20 Aug 2019 Dog’s best friend: ‘I wish I could take more’
by Donna Lampkin Stephens
Mike Kemp photos
Kathy Burton of Conway can’t remember when there weren’t dogs in her life.
Her current pack includes golden retrievers Cooper, 8, and JJ, 7; chiweenie Tux, 3; and lab/heeler mix Coco, 2.
But there have been many, many more in her life. And it’s a safe bet there will be many, many more to come. “They’re a lot of comfort,” Burton said. “They’re each different. They all bring something different to you.”
Since 2017, she has volunteered with the Conway chapter of the rescue group Last Chance Arkansas. She has fostered dozens — litters of puppies, singles, adults.
“Because of the joy that the dogs give back to you,” she said. “The love, the joy — it’s just pure happiness on their part. They don’t ask for anything but what you do for them.
“You can see the relief on their face. You can see the happiness come — ‘I’ve been three or four different places; you’re not going to kick me; you’re not going to hit me; you’re going to feed me and let me inside.’
“It’s just — it’s something I want to do. I’m at a point in my life where I can do it. I work from home, so that gives me a little bit of an edge.”
Burton grew up around Fort Smith. “We lived in Greenwood, and dogs were dropped off, and we took them in,” she remembered, adding that a little terrier mix they called Spotty “took care of all of us kids.”
“I think what really drew me to the dogs was if we had a sand bur in one of our socks or our feet, (Spotty) would pull it out,” she said. “That was intriguing to me. My mom always had Chihuahuas. They were always my buddy in the morning — they’d come get in bed with me.”
As a teenager in Fort Smith, she had a German shepherd named Caesar.
“Somebody had to take him for walks at night,” she said. “We’d go out walking in Downtown Fort Smith at 9 or 10 at night. It was amazing how he’d protect me. He’d put himself between me and anyone he thought he needed to.”
After graduating from Northside High School in 1972, she started her career in medical records. Jobs took her, her dogs and her daughter, Sandra, all over the state — Lake Village, Dermott, Pine Bluff, Heber Springs, Hope, Jonesboro and, finally, to Conway in 2013.
In Jonesboro, Sadie was her first on-her-own rescue. The lab/chow mix had obviously had a litter of puppies and was lost or thrown out. “She lived out in the field by my apartment in Jonesboro for more than a week before she would let me catch her,” Burton remembered. “She became my daughter’s baby — two peas in a pod. They were soul mates.”
Eventually, she added Scarlet, a white lab/pit mix, to her pack.
“She was a very sweet girl and loved her family,” Burton said. “She was found with her sister, running the streets of Little Rock. Her sister was adopted, but although the black dogs have issues getting adopted, so do solid white dogs.”
Also in Jonesboro, she got her first golden. Reagan was about to be put down when she saved him. “He’d been inside since he was a baby, but when the family had a child, he got pushed outside,” Burton said. “He was very bitter. They’d beaten him or had taken a broom to him. He was not the typical golden. It was my first experience with a frustrated dog who was ready to say, ‘To hell with the human race.’”
Reagan ruled the roost — and her Jeep — for the rest of his life.
Roxie, a golden/Great Pyrenees mix, joined the crew from a northeast Arkansas Humane Society. “She could scale a six-foot privacy fence, and pizza was her favorite food,” Burton remembered. “She would come home with pizza boxes.”
Cooper came from another northeast Arkansas Humane Society in 2012. About a year old, he was found stuck in mud in a field, heartworm positive.
Her pack became unofficial greeters at Jonesboro’s Hollywood Feed store.
After Burton, who began working from home in the health information management field in 2005, moved to Conway, she found JJ, about 6 months old, roaming her street. After going house to house in the neighborhood and failing to find his family, she welcomed him into hers.
In 2016, she was fostering for Out of the Woods Rescue. Tux came to her only a few weeks old, and after his adoption by one of her friends didn’t work out, he returned to the Burton pack. “He became mine a week after he got here,” she said.
Her crew has been regulars at Conway’s dog park since it opened. She is a big fan.
“It’s a great place for everybody to run, and it’s big enough you don’t have everybody on top of each other,” she said. “If you’ve got somebody that’s a little scared, since they have the big side and the small side, you can always use the other side for separation.”
The dog park was where she met a Last Chance Arkansas volunteer in 2017. Since then, she has rarely been without a foster. “I have no idea how many there have been,” she said. “Some were here for a few days, some for a few weeks and some for months.”
Coco is perhaps the most special of them all. Burton fostered him and some of his litter mates in the summer of 2017. Eventually, all of his siblings were adopted and left for their new homes in New England.
“Just the way he looks at you,” she said of their bond. “He just had a look — ‘You’re mine.’ I can’t even describe it. I just fell in love with him, but I had my three others, and financially, it’s difficult, because I’m going to make sure they go to the vet, that they have all their shots and heartworm prevention and flea and tick prevention, plus I’m not going to feed them cheap food.”
Just before Christmas 2017, Coco was adopted by a family in Pennsylvania. Burton had a difficult time putting him on Alpha Dog Transport, but she sent him to his new home.
By New Year’s Eve, though, it was apparent the adoption wasn’t working out.
“I said, ‘Send him back; here’s the money,’” said Burton, who reunited forever with her newest baby on his return trip a few days into 2018. “He’s grown up so much since then. He has to hug me. He puts his legs on my shoulders and hugs me.”
There have been other special ones — Polly Parrot and Suri from last summer; Davey Crockett this summer. Davey was in her lap during the interview for this story, just a few days away from his own journey to New England and his forever home.
“It’s just pure love,” she said. “We give them a secure place, a safe place. I wish I had a bigger place. I wish I could take more.”