MANCHESTER, NH — It’s hard enough to find treatment beds for addicts around here. Now, the city is seeing an increase in the number of pets either abandoned or relinquished by owners struggling with addiction-related issues.
“This dog knows the story behind the scenes. I have a feeling he’s been in a few drug houses, and if he could talk, the story would be a graphic, heartbreaking, window into that world,” says Blevens, inspired by her new temporary sidekick, Curly the terrier.
It’s more fallout from the city’s heroin crisis, says Blevens, a local business owner who recently joined forces with Hope for NH Recovery to open a transitional housing space for addicts called Amber’s Place.
She spent Sunday driving around in her car with Curly riding shotgun. The dog had no better place to be, after he was abandoned Saturday by his owner.
Blevens said the 24-year-old homeless woman who is suffering with addiction had visited the center earlier this week.
“She’s been living on the street for a couple of years, going from place to place, and so she walked into Hope for NH asking for help with her addiction. Turned out that she was not quite ready, and so she left. Then one of the guy’s from Hope saw her yesterday with her dog, and so he reached out to me and asked me to come down to the center to meet her, so I did,” Blevens says.
They started the process of finding resources for the woman, but Blevens says she noticed the woman seemed upset and agitated.
“You can’t help someone who doesn’t want it, and so all of a sudden she grabbed her dog and ran out the door. Four minutes later, I heard a knock at the door and it was her. She handed me the dog and said, ‘Will you take care of my dog? I gotta go.’ She was off to get another fix. She never came back, so someone from the center took care of the dog overnight. I picked Curly up this morning and started going through the same process we go through for those who need treatment,” Blevens says.
She first took Curly to the emergency vet for a cursory check-up, and to see if he had a pet microchip.
“He’s loving and well-behaved in a one-on-one situation. At the animal hospital we noticed that he is clearly aggressive with other dogs and kids, and is food aggressive, which the vet said is probably a sign he has been going hungry,” Blevens said.
Curly was also in remarkably good shape for a dog who had not had a stable home, which is why they checked for a microchip, says Blevens.
“The dog looks pretty well-groomed. He doesn’t fit the description of a homeless dog, so my first concern was maybe there was a family missing a dog. We contacted Granite State Dog Recovery, but they didn’t have any missing dogs fitting the description,” Blevens said.
She then called the Manchester Animal Shelter to see if they could house him, and learned that the process is not that simple. Because Curly is not a stray dog, and the pet owner’s intentions were not known, Blevens needed to involve the city’s Animal Control division.
Carolyn Vanderhorst, assistant shelter manager, confirmed that there has been an influx of relinquished animals over the past six months or so at Manchester Animal Shelter.
She also clarified that the shelter never turns away strays due to space issues, but this dog was not a stray, and without knowing whether the owner would have given permission for the shelter to take the dog, it would legally require the involvement of Animal Control, Vandershorst said.
“Our shelter is different than other rescue centers because we only take in strays, not personal pets. In this case, the dog was not eligible for our services,” Vanderhorst said.
“In the past week we took in five dogs from one person who was incarcerated, so those dogs are currently taking up our shelter space. We can’t do anything with them until either the owner surrenders them, or family members take them in,” says Vanderhorst. “More than likely they will become our dogs.”
Vanderhorst says surrendered animals normally come to them by way of the city’s animal control officers, who bring the dogs in after someone is evicted or arrested, leaving their animals in need of care.
“Unfortunately with dogs, like the five I mentioned, we can’t adopt them out because they’re not the property of the shelter. We have had dogs surrendered under similar circumstances — one of them actually got adopted yesterday, which was great. Otherwise, we can place them in an approved foster home. It all depends on the dog — some dogs don’t do well with other animals,” Vanderhorst says.
So the journey continues for Curly, who is right now in need of a temporary home.
“It’s funny in a way, it’s the same way we have trouble finding beds for people. This opens up a whole new subject matter in the conversation about the heroin crisis,” Blevens says.
She also found it interesting that of all people, she was the one tasked with finding Curly a safe place. Before her death to a heroin overdose, Blevens’ step-daughter Amber ran a dog rescue mission on the city streets.
“I would have to say this is some of Amber’s finest work from the other side,” says Blevens, smiling, but totally not kidding.
As Hope for NH Recovery works toward becoming a 24-hour center, Blevens believes a “displaced pets unit” could potentially become part of their outreach services. At least, it’s apparent that such a service is needed.
“We wanted to build a relationship with the animal shelter anyway, thinking we might need their services down the line. Now we find out that it is already a problem,” Blevens says.
“So we’ll be opening up a new resource book, one for animals abandoned by the heroin epidemic, to go with the other resource books we have at the center, so that we’ll be prepared as to what to do in this situation. These little creatures deserve a good life, too,” Blevens says.
“Curly’s owner — she was on the edge. It’s tough out there,” said Blevens.
The Manchester Animal Shelter is always looking for foster homes to care for pets in temporary need. You can learn more here about volunteering as a foster caregiver.
Editor’s note: Since this story was posted, the dog’s owner has returned to Hope for NH Recovery to get help for her addiction and was in the process of going to Rhode Island for a treatment bed. Curly has been taken in by a family members, according to Blevens late Sunday night.
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