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A Dog Named Freedom: A California Dog Rescue Tale

Dog Files Fan, Julie Hendrickson sent in this powerful, dog rescue story about a dog in need and how it changed her life. Enjoy!

Kenn Bell
Dog Files Creator

Freedom the German Shepherd resting up after treatment.
Freedom the German Shepherd resting up after treatment.

I joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1991 after graduating from Georgetown University. Several years after starting my Naval career, I became an active volunteer in animal rescue, rehab and re-homing with different organizations at every duty station. A little over 10 years ago, I became deeply discouraged by what I witnessed to be a consistent disregard for animal life observing that abandonment and neglect appeared more widespread than the actions of those who valued and cared for animals. I struggled with options to stay involved without “burning” out.

I deployed in 2003 and returned troubled but with an even deeper reverence for all life. At the duty stations to follow, animals in need “found” me, as several of my co-workers and friends began to say. I witnessed “rescued” animals helping other “rescued” animals. I unwittingly taught neighborhood kids about connecting and caring for animals so that they sought out my help for their own or others they found. My “off-duty” work with animals was taking more personal time and resources but creating some amazing experiences with individual people and animals. The thought of creating another place for people to drop off their animals made me shudder…but what could I do?

Julie served as a Navy Nurse Corps Officer for 22 years.
Julie served as a Navy Nurse Corps Officer for 22 years.

Considering Freedom

The large body laid on the outside lane of the 110 West with cars passing by. I scanned the area as I approached and spotted a safe place to pull over in between the highway and an off-ramp. “Maybe I can pull her body over”, I thought, and then…the body moved. I waved my left arm franticly out the window as I slowed toward her hoping drivers would wonder enough about me to stay away. It worked! I stopped, jumped out and scooped her up. I found myself thanking God she was hit hard enough that she was unable to move. She was foaming at the mouth and weak. One of her front paws was hanging and deformed. For the first time, I used my i-phone as a smartphone and I found my way to a nearby Emergency Vet.

Bud, found with a chain grown into his neck as a pup, is now 10 yrs old and has been an "uncle" for many dogs, like Freedom, who have needed support and comfort.
Bud, found with a chain grown into his neck as a pup, is now 10 yrs old and has been an “uncle” for many dogs, like Freedom, who have needed support and comfort.

I was in LA going through trauma refresher training preparing for my next military deployment as a nurse. I had never been to LA but the training was a good distraction from my troubled personal life. I looked forward to deploying and helping others but where was this work with animals going? I was finding them faster than homes and it seemed more people were giving up animals than adopting them across the nation. Was I really making a difference? …but I could not turn away from her suffering. In that moment, I knew I could help her…and that faith helped me to consider a freedom I hadn’t felt in awhile.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” -Viktor Frankl

Freedom was a great mama to her pups (Freedom and Sam).
Freedom was a great mama to her pups (Freedom and Sam).

Healing Freedom

The Vet said Freedom’s first 24 hours would be critical to her recovery. Her injuries showed she had been struck in the chest. Both of her lungs were bruised and she was working hard to breathe…even with oxygen. There was little to be done but support her with oxygen and other meds for relaxation and comfort…and then wait and watch. After the first 24 hours, we discovered she was pregnant but there was no telling if any of the pups would survive. She still needed the support of oxygen and was not eating.

I named her Freedom because she inspired me to consider a freedom I had taken for granted. I chose to get involved, hope for her healing and share her story with others. Reaching out to others for help was healing as well. A couple people donated to her care, another came to visit and encourage her, others helped network for a foster home and many offered their prayers and other support. Reaching out to others mostly on-line and observing the response to Freedom’s story also started the restoration of my faith in community.

Sam is shy of but warms up with a game of fetch!
Sam is the shyest of the pups but warms up readily with a game of fetch!

“All social change comes from the passion of individuals.” – Margaret Mead

Freedom’s complete recovery took almost a year. Within 4 weeks of her injury, she had 11 puppies. 7 of the 11 survived. She was watched over by both human and canine foster moms. Her canine foster was an old shepherd female who rested quietly with her before birth and then watched over her and the pups from a short distance. Freedom sought her out for safety and comfort until she had the pups; it was an amazing sight.

It was 2-3 months before it looked like the use of her front paw would return and even then it took several months for her to regain normal strength. She was a nurturing mom to the pups but the most difficult recovery was that of her faith and trust in people.

Mom's (Freedom) got dibs... and is gentle but firm about it.
Mom’s (Freedom) got dibs… and is gentle but firm about it.

Rescuing Freedom gave me the opportunity to honor my freedom, Freedom’s life and, ultimately, the lives of 11 other animals. It could have been anyone but her injury and abandonment gave me a fresh look at an opportunity to choose my response and to act with compassion regardless of a lack of personal support to do so in that moment. I have done a great deal of official and unofficial animal rescue over the years. Finding Freedom came at a most inconvenient time for me but a pivotal time for both of us!

Honoring Freedom

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” -Galatians 5:13

Just before I deployed, we started a facebook page for Freedom to get her story out and set up adoptions. At first, several families had expressed interest but, when I returned from deployment, only a couple homes had come through. I struggled with their training and care enlisting the help of caregivers with my salary. I was discouraged and once again thrown into thoughts of the droves of animals who are abandoned and in need of homes. The only place I knew well was my place as a military nurse. How could I possibly make a difference?

Freedom checking on young Nala.
Freedom checking on young Nala.

How difficult it is to truly accept and honor our freedom. The daily grind threatens to erode it when we turn away from it for too long. As a military nurse, I have served to preserve freedom and to care for our guardians of freedom…but the freedom I mention cannot be preserved or taken away…only forsaken or accepted by individual(s). My first step in accepting that freedom once again was to file for retirement and make another leap of faith in God, myself and community.

In May of this year, We Are Guardians(W.A.G.) was formed as a non-profit in the state of California and has recently filed for 501(c)3 status. WAG’s mission is to promote the human-animal bond through a community-based approach that frames our (human and animal) relationship as Guardians for each other. We plan to take a strategic and collaborative approach with communities to heal the human-animal bond in addition to rescuing and placing animals. Please join We Are Guardians (W.A.G.) in honoring Freedom and the opportunity that her rescue represents for all of us as Guardians. “Like” us on face book as We Are Guardians(W.A.G.) or contact us at [email protected]. We are building our website at

Lincoln (R) and Shelly (L-behind me) visit a service training facility for assessment.
Lincoln (R) and Shelly (L-behind me) visit a service training facility for assessment.
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