This article was written by sophomore Willa Long as a part of the collection of pieces about moral dilemmas in our community.
CW: Images depicting animal abuse are presented in this story
Sam Punchar risks her own life often and makes sacrifices daily to save abused and neglected dogs. She takes money out of her own pocket, spends months working on the same case, and, even when the police are called on her, doesn’t hesitate to do what is right. Running a rescue may be just a job for many people, but for Sam it is so much more.
Sam is the owner of Random Rescue of Chelsea, Vermont. She has dealt with nearly every type of situation when it comes to dogs living in unsafe conditions. Although this type of work can be heavy, expensive, and very intense, Sam has “always wanted to work with dogs.” She knew from when she was a kid that she wanted to help animals, and make the world a better place for all dogs.
Unfortunately, doing this can be draining and involve a significant amount of risk. She is often forced to decide a dog’s worth, and choose if she wants to risk her life to save a dog.
When asked about a situation that shows what she deals with on a daily basis, one immediately came to mind. When Sam first met Molly, a medium sized mixed breed dog, she was running loose in Barre, VT. This was not the first time Sam would find Molly lost alone outside, far from her home.
Sam was notified about Molly 3-4 times over the span of a few weeks, and although Molly was clearly running away from something, she continued to hold on to her positive demeanor. Molly was “always friendly and happy to see me” according to Sam.
Originally, Molly never showed clear signs of neglect, so Sam would always bring her back to her owner, whom she never physically encountered. However, the last time Sam found Molly wandering in Barre, it was clear she needed help.
Blood and puss oozed from a deep wound in Molly’s neck, an impact of the tight shock collar suffocating her. Just from looking at Molly, Sam could tell she was extremely malnourished, meaning her immune system and health was severely weakened. It was at this point that Sam realized returning her to the owner was simply not an option.
In the past, Sam has not had the best experiences with dog owners. Many will deny the abuse allegations and refuse help. She is often forced to befriend owners if she wants the opportunity to help the dog. However, this does not always work out.
In a prior situation, Sam responded to a call about a neglected dog, Larry. She drove to the house where the dog was living at the time, and attempted to take him back to her home. While she was removing the dog, she unexpectedly ran into the owners, who were not very agreeable. They demanded she give the dog back, and called the police when she didn’t.
The animal laws in VT are not very effective, so when the police were given the details of the case, they decided it was not neglect. Sam was forced to leave the dog behind and couldn’t immediately give it help.
Fortunately in Molly’s situation, the police immediately gave her permission to take the dog, and there was no interaction with the owner.
The owner was presented with the case by the police, as Sam gathered evidence. The owner denied having anything to do with Molly’s state, and insisted that she had left the house in perfect condition. The owner had taken a firm stance, and was intent on denying any allegations
Many animal cruelty cases go to court, but they are not often prioritized. This, along with setbacks from Covid mean the cases can be held back for months on end, even as long as a year.
Sam built up evidence against the owner, documenting Molly’s wounds and injuries, but she also had to pay to fix these injuries. Contrary to popular belief, animal rescuers who send their animals to the vet must pay for care out of their own pocket. The owners nor the state are responsible for any of these expenses.
Sam knew this going into the case, but that didn’t make it any easier for her to find the money. As pictured, Molly had deep neck wounds from the collar which had been embedded in her neck. She was also very underweight, so much so that you could see her ribs through her fur.
Sam took Molly to the vet that very day, and she was immediately put on pain meds and antibiotics. In the following couple of weeks, Molly made two more visits to the vet where they attempted to figure out why she was so thin. To get her back to a healthy weight, Sam fed her 2 cups of food 2x times a day for 6 months. Eventually she was able to get her back to a healthy weight.
As Molly’s health continued to improve, Sam still had to deal with the court case. Sam collected all of the paperwork from the vet to use as evidence, and statements were taken from everyone involved.
The case is still pending today, nearly an entire year after Molly was rescued. Currently, “animal cruelty is not a priority (in court)” says Sam, meaning she is unable to adopt out Molly to a home. Even still, after all of the effort Sam has put into Molly, if there was any sort of mistake in the case, or if the judge decides that what happened to Molly was not neglect, there is a possibility she could be returned to her original owner.
All of these things added stress to Sam and her rescue. She worries that after spending more than a year helping a dog, all of it could go to waste. Thousands of dollars come straight out of her pocket yearly, and the dogs take up space in her house. Despite this, Sam “could never allow a dog to go back to a home where there is clear mistreatment like in this case.”
Sam is not one to give up on something she has cared so deeply about, and thanks to her, hundreds of dogs have survived unimaginable circumstances. . She pushes others to do the same, asking those around her to make the right choices even if it may be hard, and she leads by an incredible example.