Two women helping needy Delaware dogs

Two Delaware born-and-raised women have dedicated themselves to dog rescue and are taking medical cases no one else will.

Karli Crenshaw and Brittani Clegg met at the ill-fated Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Georgetown. Crenshaw, a special education teacher, was working with children with behavioral problems and contacted Safe Haven organizers about community service hours for her students.

“I wanted the kids to develop empathy and compassion,” she said.

Crenshaw and her students started visiting Safe Haven twice a week, and she started helping to find the dogs each a home. She quickly gained a reputation for getting dogs adopted, and was hired as an adoption coordinator.

“I just took the time to write good bios for the dogs and take good photos that would appeal to people, especially people in my generation,” she said.

At Safe Haven Crenshaw met Clegg, a volunteer.

“We had similar personalities and viewpoints, and when Safe Haven went under we knew we wanted to keep doing rescue work, but we wanted to do it the right way,” Crenshaw said.

The two women formed Grass Roots Rescue, named with the acronym in mind, in August 2013.

afe Haven was falling apart. “It was a mismanagement of funds. Having the building was a good idea, but wasn’t built or handled properly,” Crenshaw said. “Their biggest downfall was taking over animal control for the county. It was too much for them. There were just too many coming in, especially for them to try and maintain their no-kill title.”

GRR will celebrate its fourth anniversary next month.

“I never would have guessed it would have turned into this,” Clegg said. “It’s been amazing.”

The organization has no paid employees or physical plant. It operates solely on volunteer work and out of foster homes. It is funded through donations and fundraising events.

Since GRR’s inception, Crenshaw, Clegg and their volunteers have cared for more than 600 dogs.

The lives of dog rescuers

Crenshaw, 33, recently moved to the Harbeson area from Lewes. She graduated from Cape Henlopen High School and teaches full-time in the Milford School District. She’s on summer vacation right now, of course, but it’s hard to imagine Crenshaw ever really gets a vacation.

She and her husband have seven children between them, ranging in age from 2 to 16 years old, as well as seven dogs (four of their own and three fosters), three cats (one indoor and two outdoor) and two hamsters.

Clegg is 30, engaged, and has five kids, ranging in age from almost 2 to 14 years old. She’s a certified dog trainer and a full-time mom who lives in Hartly. She is a graduate of Polytech. Clegg’s family’s only pet is a golden retriever, but she’s currently fostering two dogs, one of which just had a litter of puppies.

“It’s definitely a team effort in our household,” she said. “Our children do their part.”

Crenshaw agreed.

“The kids do a lot to help care for and clean up after them.”

And GRR dogs do require a bit more care than the average dog.

“We’re a sucker for the underdogs,” Crenshaw said, no pun intended. “We have a soft spot for the medical cases that other groups don’t want to take because of the impending costs.”

Oslo and Ivar

GRR is getting a lot of attention on social media lately due to their latest rescue project: two ridiculously adorable English bulldogs with front-leg deformities named Oslo and Ivar.

Oslo and Ivar were born to a breeder in Magnolia. They were unable to walk and diagnosed with swimmers syndrome, which causes a dog’s legs to be splayed out and renders them unable to walk properly, if at all. Crenshaw, who has experience with the disease, convinced the breeder to sell the puppies to her for $500 in March. She then took them to see veterinarians at the Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis, Md., and it turned out to be more than just swimmers syndrome that was keeping the dogs from walking.

“They said they did have swimmers in their back legs, but that that was due to a congenital subluxation of the elbows,” Crenshaw said. “The ulna isn’t attached to the joint like it should be.”

Without intervention, Oslo and Ivar would have died within months. Because they can’t stand, their own weight would have crushed the organs in their chests, according to Crenshaw. GRR has spent thousands of dollars on multiple surgeries for both puppies.

“We’ve watched them struggle, cleaned them hourly. We take care of them like babies,” Crenshaw said. “They were dealt such a poor hand and somebody needs to do right by them.”

Neither Oslo nor Ivar will ever walk normally, but the veterinarians at VOSM have assured Crenshaw and Clegg that they are living happy lives and are not in pain. Ivar is due for another surgery later this month to try and straighten out one of his legs so it can bear weight. Oslo may also need more surgery, once he’s done growing.

Crenshaw and Clegg sought legal recourse against Oslo and Ivar’s breeder after getting a written statement from a veterinarian that said the puppies’ issues were hereditary and that their parents should not be bred in order to prevent more deformed offspring. However, there are no laws that forbid  people from breeding dogs with known genetic defects.

“We could sue them for the purchase price of the dog,” Crenshaw said. “That’s it.”

Both Crenshaw and Clegg see the need for more stringent regulations on dog breeding and breeders.

“We’re not anti-breeder at all. We have friends, fosters even, that are breeders,” Crenshaw said. “But breeders need to be held accountable. We want to target backyard breeders that aren’t doing it the right way, that aren’t breeding for the love of the breed but for profit.”

According to Crenshaw, Oslo and Ivar’s parents are still being bred.

Great need

Oslo and Ivar are just two of a handful of dogs with medical complications that GRR is caring for.

There’s Hooch, the Dogue de Bordeaux with a congenital heart defect – a dog which likely won’t survive more than a few years, despite the best veterinary treatment.

There’s Bristol, the pit bull that was shot in the leg and left in a ditch. She’s recovered from the wound, but is now being treated for heartworm.

There’s Tank, the American bulldog who had to have multiple surgeries after eating nonfood items. The behavior was later discovered to be a symptom of a rare disease.

And there’s Cherry, a mixed-breed dog rescued during an animal cruelty case investigation in Georgetown last year. GRR was fostering Cherry for the Brandywine Valley SPCA, but has since cut ties with them to gain control of her medical care. Cherry is heartworm positive but not yet strong enough to receive treatment.

“I think a lot of our funding comes about because of the type of cases we take,” Crenshaw said.

And all of that funding – donations from private individuals – goes toward the dogs’ medical care, which is why they’re having so much trouble nailing down an adoption center.

“We’ve outgrown our own homes,” Crenshaw said. “With some of the people we deal with, we don’t want them to know where we live. We don’t want people to have to come to our homes to meet the dogs. There’s just not enough separation between our lives and rescue.”

GRR is currently looking for a rental space to conduct business.

Upcoming fundraising

On Aug. 13, GRR will participate in BarkAID for the second consecutive year. BarkAID was created by hairstylist Patrick Lomanti, who travels to each of the 50 states and cuts hair to raise money for local rescues and help raise awareness of homeless animals. This year’s he will be at R. Sterling Salon in Lewes.

You can find out more about the event or make a own donation at GRR’s website, GRRDE.org. However, the website is undergoing a makeover at the moment, so Facebook  is the best way to follow GRR: facebook.com/GrassRootsRescue.