HALIFAX — When Rainbow Rescue volunteers came across a particular hound recently, they knew they had an emergency on their hands.
The dog, who was found by a good Samaritan on the side of a road, was nicknamed "Bones" because his bones were sharplyprotruding from his sagging flesh and his hind quarters were so fragile. It looked as if he wouldn't be able to stand on his own, though he does. Bones who has a white coat, was severely underweight when he was brought to Rainbow Rescue, according to volunteer Nancy Topham Mueller.
Rainbow Rescue volunteers drove Bones to a vet in Williamston to try to save his life, she said. There, he was plugged up to IVs, hydrated, checked for worms and given a checkup. His condition was critical, Mueller noted, but added he is expected to survive.
Still, Rainbow Rescue officials said "Bones" epitomizes a growing problem in Halifax and surrounding counties: Some hunters abandon hounds that don't hunt well and leave them to starve when hunting season ends.
Volunteers with Rainbow Rescue and officers with area animal control agencies said they do what they can to find the dogs and get them to the shelter or into foster homes, but the practice continues to plague the area.
"It's always been a big problem in Halifax County," said Robert Richardson, an officer with Halifax County Animal Control. "A lot of the dogs that are left out there because they didn't perform well, they will just take the collar olf and leave them."
He said many of the dogs have just a number painted on the side to identify them — not a name or a tag.
"The way some of these hunters keep their dogs, they have a pack of them, 30 or 40. They keep them underweight so they can run fast," he noted. "The dogs are back in the woods a lot of the time, and we really don't know unless we get complaints on them."
Mueller said by the time the dogs get to Rainbow Rescue, some are in terrible shape, either from starvation or from chronic mistreatment.
"It's so irresponsible and so cruel," she said. "They really suffer."
Once dogs get to the shelter, Richardson said they are given food and water and brought in from the elements. Mueller said Rainbow Rescue tries to get as many of the hounds as they can from the shelter so they can be fostered and ultimately adopted. It puts a strain on them this time of year, she added.
"We can't take some of the other dogs because we are flooded with the hounds," she said. "We take them to the vet, get them spayed or neutered, get them shots. We're desperately working for people to adopt them. Around here, hounds are a dime a dozen, so many of them are being adopted in other places."
Due to the lack of socialization and some of the conditions the hounds have lived in, Mueller said transitioning to a permanent home can be a process, but dog-lovers like Tristan Fuierer have found great friends in their rescued hounds.
"When I got Herbie, he was 39 pounds — just skin and bones," Fuierer said. "He was afraid of life, afraid of everything. He had extreme fear initially. It was very sad. It was pretty shocking to see how much he had starved."
Herbie is now a healthy 60 pounds, according to Fuierer, and not at all the dog he was a year and a half ago. He has adjusted well, she added, and it's hard to tell he had ever been a starved hunting dog.
"He's a happy dog now," she said. "He wakes up every morning like it's Christmas — lovable, very sweet."
She has other dogs she has rescued and said they become more trusting over time. They just need someone to have a little patience with them.
"They want nothing more than to be loved, she said. "A gentle hand and soft voice changes them."
Her latest rescue is Eleanor. She said she still has remnants of the paint on her fur from being numbered by a hunter, but she is making amazing progress. Fuierer said she was given up because she wasn't having puppies.
Fuierer said the thought process behind abandoning hounds is upsetting.
"People see them as so replaceable," she said. "They think, 'Oh well, we'll just get another one. It's cheaper to start all over again and get a puppy in the summer than to feed this adult dog for the next six months or so.'"
Richardson said, at the very least, there is no excuse to abandon the dogs and let them starve.
"We have drop-off pens, so these hunters don't have to leave these dogs on the side of the road," he said. "They could be put in a kennel with food and water and we will pick them up the next morning.
(When they're abandoned) they will run game for days to eat, and that's why a lot of them are so skinny, because they've been running. They run until they can't run anymore."
He said abandoning a dog is a felony, and if someone actually sees a dog being abandoned, they should call the Halifax County Sheriff's Office. The fine for abandoning a dog is $1,000, he noted.
Fuierer said she believes there needs to be stricter laws related to hounds in North Carolina.
"Laws here do not protect hound dogs," she said. "It's probably time for some of these laws to change."
Want to help?
People interested in adopting or fostering dogs can go to Facebook and look for "Friends of Halifax County N.C. Animal Control" or "Rainbow Animal Rescue North Carolina."