HOBBS, N.M. (AP) — Pat Huntley was 15 years old when she determined her English setter, Mr. Chips, must be the smartest dog in the world.
“He would open the fridge door on his own and take a steak,” Huntley said with a laugh. “I thought, ‘He is the smartest dog in the world.'”
Owning Mr. Chips was the just the beginning of Huntley’s lifelong passion for furry, four-legged animals.
“Ever since then, I have just loved dogs,” Huntley said. Throughout her life, Huntley has dedicated her time in some capacity to the canine companions and is known around town as the “crazy dog lady.”
Most recently, Huntley has taken up the cause of pet rescue through an organization called Crazy Dog Lady of Lea County Pet Rescue.
“We are in the process of applying for nonprofit status,” Huntley said. “I’m not there yet, but it’s what we are working on.”
Huntley was inspired to start the rescue operation after learning of the high euthanasia rates at the local animal shelter. She spoke out about the high rates during a few Hobbs city commission meetings last summer. She told the commission that the community needed to work together to get the euthanasia rate down.
“I’m really proud of the city,” Huntley said. “They brought the euthanasia rate to 50 percent (from 75 percent). It’s still high but … it’s an improvement over the past year.”
Due to her vocal stance on the issue, people started coming to her for advice on abandoned dogs.
“In October, people started asking me if I could take in a dog because they didn’t have a place for the dog to go,” Huntley said. “And it just kind of snowballed.”
As of this month, 19 dogs have been adopted through Crazy Dog Lady of Lea County Pet Rescue. However, almost 40 lost or surrendered canines have walked through the doors at the Top Dog Boutique, where Huntley runs the pet rescue operation.
Currently, there are six dogs waiting to be adopted including a Yorkie named Xanax, a brindle pitbull named Zeus and a Chihuahua named Dixie.
That is where Hobbs resident Donna Richards first met Oliver.
Richards stopped by one day to get one of her Labrador Retrievers groomed.
“We had a dog that died a few months ago,” Richards said. “We’ve always had three. I felt like I had an opening. I asked her (Huntley) if she had any Labs.”
Huntley happened to have two Lab puppies at the time.
While Richards checked out the duo, who had been abandoned near a highway, a frisky, but friendly Airedale Terrier mix named Oliver grabbed her attention.
“Oliver was running around and he was adorable,” Richards said. “He was very friendly and he loved the dog that I took in to be groomed. And I just kind of fell in love with him on the spot.”
Richards had her husband stop by the boutique to look at Oliver the same day, and a few hours later, Oliver had a new home.
Oliver wasn’t the only one who went home with a new owner after Richards’ visit.
When Richards returned to work, she told her co-worker, Melinda Allen, of the Lab puppies. Allen, also an owner of a Labrador retriever, went to look at the cuddly pair.
“I have a little bit of a soft spot for Labs,” Allen said.
Allen decided to take one of the puppies home. She named the puppy Little Sis.
“She’s been great,” Allen said. “She’s really integrated with the household. I have another dog, Mishka, and they are just the best of friends. They can’t bear to be separated from one another.”
The other puppy was adopted by a family with children.
And although the experience of adopting rescue dogs has been positive for Richards and Allen, both admit that there are some hurdles.
“Of course, with any rescue dog you are going to have some issues at the beginning,” Richards said. “But we’ve worked through them.” Richards said that although Oliver initially suffered from separation anxiety when he was left alone, he was able to overcome it with the help of medical intervention.
“We are really making some progress now,” Richards said.
Allen, who first became a dog owner when she adopted Mishka a few years ago, said her advice to potential pet owners would be to think it through and be aware of the responsibility. Allen considered pet ownership for almost two years before she committed.
“I’ve worked with primates — gorillas, chimps, orangutans and all different kinds of monkeys,” Allen said. “And my feelings are, if you are going to be a pet owner, you need to be a responsible pet owner and plan to own that pet for its entire life.”
For Huntley, another way to decrease the amount of abandoned and surrendered pets is for owners to spay and neuter their pets.
“One litter could mean four-eight puppies that you are going to need to find homes for,” Huntley said. “Or potentially, four-eight puppies that aren’t going to have a home. That is a big responsibility right there. We have so many already that need homes.”