Sheltering strays at the Animal Rescue League of El Paso

On the way to her stepfather’s funeral, Loretta Hyde – a grandmother herself – shouted to her mother to stop the car. She had noticed two small puppies in a shallow ravine by the side of the road, and one appeared to be injured. Not only that, a storm was coming, and Hyde knew if she didn’t rescue the pups, they would drown.

“Don’t even think about bringing those dogs into my car,” her mother said. “Besides, you’ll ruin your dress.”

But she was already halfway down the ravine.

For strays, a beacon of hope

Loretta Hyde is the founder of Animal Rescue League of El Paso (ARLEP), an organization she started in 1995 in hopes of reducing the amount of euthanasia the city performed each year. She tells me that at that time, the stray population had gotten completely out of control. Cats wandered the streets in alarming numbers, and dogs, hit by cars, lay dead on the side of the road.

Click to listen to the Road to Rescue interview with ARLEP founder Loretta Hyde on Animal Radio Network.

The final straw was hearing that El Paso Animal Control was spending over half of its budget putting down some 26,000 animals each year. She knew that somebody had to so something. Turns out, Hyde was that somebody.

The facility isn’t fancy, or even particularly easy to find. But when I arrive in the middle of a weekday afternoon, both indoor and outdoor areas are bustling with animal caregivers, volunteers, and potential adopters. Spirits are high, so already I’m impressed. Any shelter that makes you want to stick around is doing something right.

Hard work, happy endings

The sheer efficiency with which the place is run makes it hard to believe it’s a private organization that survives on public donations. But the numbers speak for themselves: Over 14,000 animals have been successfully placed in homes since ARLEP’s founding. And with over a thousand coming in and out each year, and hundreds on the premises at any one time, I find it amazing Hyde knows each dog’s name, and each one’s story.

For example, Lilly. Witnesses report they saw Lilly’s former owner attempting to drown the beautiful Shepherd mix in a canal. Not only did she survive the episode, the dog hurried up the banks of the canal, hoping to catch up to her would-be killer. Fortunately, onlookers intervened.

Or Griffith. For fun, neighborhood kids had set the dog on fire. But rather than getting him medical help, his owners simply dumped him. Thanks to ARLEP, both dogs now have permanent homes with devoted, loving families.

Saving as many as she can

Though she claims she can say no – and in fact, from a practical angle is forced to on a regular basis – it’s a little hard to believe she ever does. Hyde goes home each night to 30 animals of her own: 26 dogs and four cats.

Several are special-needs cases who require hand feeding and regular medical care. I tell her that some people would consider her house a rescue operation in its own right. Hyde just shrugs and insists that they’re all her babies.

And she means it. Clearly she regards every needy animal she comes into contact with as her own. Someone she’s responsible for. She tells me that the hardest part of what she does is knowing that some animals leave this world without ever knowing even the slightest bit of kindness. She wishes she could save them all.

El Paso’s still not a great place to be a stray. Unless you’re fortunate enough to find your way to the Animal Rescue League.