PONTIAC >> When volunteers from Animal Care Network responded to a home near Joslyn Avenue last winter on a below-freezing day to check on a dog chained in the backyard, they found an animal in an even more desperate situation: A puppy in the garage that was hypothermic and was nearly starved.
“Somebody was living there and they did not want this puppy, and rather than calling or taking it to the shelter, they just put the puppy in the garage and left it there,” said Pam Porteous, who’s volunteered with the nonprofit since it was founded in 1994.
The pit bull mix, Roxie, was nursed back to health and adopted by Royal Oak couple Michael and Geri Tomlinson through the Michigan Animal Rescue League.
“We just happened to go into the rescue on a Saturday, and (Pam) had just brought her in. She was only in her crate for about 15 minutes and we fell in love with her,” said Geri, who cried after hearing the dog’s story.
“It was just so devastating that she went through what she had to go through to survive.”
Now 9 months old, Roxie is one of nearly 16,000 dogs and cats that have been rescued by the nonprofit, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Animal Care Network’s 20 volunteers make house calls, assistance calls and wellness checks, have pets spayed and neutered for those who can’t afford it, have animals vaccinated at low-cost clinics and rescue animals in need. Porteous said the nonprofit’s greatest need is for funding to pay for spaying and neutering and for pet food donations.
Animal Care Network is an affiliate of the Michigan Animal Adoption Network, and also has a group of volunteers who work in Inkster.
The group’s dispatch line receives about 50 calls a day.
“We help so many people and so many animals,” Porteous said. “People just depend on us. There’s a lot of great people in Pontiac that just need help.”
Porteous said the most heartbreaking moments for volunteers come when a dog like Roxie is found too late and has starved or froze to death.
“They always seem to be just curled up in their doghouses. That’s just very, very disturbing, because you know that they suffered a great deal, and I think that really upsets us because there’s so many programs out there for animals in our area.”
The group’s work began with two General Motors employees, Beverly Steffens Claudio and Helen Hrymecki, who saw chained and hungry dogs and strays as they drove the city’s streets every day. At the time, Pontiac had one animal control officer, and it wasn’t uncommon to see packs of stray dogs running in the streets.
Porteous first went out on the road with Claudio and Hrymecki during a blizzard, and the group stuffed doghouses with straw for warmth, talked to pet owners and rescued a puppy out of a snowbank.
“I was hooked,” she said. In 20 years of volunteer work, Porteous has fostered thousands of animals, and had eight cats and kittens at her home Monday that were rescued over the weekend.
Her own dogs — T-Bone, Twin and Phyllis — were all rescued from Pontiac homes.
In the last year, the number of animals spayed and neutered by Animal Care Network has doubled, with 132 dogs and cats fixed in May alone. The nonprofit works with three veterinary clinics: All About Animals, Ross Hospital and the Michigan Humane Society clinic.
“Spaying and neutering is the key to the problem,” Porteous said. “Every single animal we can get spayed and neutered is (helping to decrease) the pet overpopulation.”
After the city eliminated its animal control division, Pontiac went about six months without any official coverage before Oakland County Animal Control took over in 2011, a period of time Porteous describes as “terrible.”
“We’re still busy, and I actually don’t know how we did it during those seven months.”
Oakland County Animal Control Administrative Supervisor Sgt. Joanie Toole said Animal Care Network serves a distinct need in Pontiac.
Toole has worked at animal control for 29 years.
“The treatment of animals kind of rises and falls with the economy,” she said. “As people are working and they can provide better care for their animals, they will. If they can’t afford it, it’s probably one of the first things they cut.”
Both Porteous and Toole said the working relationship between animal control and the rescue group is excellent.
Although Animal Care network volunteers continue to encounter animals in need every day, Porteous said the situation has improved somewhat. She hasn’t seen the packs of strays in years like those she remembers seeing in Murphy Park or trotting down the railroad tracks.
“I think we’re always going to be fighting a battle out there, but I think if we hadn’t been doing what we’ve been doing all these years, it would really be a nightmare.”