppies had lost their lives.
"Her poor nutrition and heartworm disease is why she is unable to properly care for her pups," said Landers. "She really wanted to care for them though; it was sad to watch."
Landers did everything she could to keep the puppies with their mom, but it became obvious that Hazelnut and the puppies had a better chance living separately.
"Hazel's new foster mom is a soldier in the Army," said Landers. "She is married with two small children."
The people involved
Since July 7, hands have been moving non-stop to bring Hazel and her puppies from death to healthy, love-filled lives.
Landers said she got a call from "a friend in South Carolina who has a soft spot for pregnant dogs."
Landers then phoned Laura Roberts of Road Home Rescue in Raleigh, NC and within minutes her husband David, a former commercial pilot, was out the door to make the trip south to retrieve Hazelnut.
"It usually takes David about $500 in plane fuel," said Landers. "We usually pay them about $125."
The Roberts absorb the rest of the cost, often flying pets for $80 and sometimes even less.
Vicki Clough and Anna Keefe welcomed Hazelnut and David with food for both. Clough brought Hazel into her home and monitored her as her condition seemed to worsen.
Vets and nurses at Blue Ridge Animal Hospital worked through the night to steady Hazel's breathing and help her give birth.
When the dogs were discharged, Laurie Landers woke up every two hours to help the overwhelmed hound. She suffered through the loss of three puppies, and then made the heart-wrenching choice to separate the dog who bore only good intentions to her puppies.
"Everything has been making me cry," said Landers on Monday. "I'm behind on everything, and I have a job too."
Then she got a message from a trusted volunteer in Vint Hill saying that he, his wife, and their two teenaged sons would be willing to give the pups 'round-the-clock care.
"This is not our first rodeo," said George Maxwell. "We've done bottle and tube feeding before."
He said since they had only gone one day and night, they haven't yet become "punch drunk and goofy" from lack of sleep.
So how familiar are the Maxwells with caring for litters until they're old enough to find forever homes?
"This litter of six bring us up to about 71 total," he said.
With the puppies' eyes still closed, the Maxwells still have about seven weeks before they can be adopted.
"They're very cute," he said. "They look like little guinea pigs right now."
In addition to the help from the family who stepped in to love on Hazel, there are volunteers helping with household chores, and even making meals for the foster parents.
Operation Paws for Homes
Jen Dodge, Laurie Landers, Joanne Lustre and volunteers lead busy lives, yet still make time to care for unwanted animals through this organization.
"In the four years of operation we have rescued more than 4,000 dogs," said Landers. "We also believe in giving back to shelters in need by sending food, bedding and toys."
"We give back locally by funding spays and neuters for families unable to afford it on World Spay Day every year," said Landers.
Her dream is to one day afford to send a spay/neuter van to a city in need.
The Maxwell family volunteers because it's the logical way for them to contribute.
"We don't have a lot of money, so this is our way to give back," said Maxwell.
Unfortunately, vet bills and medications are often expensive, so Paws for Homes needs funding too.
"Hazel's emergency vet visit was $1,202. Her heartworm treatment and spay will run around $550," said Landers. "We can always use monetary donations, more volunteers, dog food, treats, dog toys, paper towels, puppy pads, crates, puppy play pens, bleach, collars, leashes and anything dog related."
One of the saddest elements in Hazel's story is that this was easily preventable.
Once contracted, heartworm disease is not only expensive, but it is dangerous to treat.
"Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes," said Landers. "The baby heartworms enter through the mosquito bite and evolve in the small blood vessels of the body. Heartworm prevention kills the baby heartworms at this stage but once the baby worms reach the next stage and enter the large blood vessels it is too late and the worms travel to the heart and lungs making it hard for the dog to breath and straining the heart."
Veterinarians can give your dog the preventative treatment it needs to stay healthy at an affordable cost.
For more information about Operation Paws For Homes, visit http://www.ophrescue.org