Dozens of pet lovers in multiple states arranged a 2,100-mile odyssey to help an orphaned dog that belonged to a man they’d never met. Why? Here is the story.
Gary Pelt, of Beaumont, Texas, didn’t have an easy life. Born with developmental disabilities, he worked hard to be independent, cleaning school buses, doing maintenance for the city and county, and working landscaping jobs.
After 39 years of marriage, his wife passed in 2015, leaving him alone, although extended family lived nearby.
Longtime friend Sissie Breaux recognized Gary’s loneliness. When she rescued a starving stray abandoned dog on a road, she introduced it to Gary.
It was love at first sight, and he named her Pretty Girl.
The boxer-pit bull mix was pregnant and had heartworms, but that didn’t matter to Gary.
More than $2000 in vet bills later, Pretty Girl was healthy and happy. She and Remy, her pup, became Gary’s constant, devoted companions.
In 2019, when Tropical Storm Imelda flooded his house with nearly 3 feet of water, rescue workers found him on top of his bed with the two dogs.
As Gary’s health deteriorated, relatives urged him to move to assisted living, but he flatly refused. His dogs were loyal to him, and he was loyal to them. If they couldn’t go with him, he wasn’t going.
This past July, Gary died at age 70.
Friends found a new home for Remy, but not Pretty Girl, until Gary’s sister, Debbie Epperson, and her husband, Nathan, agreed to take her.
But there was one big problem: Debbie and Nathan live in Kalispell, Mont., more than 2,100 miles from Beaumont. COVID-19 made travel risky. They couldn’t even attend Gary’s funeral, let alone pick up his dog.
Airlines won’t fly pets in summer heat. Transport companies wanted $2,500 to bring Pretty Girl to Montana.
After Debbie checked them out, she said, “I wouldn’t trust them to transport a pet rock.”
Debbie called her friend Barbara Palmer of Whitefish, a longtime volunteer with the Flathead Spay-Neuter Task Force. Barbara put the word out over the Milk Bone Grapevine, emailing more than 50 friends and rescue organizations.
Jan Hurst, of Redmond, Wash., was one of many who answered the call for help. She contacted another animal lover, Gail Bell, in Denver.
Gail contacted Cindy Perini, founder/president of Rescued Pets Movement (RPM) in Houston, where an estimated one million strays live on the city’s streets. RPM rescues dogs and cats, provides needed medical care, then transports them to other parts of the country where people want to adopt them, including Colorado, California, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Virginia.
Since 2013, RPM has rescued and transported over 55 thousand dogs and cats (plus a few pigs).
The first leg of Pretty Girl’s road trip started when Sissie Breaux drove her 85 miles from Beaumont to Houston.
For the next leg, RPM arranged the 1,000-mile trip from Houston to Denver. Pretty Girl spent 24 hours riding in a Freightliner Sprinter van with two drivers, 126 rescue dogs, and seven cats.
Upon arrival in Colorado, Pretty Girl was handed off to Edie Messick, owner/founder of The Animal Debt Project (ADP), a no-kill shelter in Wellington, Colo.
Two years ago, Edie decided she could save more lives if she concentrated on shuttling dogs to new homes as part of the transportation network. Every other week, she travels through Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho in a Ford van packed with dogs in crates. So far, she’s saved 2,500 pets.
“I have always loved dogs,” Edie said, “so this work, while difficult and sometimes heartbreaking, can be incredibly fulfilling.” Even though trips last for several days, she won’t leave the dogs unattended, meaning no stops at motels. Instead, as the sole driver, she catnaps in her van at the side of the road. That’s dedication.
After eight days at Edie’s shelter, Pretty Girl was loaded up with 27 dogs rescued from Tijuana, including a diabetic pup that required insulin injections, which Edie administered.
On a Friday morning, I met Edie at Muralt’s truck stop in Missoula. She had already unloaded several crates of dogs and was busy cleaning and putting down fresh pee pads. A bonded pair of Chihuahuas from Tijuana barked nonstop. More dogs joined the chorus.
Edie opened the van’s rear door to introduce Nathan and me to Pretty Girl. She panted nervously but happily licked our hands through the cage wire and wagged her tail.
“She’s a bull,” Edie warned and wisely suggested tying the leash to the rear headrest in Nathan’s truck to keep the dog from jumping all over the interior.
Nathan drove while I sat in the back seat with Pretty Girl. She immediately cuddled in my lap, kissing and wagging. Once we were on the road, she calmed down and stopped panting. We spent much of the trip home to Kalispell with her leaning against me…except when she wanted to jump in the front to cuddle with Nathan.
My wrestling match to keep the muscular 63-pound “bull” in the rear seat ended in a draw. Her body stayed in back, but her head leaned forward to rest on Nathan’s shoulder while he rubbed her neck and ears.
Finally, Pretty Girl lay down for a nap on her favorite blanket and an old shirt of Gary’s that Sissie had mailed from Texas, to surround her with familiar smells.
One-hundred-twenty miles later, we arrived at the Epperson’s wooded property west of Kalispell. Pretty Girl was alert and curious about the unfamiliar scents of deer and wild turkeys. She explored the large fenced back yard and met Golden Retrievers Maggie, 11, Kemah, 2, and a black cat named Shadow.
Pretty Girl’s relaxed body language indicated this was a good place to call home. Her new family would love her as much as Gary had.
Cindy, Edie, Jan, Gail, Barbara, and many other volunteers had never met Gary or Pretty Girl, but they understood the human-pet connection. After Gary’s death, they went far beyond the extra mile to help his beloved dog.
With isolation caused by COVID-19, pet adoptions are on the rise. Seniors especially appreciate the companionship and unconditional love animals bring to our lives.
When I started writing this story, I decided the fee earned would be donated to Rescued Pets Movement rescuedpetsmovement.org) and Animal Debt Project (theanimaldebtproject.com). After seeing their hard work up close and personal, I’m even more convinced to support them.
The first night at the Epperson home, Pretty Girl curled up on the loveseat with Debbie for an episode of “Murder She Wrote.”
After two months of feeling abandoned and confused, traveling to strange places among unfamiliar people, Gary’s dog found the Last Best Place and can now sleep peacefully in his sister’s loving care. MSN