Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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Making a Difference, One Labrador Retriever at a Time

In this time of uncertainty, there is one thing that we know. There is goodness at the heart of people.  

In a world that has been turned upside down, there have been amazing and remarkable acts of humanity. Words on a paper or on a screen cannot accurately convey the gratitude and appreciation we have for the people who are living and breathing this crisis to protect the rest of us.

There are so many stories and so many people whose stories are those of sacrifice during this time of global crisis. My column each week for the next few weeks is going to focus on those people – some big and bold, others that are sometimes hidden from view. People in our community and around who are demonstrating kindness and sacrifice. Some who are taking new initiatives to address the crisis; others who are continuing their ongoing service to others in these uncertain times.

There is goodness at the heart of State College resident Maggie Peacock.

I have known Maggie for several years. I’m not even sure where we met – one of those small town things where you feel like you have just always known someone.  At one point, we were both part of a group of women who supported a mutual friend with meals and assistance as she fought and eventually lost her battle with cancer. I think we may have traded puppy cages at one point. One thing I do know is that we both love Labrador retrievers.

In the past six years or so, Maggie has fostered 24 Labrador retrievers as they transition from puppy mills, animal shelters and owner surrenders to their new homes. She serves as an intake counselor, working with families who have to give up their dogs. She works with new families who hope to adopt a rescue Lab. She drives all over Pennsylvania and beyond to pick up dogs and take them to start the next leg of their life’s journey.

On March 19, just as Penn State was moving to “remote learning” and we were only beginning to get a glimpse at what was to come with social distancing, government stay-at home orders and COVID-19 in Centre County, Maggie went to pick up two senior Labs from an elderly woman who was surrendering her dogs. The woman lost her husband at the beginning of the year and felt she could no longer take care of her big girls.

“That was kind of crazy,” said Maggie. “We had to do our best at picking up the dogs and keep our social distance.”

It is predicted that animal shelters and animal rescue organizations are going to be overrun with abandoned or surrendered pets as a ripple effect of this virus.  With people out of jobs and many other uncertainties, some are afraid they won’t be able to afford their pets. Others are worried they will somehow catch the virus from their pets.

Maggie said that only means more work to be done.

Maggie Peacock’s whole family has been a part of her work with rescued Labrador retrievers. Photo courtesy of Maggie Peacock 

She has fostered labs from 5 months old to 7 years old. She has kept them as short as a month and as long as seven months. She said it takes about two weeks for the dogs to decompress from wherever they came from. She said the breeding dogs that come from the puppy mills take a little more time because they are so unused to people – people being kind to them.  

“I fostered one that was an owner surrender because the dog (1 year old) had severe hip dysplasia and another (4 years old) who had terrible skin allergies,“ Maggie said. “I’ve fostered farm dogs who have never lived outside a barn or pen setting. I fostered one who even lived in a rabbit hutch. The 7-year-old lab was one of the sweetest but she lost 15 pounds before she started eating regularly. She pancaked every time you raised your voice or moved too quickly.”

While Maggie is grateful that some of the puppy mill operators are willing to call the rescues and turn over their breeder dogs after six or seven or even nine years of producing puppies, it makes her angry.  “I look at Amish products in a different light since taking on this work.” She checks out the classified sheets for ads offering free dogs – another way that puppy mills unload their dogs when they are done with them.

When I asked Maggie, why she does it, she paused.  “Everyone has their passions and mine is animals, and dogs in particular, in need. There is something about dogs — they are just so innocent and trusting. They have been let down by their people’s actions or circumstances. This is where I feel like I can make a difference.”

Photo courtesy of Maggie Peacock

Maggie’s efforts to save Labrador Retrievers are largely in conjunction with Brookline Labrador Retriever Rescue in Warrington, Pennsylvania, although she offers support to numerous Lab rescues. To be approved to evaluate both dogs and new homes, as well as work with owner surrenders for Brookline, Maggie had to go through extensive training.  

“Training was hard because Brookline requires you to shadow experienced volunteers to train,” she said. “I put a lot of miles on my car to go through training since the closest volunteers for most of the training were in Harrisburg.”

Marie Krout, president of Brookline Lab Rescue, said,  “Brookline Lab Rescue successfully places more than 100 Labradors each year! We know we can’t save them all, but we are making a huge difference for the ones we do save. Our volunteers work tirelessly in support of our mission – they are the heart and soul of our rescues. Maggie is caring and passionate, and her many roles with our rescue help us to rescue and rehome so many Labs in need that otherwise might suffer a different fate.”

“I sometimes feel like I’m doing social work,” Maggie said. “By connecting to dogs, I’m also connecting to people. In many cases, the surrendering owners are really grateful for your help. They just want to know that their dog is going to be loved and safe for the rest of its life. I’ve had owner surrenders where the family is sobbing as I leave.”

Dog rescues can be tough at times too.  

“I had one where I had to go down to a basement to rescue a dog that would give Hannibal Lecter’s basement a run for its money” Maggie said. “Another was a 12-year-old lab whose owner wanted to surrender because they didn’t have time for the dog anymore. I went there with the thought I’d talk them out of it. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t get her out of there fast enough so she could be loved and cherished the rest of her life.

“Sometimes it’s really disheartening. Rescue burnout is a real thing. I just try to keep my blinders on and focus on one dog — or a few — at a time.”

Maggie and her husband Todd Sowers live in State College. Their whole family, including adult children Nick, Rosie and Thomas, have all been a part of the effort. Maggie laughed and said “When we haven’t had a foster for a while, Todd will ask when we are getting the next one.”  

In this time of uncertainty, government limitations, illness and fear, there are people doing amazing things to help. Maggie Peacock is doing it one Labrador retriever at a time.  

“A rescue friend gave me a plaque that I read to myself many times,” Maggie said.  “Saving one dog will not change the world but surely for that one dog the world will change forever.”

Photo courtesy of Maggie Peacock