Tucked away on a 12-acre property outside Creston, 78 dogs have a renewed lease on life thanks to Charlotte Meade, her Meade Canine Rescue & Sanctuary (Facebook page), and the dedicated volunteers who work to keep senior dogs with health problems from being euthanized. Her operation has recently been complicated by the arrival of three litters of abandon puppies and two young mothers. There’s simply nowhere else for these animals to go.
After adopting five, Meade still has 16 puppies in her care, and how she acquired them is both horrifying and heartwarming.
In one case, on Christmas Eve, a young man driving up Cuesta Grade stopped to take in the view and heard whining nearby and discovered a dog crate full of puppies abandoned on the roadside—just left to die. He took them to Atascadero Pet Hospital, which couldn’t accept them but directed him to Meade.
In another case, a stray dog and her seven pups—three dead already—were found on a ranch off Highway 58 under a container that rescuers couldn’t reach or move. The ranch owner was contacted, and he immediately drove from his home in San Jose to his ranch and used his forklift to remove the container so rescuers could reach the surviving dogs.
“What the heck!” exclaimed Meade. “I’ve been here for 11 years and never heard of this happening where dogs are found abandoned—two mothers and three litters of pups. People are not spaying and neutering their dogs and now we’re stuck with all these puppies, but what are the options?”
The options are grim. The kinds of dogs Meade’s facility rescues are always facing death—old, sick, and arguably unadoptable.
“She usually takes in dogs that will be put to sleep in shelters,” volunteer Penny Koines explained as she bathed a small poodle in a sink.
“She takes the dogs no one wants, the ones who are in dire need of advanced medical care, the ones who are scheduled to be put down, the ones who are surrendered by owners for various reasons,” volunteer Lisa Boyer added. “After these dogs arrive to the rescue and receive necessary vet care, then she tirelessly works to find them good homes. The tagline of her rescue is, ‘Giving old dogs new lives.'”
Though trends point to fewer dogs being turned in to shelters in 2021 since a high in 2011, estimates suggest 3.3 million still enter shelters every year and 670,000 are euthanized. By all accounts, the nation’s 3,500 animal shelters are currently overflowing, which leaves the 14,000 no-kill shelters and nonprofit rescue organization like Meade’s to take up the slack.
Some news organizations have latched onto the idea that returned pandemic adoptions are to blame for full shelters, though a May 2021 American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) report claimed 90 percent of people who adopted dogs are not planning on returning them.
Meade has her own theory.
“All these backyard breeders,” Meade said, “they should be banned from advertising.”
Since California passed AB 485, which prevents commercial dog breeders from selling puppies through California pet stores, breeders have turned to private sales, and unsold dogs are often considered disposable.
Many experts point to the economy and inflation as the main drivers in the current uptick in animal surrenders—people simply can no longer afford the cost of caring for their pets—but whatever the reason, dogs in kill shelters, like the county’s San Luis Obispo Animal Services, typically have about a 72-hour window to be adopted before they’re put down.
“It doesn’t help that there’s really no more low-cost spay or neuter programs in the county,” Meade lamented. “Even Woods Humane Society has increased their prices.”
Indeed, Woods now charges a minimum of $200, and that’s for dogs under 25 pounds without complications.
“We need some good families to adopt these puppies,” Meade said matter-of-factly, noting that all the puppies will be spayed or neutered before they’re released to new homes.
As of last week, she was caring for 78 animals, 65 of them senior dogs with health complications.
“They come and go,” Meade said sadly. “We had two deaths in the last two days, huge vet bills. People need to know, and there are so many people that just don’t know how bad the problem is. California is a high-kill state.”
“The tragedy is there’s no more room,” Boyer added.
If left unchecked, an unspayed dog and her puppies could theoretically produce hundreds, if not thousands, of puppies over six to seven years—some sources, including PETA, say between 508 and 60,000. A female cat and her kittens similarly could theoretically produce more than 6,000 kittens in five years. (The oft-quoted number of 420,000 has been debunked, but the point is the same: That’s a lot of preventable stray animals.)
“Puppies are being dumped,” Meade said. “People must understand the need to spay and neuter their pets.”
Meade’s organization also helps subsidize spaying and neutering for those who can’t afford it, but resources are limited. This is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, after all.
“Nobody’s paid except the bookkeeper,” Meade noted. “We operate on volunteers and donations. We even have a thrift store in Atascadero, the Meade Canine Retail Shop [4303 Valdez Ave.].”
Monetary donations can be made through meadecaninerescue.net. Donations of food and bedding are also welcome.
“It’s an endless uphill battle,” Meade admitted. “We should be seeing a difference, but we’re not. We should be seeing shelters closing, but they’re not. It’s heartbreaking.
“We’ve saved thousands of lives and it’s a drop in the bucket.”
Contact Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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