VALPARAISO | It was the day Sherri Christopher wanted to quit pet rescue.
In late June 2014, Christopher, founder of the pet rescue organization Guardians of the Green Mile, responded to a call about a pregnant stray pit bull that was “having trouble” delivering puppies in a backyard in Gary.
When Christopher arrived, she knew immediately the dog was not pregnant and was not delivering puppies. Christopher knew the dog had been abused.
Christopher rushed “Lady” to McAfee Animal Hospital, where veterinarian Dr. Steve Violanti diagnosed the dog as having a prolapsed rectum and uterus, which can occur after a female dog gives birth. However, Violanti confirmed that Lady had never been pregnant.
Over the next few weeks, the veterinarian performed three separate surgeries to “keep everything in place,” Christopher said.
Christopher said Lady’s case is just one example of the “dark side” of animal rescue.
“There was no reason for her to prolapse ... it was so hard to believe that some monsters could just do that to her,” said Christopher about the abuse. “I wanted to give up on rescue that day. It took everything I had not to fall to pieces. I cried for a whole week.”
Yet Christopher, of Portage, and her 20-some volunteers persist. Since she founded the organization in April 2013, they have saved more than 200 dogs from euthanasia at “kill” shelters, including Chicago Animal Care and Control, Indianapolis Animal Care and Control and the former Gary Animal Control Center. Upon rescue, the organization vets the dogs and places them in foster homes until permanent homes are found through adoption events.
The rescue’s name derives from the 1999 movie The Green Mile, about death row prison guards and inmates.
“We’re watching over and rescuing the death row dogs,” Christopher said. “We also pull a lot of medical cases — animals that would be left behind due to the high cost of vetting.”
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Yet the rescue is a “financially healthy, open book organization” that spays and neuters and vaccinates before adoption and avoids “same day” adoptions, said Christopher.
A paw print caressed by a feathery pair of wings is the rescue’s symbolic logo.
“The paw print is the core team of our rescue, and the feathers represent all the other people it takes to save a life — donors, transporters, vet, vet techs, fosters, adopters,” Christopher said. “It takes a village to save one life — it takes way more than one person.”
As part of the team, Violanti often travels after hours to the Doggy Den — a converted grain silo that houses new mother dogs and their puppies — to do puppy first exams and vaccinations.
“It’s what little I can do to help,” said Violanti, of Valparaiso. “This is the smallest part of the process. All the other things they do — that’s the hard part.”
As for Lady, Christopher said she gets “nothing but TLC” in her foster home and is learning to trust again.
“She was broken in her soul,” Christopher said. “Now, her tail is in the air, wagging back and forth, and she’s letting people approach her. You would think she would never want anyone near her. … They are so trusting and so forgiving.”
Although Lady’s case nearly broke her, Christopher believes she was destined to be an active player in pet rescue with her colleagues at Guardians of the Green Mile.
“I did not choose this,” Christopher said. “God must have a sense of humor and play chess, because all the right people have come together. For the first time in my life I said I would follow, and he made me a guardian.”