Springing back: Abandoned dog adopted by shelter director

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUPPLY — He’s got a fresh spring to his steps, plus all the food, water and donated treats a dog could want.


Springer, a dog left to die earlier this year at a foreclosed home in Leland, has transformed into a fully recovered canine ambassador for the Brunswick County Animal Shelter.

Springer also has a new owner: Lt. Tommy Tolley, director of Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Animal Protective Services.

“This is his hangout,” said Tolley, settling last week at his desk while his newest dog settled into his own corner bed inside the office Tolley shares with adoption outreach coordinator Heather Hunt at the shelter.

“He adopted me more so than I adopted him,” Tolley said.


Dog rescued

Springer, a high-energy Louisiana Catahoula leopard dog, wasn’t so energetic when a real estate agent found him with no food or water inside a locked wire crate in the kitchen of a foreclosed house in Leland on Feb. 22.

Springer was skin and bones, so thin his hipbones and spine protruded, and he was barely able to stand.

“He stood up when we first went in,” said Leland animal control officer Rebecca Edwards. “He was just laying there in a ball.”

The dog was weak and scared, his cage covered with feces.

“It was a mess,” Edwards said, recalling how they wrapped the weakened dog in a towel and helped him out. 

“He was not just locked in the house — he was in his cage so he couldn’t even fend for himself,” Tolley said. “He couldn’t drink out of the toilet.”

Animal control said the dog had been left like that for about three weeks.

“His body just basically started to consume itself,” Tolley said.

When the rescued dog arrived at Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office Animal Protective Services, “he was emaciated; he couldn’t stand,” Tolley said. We actually thought he wouldn’t make it through the night, but — ta-da!”

Today, the rescued dog renamed Springer is a lively representative of bounced-back canine health.

“We got him under vet care and slowly reintroduced water and food to him, because obviously you don’t want to shock the body,” Tolley said. “It had started to shut down.”

On March 5, following an investigation by BCSOAPS Cpl. Teri Ferguson, the dog’s former owner, 35-year-old Tara Johnson of Leland, was arrested. Johnson was charged with cruelty to animals and abandonment of an animal after she returned to the house to retrieve some of her belongings, Tolley said.

On Sept. 30, Johnson pleaded no contest to abandonment of an animal and complied with deferred prosecution. Her cruelty to animals charge was voluntarily dismissed by Chief 13th Judicial District Court Judge Jerry A. Jolly.

Johnson officially relinquished ownership of the dog to the county, and she isn’t allowed to own a dog for one year, Tolley said.


New name

Two days after the dog’s rescue, Tolley was cleaning the shelter on a Sunday when he asked his wife, Kendra, to take the rescued dog into the play yard at the shelter on Green Swamp Road to run around and get some fresh air.

“She spent about an hour just letting him move a little bit,” Tolley said. “At that point, we didn’t know his name. We hadn’t given him a name.”

It was a warm, spring-like day, and the emaciated dog was already starting to show signs of recovery, inspiring Kendra to call him Springer.

“When he’s in his kennel, he jumps four feet,” Tolley said. “A lot of people think he gets his name from jumping. I think he’s got springs in his legs the way he jumps around.”

The name was a good fit.

“He’s a good boy,” Tolley said. “Once he got all his energy and weight back up, he was very high-maintenance.”

During his many months in shelter custody, Springer was fostered out to shelter staff so he wouldn’t have to be stuck in the kennel all the time, Tolley said.

Upon Johnson’s hearing in September, she relinquished ownership, and Springer could finally be adopted. He became the Tolleys’ fifth dog and is doing well becoming part of their at-home pack.

“He’s learning his position there,” Tolley said, adding Springer is gradually adjusting to canine rules, boundaries and obedience.

“He had a tough time at first just because he wanted to run wild,” he said, adding Springer, who is estimated to be 4 or 5, didn’t appear to have previous training.

“He has to be reminded every once in awhile of where he’s supposed to be and what he’s supposed to be doing,” Tolley said.

Springer is also stretching out, going out to meet the public at adoption fairs and events like this past weekend’s Salty Paws Festival in Carolina Beach to benefit abused and neglected animals.

“He’s (pictured) on our trailer, so we’ve got to show him everywhere — people want to meet Springer,” Tolley said. “I think the shelter is lucky that he came here versus him being so lucky. We’re luckier. He’s made all of us better people.”

Springer is a shining example of the will to live, Tolley said.

“He could have laid right down in that kennel and died,” he said. “I think we can learn something from that — don’t give up, help’s coming, the sheriff’s office is here to help, the shelter’s here to help.”


Former owner

Johnson’s reason for abandoning Springer was “she told us she thought she’d get in trouble if she turned (Springer) over to us,” Tolley said. “Her excuse was she couldn’t even take care of herself.”

The outcome of the case has the potential to go national, said Janie Withers, founder and president of Paws-Ability, a local nonprofit group that provides funding and support for animal issues in Brunswick County.

“We have a law in North Carolina that says it is a felony to abuse an animal,” Withers said, citing Susie’s Law implemented in 2010.

“I don’t know what else you have to do to be abusive than hiding a dog in a back room and leaving it to die,” Withers said. “What else did (Johnson) have to do to call it abuse?”

Withers said the judge in this case rewrote the laws of North Carolina “by Brunswick County standards. He’s making up his own laws. Maybe we need a Springer’s Law.”

Jolly could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.

Springer’s story has been circulated worldwide, including a recent story and photo of Tolley with Springer published in the Daily Mail in London.

“We got emails from all over the world about him, so he’s definitely helped us bring attention to the shelter in a positive light through his misfortune,” Tolley said. “So we’re going to keep giving him all the spotlight we can give him because he deserves it.”


Video contest

Tolley also cited Springer’s participation in PetSafe’s Shelter Me Video Contest, encouraging people to create videos promoting adoption, fostering, spaying/neutering and donating and volunteering at shelters.

There is a video entry for Springer that tells about his recovery and subsequent impact at the shelter.

Tolley encourages the public to go online and vote starting Nov. 4 and continuing through Dec. 20.

Prize money will be awarded consisting of $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place and $2,000 for third place, with the cash to be split between video creators and a shelter of their choice.

Three videos will be chosen that most effectively raise awareness about animal shelter issues.

The first-place video will air on national TV.

The video featuring Springer can be viewed at http://contest.shelterme.com/videos/84.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.