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A teacher and her young school children have accomplished nothing short of a miracle. With few resources, and lots of guts and determination, they have converted a small town in Texas to a no-kill one. In three years, they have saved more than 4,000 animals. This is a story you won’t soon forget. It’s a story of conviction, dedication, compassion, and triumph. This is the story of DAWGS -- The Dalhart Animal Wellness Group & Sanctuary.
There was a moment in Diane Trull’s life that was huge. But, at the time she could never imagine that what she said in that moment would catapult her life into a new direction and dramatically impact the lives of her students, her family, her community, and thousands of animals.
In March 2003, Diane was teaching her fourth-grade reading class. Among the assorted reading materials in the classroom that the students were encouraged to read was the local newspaper. At that time. the town would run pictures of the dogs they had at the shelter. It was basically a notice – in three days, if not claimed or adopted, the dogs would be put down. This particular day the pictures were of two black labs and some puppies. Four little girls asked Diane “What’s going to happen to these dogs?”
“It’s one of those things you just don’t know,” said Diane. “Do you tell them the truth and risk where that’s going to go or say you’re sure they’ll be adopted and know they probably won’t.” Then came the moment…
“I told them the truth. I said they’ll be put to sleep if they don’t find homes.” The young girls shook their heads and retreated together. “I could see them talking so I knew something was coming. Then a few minutes later they came back and said ‘Isn’t there something we can do?’
“I told them I would think of something. I went home and I talked with my husband and we were thinking - not a problem. There are just a few dogs, we can find them homes. This will be great activity for the kids. We can teach them about compassion, responsibility, and empathy. All these great life skills that they can use and at the same time they’ll be helping the animals.” She laughs. “We were dreaming.
“I went back to school and told them we could do something. Of course, we had to go through our school even though it’s an after school activity because it was going to involve school children. The school wanted to know how we were going to fund this. And I said we’ll do recycling. We’ll make money off of it and we can feed the dogs.”
Diane along with 35 of her students went to the city council. “It was teaching them about city government because none of them had ever been inside the council chambers. We proposed our idea to the council of taking all the dogs from animal control. We said we would do recycling to raise money. We had done some research and we got some bins donated to us so we had all these things in motion. They said we could have the dogs.”
The next day, Diane was teaching in her classroom when suddenly an animal control agent came in and announced he had five adult dogs and seven puppies loaded up outside on their way to be euthanized. He asked her if she wanted him to leave them in her classroom.
Besides being stunned, Diane says “I was thinking how can they have that many dogs. I asked him if he could give me until the end of the day to come up with a plan. I made some phone calls and found some emergency homes. A judge in town heard about what I was doing. She had a three-car garage and a chicken coop and had a garden area right next to the animal hospital and she said we could have the whole area to do whatever we wanted with it. We hoed weeds and cleaned the chicken coop up, fixed it up as a puppy pen. We started building pens. We moved dogs. Took dogs to Petsmart, talked to ASPCA, and took some to a shelter in Amarillo. We were doing really good. And we said ‘We can do this.’
“We lasted there for about a month. We went and did a presentation at the city council. At that time we had saved 32 dogs. We had a picture of each one of them and 35 kids came with me. We told the “Starfish” story. In Texas we have this test. It’s reading and math skills primarily in the fourth grade. The children read these paragraph stories and then have to answer questions about what they just read which helps them better comprehend the story. Three weeks into our project with the dogs we read the Starfish story.
The Starfish Story
“There are many renditions but basically it goes like this…..there’s a man walking down the beach after a huge storm has come through. He’s sees this young boy feverishly throwing starfish that are stranded on the beach back into the sea as fast as he can. The beach is just littered with all of these poor animals. The man walks up to the young boy, shaking his head and says ‘Son, son, there’s too many of them. You can’t possibly make a difference. You can’t save them all.’ The boy says ‘But, sir, I’m saving this one and this one and this one.’ And he throws them back in the ocean. The moral of the story is that you can make a difference. That’s how we came up with one animal at a time, one day at a time. We try to save them all.
“The children shared that story in the city council meeting and showed pictures of each of the dogs they had saved and said ‘Thank you for helping us make a difference. Thank you for helping us save his life or her life.’
“At the end of the presentation this man got up and said “that was very touching but they’re really a nuisance and they need to move.” That was the first inkling that we might have issues. It was a sad thing because the kids were so thrilled with what they’d accomplished. The man said his poor little mother who’s 90 years old couldn’t sleep because of the noise. At the end of the evening, they decided we had to move.
“One of the little girls was trying to understand and went up to the man and asked ‘Why do you want to kill the animals?’ He said ‘I don’t want to kill the animals. I don’t care about the animals but I do care that my mother can’t sleep.’ And the little girl who was nine years old said if she turned off her hearing aids then she wouldn’t hear them. Now to her that was a reasonable solution. But it was misconstrued and didn’t go over well."
Fortunately, the evening ended with some hope. The police chief approached Diane after the meeting and said the town had this piece of property – two and a half acres – that had been vacant since the 1930s. It was out by the shooting range, out by the cemetery, and out by two railroads. If she wanted it, it was hers to use.
“I went there and it truly was a haunted house, “ says Diane. “The trees were all dead and the weeds were about five feet tall. You couldn’t even get up to the slaughterhouse.” It was a slaughter house during the Depression. Along with the actual building that was the slaughterhouse, came five outbuildings. But there was no water or electricity.
"He said you can move here. And I thought ‘Oh my gosh.’ The city was really good. They sent out a crew and they cleaned it all up. There was so much debris that when they put it in a pile and burned it, the fire lasted for two days. We started building pens – we started with 13.”
The Swallows’ Persistence and Determination
They designated the slaughterhouse as the area for the puppies. But, Diane and the children found a swallow’s nest and didn’t want the swallows and the puppies to meet so they relocated the nest.
“We kept trying to relocate the swallow’s nest that was in the slaughterhouse but everyday they’d build another one. Finally, the kids drew the correlation between the persistence and determination of the swallows and their own. We decided we needed to let the swallows have their nest. So we put mesh around the nest so the dogs couldn’t get to them and they wouldn’t get by the dogs. One day, we all watched as the six babies flew away and we kept the nest. On our website you’ll see a picture of the nest. That’s its significance.
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