Ghost Dogs Update
The stray dogs who make Oak Hill Cemetery their home are finding more permanent dwellings.
It’s been nearly a year since an eight-year-old girl named Mina Oates sent Black & White a story that she had written about the homeless dogs that roam Oak Hill Cemetery downtown where her father, Stuart Oates, is executive director. Her story was included in a July 8, 2010, Black & White feature about what Mina had dubbed the “graveyard dogs.” Last October, self-proclaimed dog lover Ellen Chisholm organized an effort to find homes for the stray and abandoned creatures haunting the grounds of Oak Hill.
“It’s a group of approximately 10 or 15 people. We got together last fall and had a meeting to try and help these particular dogs,” Chisholm says. “We started talking with Stuart Oates to see how we could help. Our group just stays in contact by emails and stuff like that; we don’t have an actual name. All of us are volunteers who are animal lovers.”
Chisholm’s efforts caught the interest of Birmingham’s Animal Adoption and Rescue Center (BAARC), which has donated time and effort to care for the dogs until homes can be found, as well as having the animals spayed or neutered, usually at the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic.
“BAARC Rescue is helping us with housing and socializing some of the dogs, as is a local company called Creative Dog Training,” Chisholm explains. “And there are several vets in the area that have been helping us out, either with medications or with actual visits that the dogs have needed for one medical reason or another.”
The group has rescued five dogs from the cemetery and the surrounding area in the past six months, and found homes for two of them. Three others await adoption. “We’re doing everything we can to give them fresh lives, and try and help with the local stray population as well,” Chisholm says. “It took us a while to get different organizations who would be willing to help. Everybody is basically doing it on a pro bono basis. We’ve found some great organizations. But we’re limited, so we can’t take in too many dogs at one time.” According to Chisholm, their efforts appear to be paying off. “We really have not had a whole lot of dogs come through the cemetery recently,” she says. “Now it’s just an occasional dog that runs through there. So we’re doing pretty good so far, getting things under control. But there are always going to be strays.”
The group catches the strays thanks to a dog trap contributed by local animal-advocacy organization Friends of Cats and Dogs Foundation. “We don’t set the trap up on bad weather days,” Chisholm explains. “During the wintertime . . . we had to be really careful so that we didn’t have a dog trapped in there during a super cold day.” Once a dog is caught, it’s usually taken to BAARC’s no-kill facility in Irondale.
“My greatest relief is that we haven’t really had to have animal control come in to deal with situations, so far,” says the cemetery’s director Stuart Oates. “The only time we would have animal control come in is if we get an aggressive animal that was imposing a danger on other animals or people in here.”
Oates says he has noticed fewer stray dogs at the cemetery in recent months. “I can’t really say what accounts for that because, generally, what I would observe is when you’ve dealt with one pack of animals that would come in and you got rid of them, another pack would move in within a short time. And we really haven’t seen that. Our only constant out here has been Baby Doll, who is also called Wrinkles or whatever . . . she’s got a million names. I think she should be the poster child of this whole thing.”
Oates says he has been impressed with Chisholm’s dedication in spearheading the effort to find homes for the “ghost dogs.”
“She’s doing a magnificent job of communicating and getting other people organized. That’s what it takes. You’ve got something to inspire somebody to take a step in a certain direction. That’s the beautiful thing—you never know what the consequence of any of your actions is going to be. It can sometimes be a casual comment or a little essay by an eight-year-old girl that inspires people.” &