Macon woman gives thousands of stray, neglected dogs second chance

Published 3:00 pm Friday, May 11, 2018

MACON (AP) — She has seen a stray dog that had the hair burned off its face.

She has seen the X-rays of strays with broken bones and shotgun pellets all over their bodies.

She has seen a stray dragging its hind legs to the point they were rubbed raw. An X-ray revealed a BB lodged at the top of its spine that left it partially paralyzed.

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But there is a happy ending to all of the above because Jeanette Unruh, of Macon, cared enough to rescue them, nurture them back to health and then find them a good home.

Unruh (pronounced UN-rew) has been rescuing dogs in Noxubee County since 2011. Since then, with the help of Mississippi State University’s veterinary school, she has helped spay and neuter more than 4,100 dogs.

She has found homes for nearly 1,000.

She was named the 2017 Woman of the Year by the Noxubee County Economic and Community Development Alliance.

“It’s very odd these days to see a stray walking around in Macon — and you used to see them everywhere,” says Pam Dawkins, a fourth-grade teacher at Macon’s Earl Nash Elementary. “Jeanette has made a huge difference. It’s not easy. She puts everything she has into it. She doesn’t have a life. Never goes out of town. She’s constantly rescuing a dog.”

Just the other day, Unruh received a tip there were puppies beneath an abandoned house about 20 miles from Macon. The mother had been run over and killed on the highway.

Unruh crawled under the house and saved the five pups.

“Somebody probably dumped (the mother) out and she found a safe place to have the puppies,” says Unruh, 51, who was born in Kansas but moved to Macon when she was 12. “We think they were about 3 weeks old. The mama had hollowed a little hole against a concrete block to have them.”

Didn’t Unruh consider there might be rattlesnakes the size of her leg under there, too?

“Honestly, it never occurred to me,” she says. “I wanted those puppies out of there.”

Unruh traces her tender heart for strays to her father.

“We had dogs growing up. He believed in spaying and neutering,” she says. “He taught me that animals are God’s creatures and that we needed to take care of them.”

Her rescuing began with one phone call.

“Somebody said there was a woman in Macon who had dozens and dozens of dogs, and they wanted me to check it out,” she says. “I really didn’t want to, but I sorta got talked into it. I didn’t want to see something I couldn’t solve.

“When I got there — and I knew the lady — I took pictures of about 140 dogs. But she wound up having about 240 in all. Some were in pens, some were running loose. And it wasn’t that she was a hoarder. People would dump the dogs on her because they knew she would keep them.”

The woman fed the dogs. “I honestly think she did without food for herself so the dogs wouldn’t starve,” Unruh says. “But none of them had been vetted. None had been spayed or neutered.”

She called the MSU vet school, which sent a mobile clinic to Macon. All of the dogs were spayed and neutered. They eventually were transported out by the Humane Society of the United States.

“That’s how I connected with MSU,” Unruh says. “Dr. Phillip Busby said they would come down a couple of times a month and offer spay and neutering. They’re still coming down about twice a month.”

When she rescues a stray, Unruh vaccinates the dog for distemper and parvo and treats it for worms. The dog is quarantined for 10 days to make sure it is clear of parvo — highly contagious among dogs.

Unruh has “fosters” that help when she has too many to keep. Pam Dawkins is one. She has two others in Starkville and Columbus.

Once the dogs are deemed healthy, Unruh turns them over to Sweet Paws Rescue, based in Groveland, Massachusetts. The dogs are transported 22 hours in a transit van. Sweet Paws helps find them a home.

And they’re given cool names: Moe, Wally, Fancy, Cesar, Hero.

“My contact information is in the envelope about each dog,” Unruh says. “I let them know that I want to see who is adopting my dogs. I want to see their face. A lot of them send me photos of the dogs with their families. I’ve gotten Christmas cards.

“I’ve put out a notice to Sweet Paws that I was running short of dog food and received 50 to 60 bags shipped here the next day. They are wonderful.”

Says Buz McGuire, an alderman in Macon: “It’s amazing to think that because of Jeanette and Sweet Paws a dog can go from living next to a dumpster behind a convenience store to spending summers at Martha’s Vineyard (in Massachusetts). So it’s been a boon for the community and for the dogs.”

McGuire, last year’s Alliance president, presented Unruh with her award.

“I got kind of choked up because I’m an old softie when it comes to animals, and I really appreciate what she does,” McGuire says. “If she had never been passionate about saving dogs, there would still be pitiful strays all over town.”

Hailey is the dog who was burned so badly that Unruh thought she had been dragged behind a car.

“I had people screaming at me to euthanize her, that she would never get well,” Unruh says. “But Dr. Jeff Smith, a vet up in Starkville, kept telling me, ‘She’s going to be fine.'”

She was adopted by a couple. “They stay in touch with me,” Unruh says. “Hailey is doing great.”

Unruh pauses several seconds when asked: “What is it you love so much about a dog?”

“I guess it’s their loyalty and unconditional love that they’ll give if you just give them a chance,” she answers. “I’m not a social person. I much prefer the company of dogs over humans.

“Doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day, dogs will stand there and wag their tails. It brings a smile to my face every time. What’s not to love?”