Four Gilroy women spearheading effort to help local dogs

Published in the February 15 – 28, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

From back left: Cindy Reed (holding Pudgy and Porter), Meredith Newton (holding Pickles and Pixie); Ariana Stauble (holding Pete and Parker); and Marguerite Murphy (holding Paulie).
Photo by Sondra Alexandre

Marguerite Murphy and her wife, Lisa Cancilla, were walking with their four dogs in November 2015 when they saw cowering behind a garbage can a Miniature Pinscher puppy. It was homeless and scared.

After catching her, Murphy called the Gilroy Police Department and an officer soon came and asked them to keep the puppy at their home that night. The freezing temperature might mean the little dog would not survive in the police department kennel, they were told.

“We came to find out that the holding kennels at the Gilroy PD are essentially outdoors — a three-walled aluminum shed and they’re completely exposed to the elements,” Murphy said. “So we kept her overnight.”

The couple named the dog “Mickie” and decided to adopt her. Murphy put a notice on Facebook that she wanted to find other local people to help the lost dogs kept at the police kennel while they waited to be re-united with their owners or were taken to the San Martin Animal Shelter.

“I ended up hearing from another woman (Ariana Stauble) who was interested in starting something,” Murphy said. “So we met and we basically created South County Tail Waggers. We wanted to help improve the kennel conditions, so we thought, let’s do something more.”

South County Tail Waggers quickly developed into a nonprofit organization with a mission to help homeless pets in Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy by providing shelter and care. It also seeks to educate the public on how to help the lost animals. Soon joining Murphy and Stauble in the project were Gilroy residents Meredith Newton and Cindy Reed. The four women worked together to organize a foster program where residents of the area can temporarily keep a lost dog or cat until the original owner can be found or a adopting family can take them into their home. As they realized the extent of the homeless animal problem in the South Valley region, the South County Tail Waggers grew even more ambitious in their vision.

“At that point, we decided, Let’s do something even bigger. So we came up with the ultimate goal of creating the South County’s first private no-kill animal sanctuary,” Murphy said.

Newton became involved with the group in March 2016 when she learned about a lost dog that had suffered abuse. She went to the Gilroy kennel and found the dog. Its fur was matted and it looked sad, she said.

“The person who was trying to return the dog to the house said that the owners were kicking it and hitting it, and so she begged me to take it,” she said. “She knew I rescued dogs at that time, but I was pretty much doing it on my own at that time.”

Newton learned the police would allow her a five-day hold with the dog. With her husband’s agreement, she took the animal into their home and cleaned the dog up and tried to find him a home. On the fifth day, she met Murphy and learned about South Valley Tail Waggers. She soon got involved.

In recent months, with the extreme weather of the winter storms, the dogs in the Gilroy kennels have been unhappy in their penned-in condition, she said.

“The kennels are not very high off the ground and so the (rain) water just runs through it,” she said. “Plus it’s downhill, it slopes down from the parking lot of the old police station, so the water just pools in the kennel. And the dogs are standing in there and it’s cold and raining, and they can’t lay down. They can go on their little platform bed that we have for them. The blankets that we give them to keep them warm fall off or soak up water.”

Reed started “collecting strays” when she was a kid, she said. She feels a tenderness in her heart when a lost dog looks sadly at her as, in its disorientation, it tries to find its way back to its home.

“Sometimes I see a dog in the street and I say, ‘Come to me,’ and most of the time I find their owners,” she said. “And Marguerite called me and asked if I would like to come to this (organization) meeting for South County Tail Waggers. And then she asked if I wanted to become a board member, and I told her I didn’t know what a board member is. I told her, let me think about it. Then I said OK, and we pretty much started after that.”

The South County Tail Waggers’s sanctuary will be different from the San Martin Animal Shelter, Newton said.

“The shelter is over-run right now and we try to alleviate some of the strain on the shelter system,” she said. “We find really good dogs and try to keep them out of the shelter system because the shelter tends to make them a little bit neurotic. It’s called kennel stress.”

The four women want to build a sanctuary that will provide a “homey environment” where there would be no euthanasia. It would have a free-run field where dogs can play together instead of being kept behind gates in kennels. Dogs that are aggressive would be kept separated from other dogs. The goal is to create a place in the region where adopting families or individuals can come to find animals that will become members of the family, Murphy said.

“Our motto is: saving each other,” she said. “So what we’re envisioning is a sanctuary where humans are saving dogs and dogs are saving us right back emotionally. We’ll be very involved in the community so that the dogs and people will help each other. The dogs that are waiting for adoption are out there in the community really making a difference.”

The group is now developing a mobile spay and neuter program to prevent strays from breeding. It recently found a partner to accomplish this goal. South County Tail Waggers also hopes to start a community program where dogs waiting for an adopter can be brought as guest visitors to senior homes and children’s homes and, with a wag of the tail and a pet on the head, generate some happiness for the people in those locations. Another program would bring dogs into Morgan Hill and Gilroy’s public libraries where children can read to them.

“They’ve shown that children who have trouble reading make great strides when they have a dog reading buddy,” Murphy said.

To build the sanctuary, the South County Tail Waggers need donated land as well as money to build the facilities. The group is now taking its first steps to find the financing and property. They still need to calculate how much funding will be required to build the sanctuary. They are also seeking developers to do pro bono work to figure how many dogs they can work with and how many acres they will need to build the sanctuary. They are now discussing with organizers at similar sanctuaries in the Bay Area what are the best practices for their program.

“We’re applying for a grant right now, and part of that grant goes to creating a campaign,” Murphy said. “We’ll go out into the community and really start to fund-raise. And potentially, there might be a community member who owns land that they can’t do anything with it, so they might donate it. That would be excellent.”

The group will have a positive regional benefit for the South Valley, she said.

” We called the group South County Tail Waggers when we got started so it will help Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy,” she said. “When we start fund-raising, even though we’re based in Gilroy, if someone comes forward with land that we can use, if it’s in San Martin or Morgan Hill, that’s great. We’ll go where we can go. The goal is ambitious, but it’s do-able.”