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A Puppy’s Tale — Refuge offers hope to unwanted, unloved dogs

<p>Stephen and Kennedy Schmidt and April Westling run Loved Me, But Left Me.</p>Buy Photo

Stephen and Kennedy Schmidt and April Westling run Loved Me, But Left Me.

<p>Stephen Schmidt works to socialize dogs.</p>Buy Photo

Stephen Schmidt works to socialize dogs.

April Westling once took off her jacket and tackled an injured vulture on the roadside. It had been hit by a car, and she wanted to save it.

“We named it Stinky,” said 10-year-old Kennedy, wrinkling her nose.

Westling, founder of Loved Me, But Left Me animal rescue, got lots of scratches from the vulture, but she would do it again. Westling can’t stand to see a creature suffer.

The vulture didn’t survive, despite veterinary care under the direction of Birds of Prey, Westling said.

It’s been a tough time for Westling and her rescue since August when she and Van Buren County Animal Control Director Pam Hopkins removed about 80 dogs from a hoarding situation near Clinton.

Westling appealed for donations in the Democrat and long-simmering trouble with the Searcy County Humane Society was brought to a boil again. The society took out an ad in the newspaper disassociating itself from Westling and her rescue, though Westling had made no such claim to the Democrat.

One Van Buren County woman went so far as to stop payment on a check, leaving Westling in a financial bind. The newspaper was issued a challenge by a representative of the Searcy County Humane Society to visit and photograph Westling’s refuge.

On Oct. 14, this reporter traveled to Leslie to interview Westling and her finance and partner, Stephen Schmidt.

The refuge, near Leslie in Searcy County, is currently home to about 120 dogs, several cats and a couple of rabbits.

There are several different large-sized pens to house the dogs, ranging in size from huge to tiny. Many of the pens are patched where dogs have chewed through and many are lined with rocks filling holes the dogs have dug under the fences.

Westling readily agrees that it’s not a pretty place, but she knows that those who have dogs will understand.

The refuge doesn’t pamper, but it is a place where the dogs can find shelter, food and as much attention as a family of three and the occasional volunteer can provide.

Hopkins notes that many of the animals Westling takes in from the Van Buren County shelter are “not the pretty ones.”

She praises Westling’s efforts and says she has helped the shelter lowers its euthanasia numbers.

The rescue, according to its website, specializes in the “most hated and misunderstood of all, the bully breeds.” Westling and Schmidt believe there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.

The only dogs euthanized at Loved Me But Left Me are those that are terminally ill and those that cannot be trained not to be aggressive toward humans.

Once at Westling’s refuge, the animals are neutered, spaying and provided necessary veterinary care as well as worm and flea protection.

Westling estimates she spends $1,200-$1,800 per month to run the rescue. She said they rely on donations and the money they make transporting the dogs once they are adopted. Most of Westling’s dogs are adopted out-of-state. She said since the refuge began in 2007, she has placed well over 1,000 dogs.

Westling has worked in animal rescue since she was a teenager in Minnesota. The work isn’t easy, but she and Schmidt say it is satisfying.

“It’s rewarding to see so many dogs that had a bad start that are now adopted,” Schmidt said.

Westling says she does the work because, “I can’t stand to see anything mistreated. I can’t fix people, most don’t want to be fixed, but I can do this.”

She adds, “I don’t see anything as a lost cause.”

Westling says everyone is invited to visit Love Me, But Left Me, but asks for a phone call first to make sure someone is home. Westling and Schmidt can be reached at (870) 504-1122.

The Van Buren County Democrat website is available only to print and digital subscribers. If you are already a subscriber, you can access the website at no additional charge.