Austin laments her experiences with dogs

Published 12:25 am Sunday, February 21, 2010

Community Editor

Dawn Austin said she had a special connection with her dogs, a bond that remains unbroken.
Austin said, at times, she’s been suicidal since surrendering 131 dogs to Beaufort County Animal Control on Nov. 17, 2009.
“I have considered, sometimes, that I wish I wasn’t here,” she said.
Austin was born and raised in New York City. She said her family had two dogs while she was growing up — a mutt named Ooch and an Irish setter.
Austin said she can recall the day her mother had to get rid of the Irish setter for barking too much and annoying the neighbors.
“That was the saddest day,” she said.
Austin remained in New York City as she grew older, getting married and having four children. She and her children relocated to eastern North Carolina to get away from a person she described as an abusive husband and father.
Austin moved her family several times after relocating to the region, living in New Bern and Havelock, among other places. She found odd jobs as a telemarketer and a maid, and she worked for Moen in New Bern and PCS Phosphate (now PotashCorp) in Aurora.
About seven years ago, Austin’s oldest daughter bought her a home at 435 Minor Run Road in Edward, with Austin and her two youngest children moving into the two-story house on the property. At that time, Austin said, she had three or four family dogs.
Austin said she started taking in dogs that were either abandoned or mistreated by their former owners.
“I rescued them. People gave them to me,” she said. “I can’t see a dog on the side of the road and not pick it up.”
Austin said she built a reputation for taking care of dogs.
“Everybody knew me as the lady that loved dogs, would take care of dogs. I’m that bleeding heart,” she said.
Austin said she took in a lot of dogs, most of them pit bulls, from Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville and who were being deployed overseas. At the time she surrendered her 131 dogs, Austin had 75 pit bulls, according to a list of dogs compiled by Beaufort County Animal Control. Austin said most of the pit bulls were given to her by Marines.
“They have a real pit-bull problem in Jacksonville,” she said.
As the number of dogs in her possession grew, so did Austin’s problems.
“At the beginning, I gave a lot (of dogs) away. But the economy got bad, and people stopped taking them,” she said.
Still, Austin said she was taking care of the dogs the best she could. Austin said she would wake up at 5:30 a.m. every day to feed her dogs and clean their cages.
“I made sure there wasn’t any feces in the cages; they had fresh cedar to walk on,” Austin said.
She also made routine trips to Neuse Veterinary Clinic in New Bern, and during an interview with the Daily News she provided receipts to prove it.
“I built up a bill quite high,” she said. “A lot of the dogs were on meds, had heart problems.”
Austin said the number of dogs in her possession wore her down physically, emotionally and mentally.
“It gets to be too much when you’re struggling and tired and can’t sleep,” she said. “When you’re falling asleep in the dog kennels, it’s too much — waking up three hours later in a dog cage.”
That’s when, Austin said, she turned to breeding.
Austin said she bred three female dogs twice in the past year to have six litters of puppies to sell in an attempt to offset some of the rising medical costs of housing so many dogs. It was an attempt that failed miserably when she couldn’t find any willing buyers for the puppies.
Falling deeper into debt, Austin said, she couldn’t afford to take the dogs to the Neuse Veterinary Clinic, where she already owed more $1,000.
The county stepped in when someone informed the Department of Social Services about the conditions Austin and her children were living in at their home.
When DSS workers arrived at Austin’s house, they immediately called in Beaufort County Animal Control. Austin agreed to surrender her dogs to BCAC, which prompted a massive rescue effort coordinated by BCAC, the Wake County chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and volunteer rescue organizations, among others.
Even now, Austin is adamant that her dogs were kept in acceptable living conditions and were mild-mannered.
“I did not have any vicious dogs,” she said. “When they were moved from my property by the volunteers, not one volunteer was bit.”
Austin said her dogs were “definitely loved and cared for.”
“Every dog had a crate. If it was really cold, there was a crate for everybody,” she said.
Austin compared the conditions her dogs were living in to those of neighborhood dogs.
“I see how dogs are housed in neighborhoods (around here). My dogs were not any worse,” she said. “My dogs were taken off chains, switched through the kennels.”
Austin said she wants to resume taking care of dogs in need by becoming a volunteer for a animal-rescue organization. Austin said her experience should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone interested in breeding dogs.
“If you’re breeding dogs, you need to be responsible for those dogs. It’s not just a money sign, it’s a life,” Austin said. “People are judged by the way they treat their animals.”