Retiree's love of animals brings her to their rescue

January 26, 1994|By Amy P. Ingram | Amy P. Ingram,Contributing Writer

For Pumpkin, a bright-eyed golden retriever, Patricia Eakle was the difference between life and death.

The dog, dropped off at an animal shelter because his owners decided he was too old, would have been euthanized 2 1/2 years ago if Mrs. Eakle hadn't come along and rescued him.

Mrs. Eakle, 69, works with Golden Retriever Rescue Education and Training (GRREAT), an organization that takes unwanted retrievers and places them in foster homes. The nonprofit group looks for pure-bred golden retrievers abandoned in shelters and places them in temporary foster homes until adoptive parents are found.

Pumpkin, who found a home with Mrs. Eakle and her husband, Clayton, for the last two years of his life, is just one of dozens of animals who owe their lives to this Annapolis woman. As both a member of GRREAT and a volunteer with the Annapolis SPCA, Mrs. Eakle has become something of a one-woman dog rescue squad.

Mrs. Eakle, who reared two children and raised two golden retrievers, Amy and Jenny, has always sung the breed's praises. "Retrievers love everyone equally, including the mailman," she said.

Pumpkin was the Eakles' first long-term foster dog. "He was affectionate and loving and, like all retrievers, not discriminatory in his love," she said. "Pumpkin may have been old in age, but he was still very much young in heart."

Adoptive parents were never found for the 13-year-old orphan. Pumpkin was put to sleep two weeks ago at age 15, suffering from cancer.

Mrs. Eakle, a retired social worker, also volunteers at the Annapolis SPCA animal shelter. She visits the abandoned animals each week to talk to them, hold them or take them for walks.

Laurie McCain, volunteer coordinator at the shelter, said the animals' fates depend largely on the volunteer effort.

"Mrs. Eakle and volunteers like her really make a difference here," she said. "These dogs don't get walked by paid staff -- they get walked by volunteers. The volunteers break the animals in. They make them more comfortable and make them look good so people will want them."

The SPCA of Annapolis has Maryland's highest adoptive rate, at 70 percent. But nationwide every year, 13 million animals are killed in shelters.

Mrs. Eakle hopes she can help in some way. That's why she was visiting and walking Scrappy, a mixed Labrador breed, yesterday. Coming from an abusive home, Scrappy was introverted and sluggish when he came to the shelter several days ago. But after Mrs. Eakle got to him, Scrappy's disposition improved greatly.

"I've been aware of the ever-increasing number of unwanted animals, and though I can't save them all, I can at least do something," said Mrs. Eakle, who long ago decided this was what she wanted to do with her retirement.

She said her social work background has helped her better understand the animals' moods. It also has allowed her to work and care for the animal but not get too close.

That's why, when Mrs. Eakle punches in on Tuesdays, she never asks what happened to the dog who was there last week.

"You can't love them all so much," she said, "because you won't be able to handle saying goodbye repeatedly."

Animals have always been a part of Mrs. Eakle's life. When she was 5, she was fascinated with ants; at 8, she built a pet cemetery for birds. Several weeks ago, she went whale watching in the Caribbean for the first time.

"Animals don't let you down, but sometimes people do," said the woman who once kept two dogs, a white mouse, two guinea pigs and a flying squirrel under the same roof. "It's an unconditional love. If you accidentally step on their foot, they yelp once, then they forgive you."

She said she's learned a lot about life, especially from dogs.

"If I could learn to give love uncritically and unconditionally like they can, I'd be a much better person."

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