Desert Animal Companions of the Navajo Nation

Blackhat Humane: August Progress Report

Dogs take wing!

Sky Ark, an organization in Buena Vista, Colorado, that uses volunteer pilots to fly rescue, special needs, or animals with medical issues, for free, agreed to a mission on behalf of the rez dogs. Since no-kill shelters were willing to take these dogs, they will flew from Window Rock, AZ, to Teterboro, NJ.

Which dogs?

Foxhound,Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler Mix
Size: Large
Age: Adult
Sex: Male
Notes: This big, friendly hound mix loves to go jogging and hiking. He could probably carry half his weight in a dog pack and never get tired. Mac is also a great watchdog. By that I mean he never barks unless he needs to...when confronted with a stranger or danger! Yet Mac is gentle with children and the folks he knows. This great dog is housebroken so he can hang out with the family indoors or out. This pet is: up to date with routine shots, already house trained, altered

Yellow Labrador Retriever,German Shepherd Dog Mix
Size: Medium
Age: Baby
Sex: Female
Notes: Cheyenne was dumped at the Elementary School in Gallup. One of our Blackhat members who is a teacher took her in. Cheyenne is about 3 months old, spayed and housebroken. She is all cream colored and one of the sweetest dogs we have right now. Chey loves to be held and petted (she'll fall asleep while being brushed). She is on good terms with the other dogs and the cat in her foster home. She is learning basic obedience and will make a wonderful family pet or a companion for a single person. Wew think she'll weigh about 40 lbs when grown. This pet is: up to date with routine shots, already house trained.

Dog Beagle,Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler Mix
Size: Medium
Age: Young
Sex: Female
Notes: My foster parents call me "Kisses" because I'm so loving. I have big brown eyes and a bobbed tail. My back leg is crooked because someone was mean to me when I was a puppy but I can walk just fine. My foster family has a 9 year old girl who plays fetch with me and cuddles me. I appreciate how gentle and kind she is. My favorite place is the sofa but I'll share it with you. I ignore the cats in my house because I'd rather be with people. This pet is: up to date with routine shots, already house trained, altered

Australian Cattle Dog/Blue Heeler Mix
Size: Medium
Age: Young
Sex: Female
Notes: Sophie is a 10 month old spayed female Blue Heeler mix who yearns for a family to call her own. She is smart as a whip and always has a twinkle in her eye. She should be wearing one of those "Life is Good" t-shirts! An artiste at catching mice and lizards, Sophie is a mighty varmit hunter. She is also an excellent watchdog, alerting her foster mom when someone is outside. Sophie loves children and is gentle and patient with them. She respects the 7 cats in her foster home. This pet is: up to date with routine shots, already house trained, altered

Which shelters?

Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, Inc (RBARI)
2 Shelter Lane
Oakland, NJ 07430
RBARI took Kisses and Cheyenne

Mt. Pleasant Animal Shelter (MPAS)
194 Route 10 West
East Hanover, NJ   07936
Mt Pleasant Animal Shelter took Mac and Sophie

What happened?

On Wednesday, August 13, 2003, 4 dogs began a journey from Window Rock, AZ, the seat of the Navajo Nation, that lasted several days, to finally arrive in Teterboro, New Jersey, approximately 2,000 miles away. In a small, twin-engine Piper Geronimo, they flew, refueled, and rested, over the course of several days, before the two pilots and four dogs landed in New Jersey. The dogs then began new lives in a completely different place. The pilots continued on, traveling south to transport other animals back from the East, animals that have been waiting for a way to come west. The animals are in rescues and shelters, and fly for free. Sky Ark does accept donations, and the volunteer pilots pay for their flight time and for fuel. Essentially the volunteer pilots are helping to subsidize the flights, as they gain hours of experience piloting a multi-engine airplane.

Part of this story began in Buena Vista, Colorado, where there was a man with a vision. He dreamed of combining two loves: animals and flying. His name is Mickey Russell, and he started an organization called Sky Ark.

Another part of this story began in New Jersey. In June, 2003, Patricia Klemick, and Joe Miele, independent of each other, both made their way to Chinle, AZ, from New Jersey. Chinle is the town that borders Canyon de Chelley. In Canyon de Chelley, desert varnish cascades down red cliff walls, ruins cling to cliffsides, and a small creek runs at the bottom. Many legends and much history took place in these canyons, and Navajos still live in the canyon today. Many tourists come through Navajoland to see these formations and ruins.

In Chinle, at the Holiday Inn, at the Taco Bell, and at Basha's Market, there are numerous, roaming, stray dogs. Patricia and Joe were both shocked to see the dogs begging for a hand-out, searching for food and water. The reservation is high desert, has a harsh climate, high summer heat, and is bone dry until summer monsoons arrive. The West is in the fourth year of a terrible drought.

Tourists are shocked about the state of the dogs. Some write letters to the local papers, The Navajo Times or the Gallup Independent. Some tourists buy food and water at the market and feed the strays. Not many do more than that. Both Joe and Patricia each determined that when they came home, they would try to do something to help the dogs. Patricia volunteers at a no-kill shelter in Oakland, New Jersey, RBARI. Joe is an animal rights activist, and through the internet is connected to a network of people via an animal rights list.

They sent a fusillade of emails. Some of those emails landed at Best Friends, an animal sanctuary in Kanab, UT, near reservation lands.

Now take a sidestep to California and also a step back in time. September, 2001, another tourist, a woman who lives in Santa Cruz, CA, was traveling through Navajoland. She slept at the campground at Navajo National Monument. There was a very friendly cat dumped at this campground. When she asked people, he didn't belong to anyone. Having cats at home, the woman felt conflicted. She was beginning a two-week camping trip in Utah. Yet, leaving the cat in this environment seemed wrong. At night, you could hear the call of the coyotes. Where would he even find water to drink? Yes, she could give him food and water today, but what would sustain his life after she moved on?

A bond with the animals is like making a pact between species, on a creature level. It is as if your spirit says, "I have loved your kind, and I pledge to help you whenever I can."

This campground cat entered her dreams, becoming an ambassador for the animals. Within her psyche, his figure became the catalyst for her determination to help the animals on the reservation. When she passed through Kayenta the next day, she made several stops to buy big bags of dog food, open them up and leave them on the ground near the Holiday Inn, near Basha's Market, near Burger King, and McDonalds, all places where the dogs were roaming and hungry. That woman was Rose, who, after she returned home to California, created this website for all of the individuals and groups working to help the animals on the Navajo Nation.

Returning to the present, Best Friends sent some of the emails to Rose, who often coordinates networking for people helping animals on the rez. Rose connected Patricia with Blackhat Humane. Blackhat had one foster in Chinle, and another in Many Farms, 13 miles outside of Chinle, and a whole network of foster families scattered over a wide area surrounding Window Rock. They agreed to help assess the dogs and see whether there could be some help for them.

The rescue group:

Blackhat Humane Society
Contact: Tamara Martin (928) 337-2828 or Mary Furney (928) 755-3581
Mailing Address: Blackhat Humane Society
P.O. Box 2716
Window Rock, AZ 86515

Blackhat Humane began in 2000. They are a 501c3 organization, but do not have a shelter. They utilize volunteer foster families, who rescue animals, get them vet care, socialize them, and then put them up for adoption, partly by utilizing an internet site through petfinder. Some of the fosters travel far and wide, including driving to Albuquerque, NM, to attend adoption fairs sponsored by PACA, or to Flagstaff, AZ, to transport animals to other placements, and the goal is always to place animals into loving and forever homes. Because the area where they live is so remote, resources including veterinarians are few and far between, and networking with other groups that are located in areas with denser populations give the animals a better chance to get adopted.

The fosters determined that some of the Chinle dogs could be captured and go right into foster care, because they were friendly and adoptable. Some of the strays were shy of people contact, and a slow trust would need to be built by feeding and building familiarity before they could be captured and helped.

But Blackhat was already very full with animals. It was decided that the best way to help the Chinle dogs was to try and move some of the dogs already in the Blackhat foster system into other placements, and thereby make room for new dogs to be captured and worked with.

Some of the emails traveled down to Phoenix. Pets911 wanted to help, so they put the word out to their network. Noah's Ark Animal Rescue stepped up and said they were willing to take some dogs from Blackhat. Pets911 offered to help transport the animals to Phoenix. Noah's Ark chose some dogs. These were dogs who had been in foster care awhile, were very socialized, and very adoptable, if only they could get within range of more adopters. Stacey Candella, the director of Pets911, on her day off, drove 2 1/2 hours to Flagstaff to meet with Tamara Martin, the secretary of Blackhat, who also drove 3 1/2 hours from her home in St. John's, AZ, to bring the animals. Stacey transported the dogs down to Noah's Ark in Phoenix. They met on a Tuesday and were adopted out by the weekend. (Read more about this here.)

Both Pets911 and Noah's Ark said, "Let's do it again!" Noah's Ark also sent bags and bags of dog food. As the foster who lived near Chinle said, "These dogs are eating me out of house and home!" as she fed the strays outside the Holiday Inn.

Meantime, back in New Jersey, Patricia had secured commitments from no-kill shelters that were willing to take some of the rez dogs in order to help in the situation. How could they get from Arizona to New Jersey, a distance of more than 2,000 miles?

Now back to Kanab, UT. At Best Friends Animal Society, a sanctuary with 1800 animals, there are 13 hardworking people who work for the Best Friends Network. Best Friends receives 500 requests to take animals per week. There is absolutely no way to accommodate that many requests, so instead they have come up with the network. They try to suggest alternatives for placing animals or maintaining them in the situations they are in. The network also has volunteers who have signed up who are willing to assist in many different kinds of animal related situations.

Jean Hansen, of the Best Friends Network, was having a visit with Mickey Russell of Sky Ark, an organization he founded to help shelters, rescuers, and animals with special medical needs get to where they are going via flying with volunteer pilots. Patricia had already applied to Sky Ark for a "mission" to bring the dogs to New Jersey. Through Mickey and Jean's connection, and with the possibility of help from the Best Friends Network, the possibility of a mission for the rez dogs began to take shape.

As the plans were hatched, and the details were finalized, many logistical issues had to be dealt with! It is a huge endeavor to send animals across country on a trip like this. It can be a nightmare. Crates had to be ordered. The dogs were picked by the shelters. Agreement forms had to be filled out. The dogs had to get their health certificates. A flurry of activity ensued. Coordinating the meet took a lot of sweat and tears. The fosters met in Window Rock, coming from Ganado, St. Johns, Thoreau, and Gallup. Patricia secured the interest of KPNX News in Phoenix, who agreed to send a film crew to Window Rock, driving 3 1/2 hours from Flagstaff. Whew!

Everyone did their part, and finally, the day of the meet happened.

Mickey Russell and MacCarrie says goodbye to Cheyenne

Mickey and Mac at the airport in Window Rock.

Carrie says goodbye to Cheyenne, her foster girl.

Leah and KissesRuth riding her horse

Leah, foster Mom, and Kisses

Ruth, Sophie's foster Mom, riding her horse

While at the Window Rock airport, a woman dropped off a new puppy that needed fostering to Ruth. Four dogs leaving, another dog coming in.

Star, the new puppy just coming to be fostered.

(Photos courtesy of Tamara Martin, secretary of Blackhat Humane)

The story continues...

Desert Animal Companions wishes to extend a very big thanks to all of the groups and individuals who are pitching in for this effort to help the animals. It will take all of us to make a difference.

While every effort has been made to insure reliable and accurate information, any errors or omissions are the sole responsibility of the webmaster, Rose Z. Moonwater.