6 Foxhounds Rescued From Leesburg Blaze Make Tracks on the Slow Path to Healing

Two-year-old foxhound Sapphire, a survivor of a devastating kennel fire at the Fairfax Hunt Club in March, struts her stuff at the Reston Pet Fiesta. Video by Amy Gardner/The Washington Post
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On March 11, just hours after a devastating kennel fire at the Fairfax Hunt in Leesburg, Barbara Hutcherson of the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation was given a choice: Accept responsibility for six badly burned foxhounds or allow them to be put to sleep.

Sapphire, Ranger, Reckon, Duchess, Rascal and Ramey faced extensive treatment for burns, smoke inhalation and blood loss. Two would require a month of hospitalization, with an overall cost exceeding $15,000. But as Hutcherson looked around the room, watching dogs labor for breath while technicians applied salve, administered transfusions and fashioned makeshift oxygen masks, there was really no choice at all, she said.

"I have seen a lot, but nothing quite like that," Hutcherson recalled. "I was stunned. Really, just watching Duchess struggle for breath was really difficult more than anything else. But it cemented my decision that I had to do whatever I could."

Nearly two months later, all the dogs have recovered, or nearly so, and are ready to find their "forever" homes. Their burns are not fully healed, and some are still on antibiotics and pain medicine and must have burn salve applied several times a day. But they are all out of the hospital and living with foster families, growing stronger and more comfortable with each day, Hutcherson said.

Sapphire, Ranger and Reckon even ventured out this past weekend for an afternoon with dog lovers at the annual Reston Pet Fiesta, where a few hundred pets and their owners strolled past exhibits of specialty gear and displays by rescue organizations. Sapphire, a skittish foxhound with a burnt-pink nose and raw wounds still healing on her hind flank, even strolled across the festival stage in the pet fashion show.

Pam McAlwee of Herndon, who founded Lost Dog Rescue in 2001 (and also owns Lost Dog Cafe in Arlington County), said taking on six dogs with serious medical conditions was a challenge for an organization that cares for about 100 dogs at any given time at its kennel in Fauquier County. With an annual budget of about $700,000, the nonprofit organization holds adoption fairs every week at pet stores across Northern Virginia; it placed about 2,300 dogs and cats last year.

The fire, believed to have begun when an extension cord at the Fairfax Hunt's Red Hill Farm short-circuited, killed three horses and 20 hounds, including a litter of nine puppies. Sixty-one hounds survived, largely due to the efforts of huntsman Kevin Palmer, who tore holes in a fence to free the dogs from certain death.

The Fairfax Hunt chose not to shelter three of the six now under the care of Lost Dog Rescue on the recommendation of its veterinarian, said Joseph Keusch, the group's master of foxhounds. He said the other three were less badly injured and the hunt would have paid for their recovery. But because they were older and ready for retirement and adoption anyway, they also went into Lost Dog's care, he said.

"They were nothing but gracious and wonderful to us," Keusch said of Lost Dog.

Keusch acknowledged some tension with the rescue group, due largely to pressure, he said, from a national foxhunting association that wanted the hunt to retrieve the dogs to avoid negative publicity from animal rights activists. At one point, McAlwee said, a Fairfax Hunt representative called Hutcherson demanding that pictures of the healing dogs be removed from the foundation's Web page.

McAlwee said she believes that the Fairfax Hunt is sensitive to perceptions that it did not care for the six dogs, but she said the foundation is not interested in pointing fingers. Keusch said he regretted the incident and wished Lost Dog and its wards well.

Keusch also told of a silver lining to the tragedy: After the hounds escaped the fire, they roamed nearby woods for several hours before huntsmen were able to retrieve them all. Since then, one of the hounds has given birth to nine puppies -- exactly the size of the litter lost in the fire, but a far cry from the careful breeding that usually goes on to keep the pack going.

"We don't have a clue who the father is," Keusch said with a laugh.

In the meantime, the six hounds continue to heal. Sapphire, waiting to trot onstage Saturday in a red golf shirt, shyly hid behind the legs of Lost Dog volunteer Sarah Barnett -- and retreated nervously from loudspeakers blaring music at the Reston Town Center stage. Barnett said Sapphire is particularly uncomfortable with the sound of sirens; she had to be moved to a new foster family recently because the first was too close to a fire station.

Hutcherson said people interested in the hounds should contact Lost Dog (http://www.lostdogrescue.org) to begin the adoption process. They should be ready to take extra care of still-healing wounds -- and to give extra love to still-raw nerves, she said.

The foundation is also seeking donations to help offset the costs of medical treatment.

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