By Ashley Riley, GPG Vice President

Hedge clippers, crowbar, hammer,  flashlight, shovel, and pick axe – check.  Not really the items that come to mind when you think about a puppy rescue, but they’re just a few of the tools P.J. Hightower keeps in her arsenal when she’s searching out a litter of puppies in East St. Louis.

“It’s not not uncommon for our volunteers to go crawling around inside and underneath abandoned buildings to look for puppies,” says Jamie Case, executive director of Gateway Pet Guardians, a St. Louis area rescue that focuses on strays in East St. Louis. She, along with Gateway founder P.J. Hightower, has a regular feeding route on the east side on which they track dogs on a daily basis.

On this day, the organization has foster families lined up for three puppies that they know are hiding out beneath an overgrown, collapsed house on the outskirts of the city. Much of the area is run down and, Case says, “It gives the dogs a lot of tricky places to hide their pups, but we’ll find them.”

She goes on to explain, “I’m there twice a week and P.J. is there every day. She knows exactly which females are in heat and when they’re about to give birth.  She’ll notice when a female shows back up to the feeding route and has had her puppies, then she tries to follow her back to the litter.”

As Hightower crawls beneath the floorboards of the remnants of a former home, it quickly becomes clear that they are going to need reinforcements.  A call is made to bring in another volunteer with more tools to help pull away the rotting boards. After about 45 minutes of digging, pulling, and prying, Hightower can finally reach the puppies.

“Right now they’re terrified, this is the first time they’ve come in contact with people,” says Case. But they will adjust to domesticated life fairly quickly, because they are so young.

Now that they’ve been rescued, the three puppies will head to one of Gateway Pet Guardians’ preferred veterinarians to be checked, and treated if necessary, for fleas, heartworms, parvo, mange, and many other common diseases and parasites that affect street dogs. They will also receive their first bath. From there, their last stop is their new foster home.

“We could not do the work that we do without fosters.  We don’t have a shelter yet, but even if we did, we wouldn’t want to keep the animals in that situation for long. Especially when they come from the street, they need the socialization that happens in the foster environment.”

This slideshow follows P.J. Hightower of Gateway Pet Guardians on one of her many rescue missions in East St. Louis, and paints a portrait of the daily challenges faced by animal rescue organizations.

Watch P.J. and Gateway Pet Guardians’ dedicated volunteers in action.

To follow the adventures of Gateway Pet Guardians, visit watch us on YouTube or follow us on Facebook.

This press release was featured in the May/June 2013 issue of the Gateway Pet Gazette.

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