I am Kris, and I live on a small ranch with my husband Bert, in a rural, mountain valley in Southern California. I am a teacher at the community elementary/middle school where I have worked since we moved to the area 13 years ago. I have been “obsessed” with horses since I was six and have competed since I was 18. Though I have always loved dogs our household and yard weren’t set up for canine care and so we had cats throughout my childhood. That changed when my husband and I first moved in together.
Jager, a German Wirehair with a big personality came with Bert. And went with Bert... everywhere! Those two were like bacon and eggs, Bert and Ernie, macaroni and cheese…very rarely was one without the other. I was tolerated, but Jager was most definitely Bert’s dog. He was bristly and could be very intimidating if you didn’t know him – cue the “Cujo” soundtrack when someone dared approach Bert’s truck while Jager was in it. See, Jager suffered from separation anxiety which at times was so severe it resulted in his tearing the molding off doorways, shredding curtains and ripping up carpet. Because of this, he went everywhere with Bert and the truck was his second home. There was little room in Jager’s world for anyone but Bert, so we decided to add to our family with a dog that was “ours”. I had always loved Beagles. Enter Cowboy!
You might wonder how Jager, a rather prickly pup would pair with a new Beagle baby? Well, he was still grouchy and snarky...and much to our delight (and relief) was a total push over when it came to his new brother. For all of his quirks, Jager was a very bright dog who stayed, came, sat, shook, and hung around when he was asked to. He was the perfect dog to train a new puppy.
Bert is an amazing craftsman and one of those individuals who is good at just about everything he sets his hand to. It was our mutual love of horses that brought us together. Bert has a rather unique career. We participate in an equestrian sport called Three Day Eventing; named so because it includes competing in dressage, cross country jumping, and stadium jumping. Bert builds jumps from natural materials such as logs and brush and uses the terrain for water complexes, ditches and banks. He transforms materials into massive, detailed objects like whales, barrels and bulls, from mammoth logs and uses large machinery to move earth around, digging moats, and creating lakes, hills and mounds where there were none. He has earned a reputation as one of the best in the industry which has allowed him to work on some of the most beautiful show grounds in the country. This offers acres and acres of happy hunting grounds for a pack of hounds!
Back to Cowboy. We wanted a Beagle who would be small enough for me to travel with on my trips to see Bert at job sites. Cowboy melted my heart the moment I saw him. I may be biased but, raising Cowboy was THE most perfect puppy experience one could ever hope for. And, he loved Jager despite his off-putting nature. Cowboy grew up tethered to Jager while at job sites with Bert, to learn the ropes, sticking close by, managing horses, retrieving, and coming when dad called. He became a truck veteran and made two cross country trips to Montana and Michigan. And he absolutely loved hotels! Though he far exceeded the size requirement we were aiming and grew to be a 50-pound mega Beagle who would never fit under a plane seat! He was also an amazing snuggler, guard dog and the love of my life. My first…but not my last! Enter Indian.
As Jager grew older, I felt the need to get another pup for Cowboy. Jager had been ”ancient” since I’d known him and had done such a wonderful job raising Cowboy, I thought we should take advantage of his stamina and success. We loved Cowboy so much and wanted another just like him. Well, Indian, could not have been more different, as every wonderfully unique dog is. Poor Indian got sick on his very first ride home, his potty-training experience was a nightmare, he chewed on everything, and would do everything he could to drive Cowboy and Jager crazy. He was a feisty, “smart ass” of a dog that made me laugh every day. He was also small enough to fly with me to meet Bert in Montana his first summer with us. That’s where he really grew up and came into his own. He was a true athlete, also known as the “Cheetah”, a stealth hunter, and like Cowboy, became a cuddle bug. That said, many who knew him affectionately dubbed him, “the criminal”.
After Indian, our pack continued to grow. And we became acutely aware of how desperately fosters and adopters were needed for the countless animals that have been abused, abandoned and used for product testing throughout the U.S. Our hearts and home opened to rescues Chief, Skeeter, Bandit, Bronco, Shilo, Edith (our one and only princess), Dudley, Patrick, and Phenris. They came from Spain, Alabama, California and Michigan, from the street, senior hospice organizations and animal testing labs. Each one remarkably spirited, sweet, special and the great joys of our life! We even amazed ourselves by how much love we had for each and every one of these canine characters. And I do mean characters!
Through our forever fosters and adoption journey, we have met many dear friends. One of whom would become my co-founder in CARAAF. We met Gail through Beagle Freedom Project. We both loved, nursed and lost our beloved Beagle boys. When Cowboy, was diagnosed we did everything we could to restore his health and give him quality of life. We said goodbye to in 2017 and it tore us apart. When Gail lost Rousseau the following spring, we cried and commiserated and ultimately poured our grief into a fund that would help other rescue families faced with serious medical issues and the related cost of care, offering help, hope and healing.
In addition to our wonderful pack of puppies, Bert and I have been blessed with a beautiful, spirited herd of horses, a small brood of chickens and a few cats. We have loved and lost a number of pups over the years. They remain with us in spirit and have forever changed us. Now, they guide our efforts as we commit ourselves to helping other rescue pups and their families.
I was born just outside of Baltimore, Maryland where I spent the first 18 years of my life. I have had a life-long love of animals. As a child my family included dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, snakes, and turtles. My very first pet was a Beagle named Snoopy I received my fourth birthday. I remember following every nature show on television, and even stapled small tags on the ears of my plush toy animals, mimicking what I had seen zoologists do on “Wild Kingdom”.
My interests in science and nature eventually led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences from The University of Maryland. Initially, I thought I would pursue a career in research, with the intent of applying to a PhD program. As is often the case, a number of unexpected life changes led me to obtain a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling, and I moved to Los Angeles, where I would become a pediatric genetic counselor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and my life’s passions would be discovered.
Once settled in Los Angeles, as soon as I passed my certification exam, my husband Neil and I decided to adopt a puppy. A cute little Beagle we named Cooper. To socialize Cooper and connect with other Beagle parents, I coordinated the first Southern California Beaglefest, in Huntington Park. At Beaglefest, I met a Beagle rescued from a horribly sad situation. He was terrified of people, but I connected with him and he became part of our family. We named him Buck.
Around the time we adopted Buck, Neil and I watched a broadcast of the LA Marathon and decided we wanted to participate in in the run the following year. We trained and completed our first marathon. Soon after, we noticed that Cooper seemed to be panting excessively. We were shocked to learn he had a very aggressive form of leukemia. He bravely underwent chemotherapy. It was painful to see how awful this made Cooper feel and we struggled with how incredibly expensive this treatment was. Ultimately, the chemo only bought us a few short months together. It was the first loss for our little family, and Neil and I were devastated. Heartsick and painfully aware of how difficult it is to balance the desire to help your loved one when pitted against the cruel reality of how costly it is to care for them.
Several years passed, and our love of running expanded to triathlon. Neil and I have had the great pleasure of meeting many wonderful people, seeing many beautiful places, and challenging ourselves every step along the way. After a couple of years of competing, we realized that Buck was lonely while we were out training, and decided the time was right to adopt again. We found an adorable Beagle named Wally at our local Humane Society.
One evening while enjoying dinner and drinks with our dear friend and fellow Beagle mom, Brigitte, we heard about the amazing, lifesaving work of Beagle Freedom Project, a group of legislative activists and rescuers who advocate for, liberate and rehabilitate animals from laboratory testing facilities in the U.S., and around the world. That evening we all resolved to become involved with the group.
Then sadness struck our little family for the second time when we discovered Buck had dementia and was rapidly declining. We knew that veterinary medicine offered little hope of helping Buck. We kept him comfortable for as long as possible, but before long there was little of our beautiful Buck left within his body. We grieved the loss of another family member. And shockingly, within a few months of Buck’s passing, we were advised that Wally had congestive heart failure. We were terribly sad and struck by the awful irony given that even the best of care and medication could only buy him a few additional months; despite the fact that much of human cardiology care was pioneered on dogs with little trickling down to veterinary options.
It was around this time that Brigitte fostered her first BFP dog. He was seven years old at the time of his release and was having great difficulty making the transition to life outside of the lab. Though each time we visited Brigitte, we saw more of his sweet personality unfold. His willingness to trust and move beyond the pain and cruelty that he had endured really endeared him to us. With every sweet gaze I felt that he was looking directly into my soul to ask for the love and safety that he had been deprived of in his early years. We considered adopting him but were torn at first, as Wally was declining and we were uncertain how much time we would have left with him. Ultimately, we decided to move forward with the adoption. This is how Rousseau became ours! And Wally “mentored” him until his final day.
Rousseau’s horrible beginning, remarkable resilience and of course, his sweet company, helped me get through the very difficult, back to back losses of Buck and Wally. During this time Rousseau truly blossomed and became my best friend. Then we learned of another Beagle who also desperately needed a home. Upon the completion of our first full Ironman distance race, we adopted Sally. Once more, we were a family of four, and we spent many years enjoying trips to Big Bear, the dog beach, and evenings with Brigitte and her growing pack of BFP Beagles.
Then, in the spring of 2018, Rousseau became acutely ill. We rushed him to an emergency clinic. He had a liver adenoma. After weeks of costly care, we brought Rousseau home from the hospital. We celebrated, feeling as if we had been given a second chance. Rousseau was healthy.
We were so relieved and grateful to have the gift of more time together. And within a few months of Rousseau’s recovery, that fall Neil and I realized a long-time dream come true when we purchased our first home. Sally and Rousseau would finally have their own yard to play in. But within eight weeks of our move the unthinkable happened. Sally become lethargic and stopped eating. She passed within a couple of weeks and our hearts were broken. Yet again, it was Rousseau who helped us heal.
I bonded more deeply with Rousseau than any other dog. Though it was obvious that Rousseau needed a canine companion. Another at risk Beagle joined the family. Simon was much younger than Rousseau and loved to play. We saw sparks of Rousseau as a young pup, and he seemed to be thriving. Both dogs were happy and thriving, and we had a home with a yard. So, when we were asked to foster a tiny Beagle who had been rescued from a life of laboratory testing and the dog meat trade in China, we said, “yes”. We foster failed, fell in love and welcomed Rita to the family.
All was well with our three pack. Or so we thought. One day, I randomly noticed a small lump on Rousseau’s neck. As dramatic as it sounds, the moment I felt that lump, I instinctively knew we were going to lose our precious boy. I tried to stay positive, but within a few weeks, we learned that Rousseau had malignant melanoma, one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers in dogs. We consulted with an oncologist and were told that if left untreated, Rousseau would likely die within two months. We found ourselves in a regrettably familiar place, we had to weigh our deepest desire to have additional time with Rousseau, with his quality of life, and a very costly course of treatment. We elected to pursue treatment since unlike traditional chemotherapy, the course of action for melanoma involves a series of vaccines.
We were fortunate to have the love and support of many friends. Although we all hoped for another miracle, Rousseau’s health quickly deteriorated. Within nine weeks of beginning treatment he passed away.
Simon and Rita are still with us and bring us great joy and laughter. I think about my best friend, Rousseau, every, single, day. It’s been especially difficult for me. I am so grateful that with some very generous gifts from friends and family, we were able to do as much for Rousseau as possible. I guess no amount of time with a loved one is enough, and my heart is still breaking from this loss. I am thankful that at least I’m not left with doubts about possible treatments that might have saved his life, that I could not afford. My dream is to make sure that no one will have to face such a decision. Although I do not have the funds to help every family, I know that through CARAAF we will be able to make a difference and save lives!