Rescued from the gas chamber and fresh from surgery, nine puppies mysteriously disappear
By Kelsey Duckett
On March 17, the unthinkable happened. Nine puppies, fresh out of surgery, were stolen from the Sterling Animal Shelter.
Leigh Grady, executive director of the shelter, woke up to a phone call informing her that the door of her shelter was kicked in and puppies were missing. Grady immediately called the police. She then quickly got the media involved and the search was on.
“These puppies were our babies,” she said. “It is our job to protect them, I was devastated.”
The puppies, who Grady had rescued from the gas chamber in Tennessee just weeks before, had already been through a lot. The day before they were stolen, they had undergone surgery to be spayed and neutered.
“We were distraught, angry, and at a loss of what to do,” she said. “But thanks to the hard work and dedication of both the police, volunteers, and the media who helped get the word out, we were able to safely recover all nine.”
It took nearly a month to recover the puppies, with the final puppy, Stout, being returned on April 12. None of the animals were badly harmed, and all were adopted out soon after their return.
“There were so many supporters involved in the search, hundreds of people were out searching 24/7,” she recalls. “No one gave up and because of that we were able to place these puppies in loving homes where they belong.”
Grady, who spent her 20’s in the corporate world and volunteered at shelters in her free time, took over as executive director of Sterling Animal Shelter when the existing director fell ill.
“I kept saying that one of these days I was going to take over, and run the shelter the way it ought to be run,” she said. “And when the previous director decided to step aside, he told me to put my money where my mouth was.”
For the first five years, Grady continued to work her full-time job. However, soon the demands of the shelter forced her to trade in the business suit and brief case, in exchange for gym shoes and sweatpants.
“I left a good paying job with time off and vacation time,” she said. “Now I don’t get a day off, and I spend my time cleaning cat and dog puke—taking care of and adopting out cats and dogs.”
She said it is a rewarding experience, but an exhausting one. A mother of two children, ages 5 and 10, with their home on the property next to the shelter, Grady hasn’t had a vacation since taking over the shelter in 1998.
“We have over two-dozen programs, and we can have anywhere from 5-75 dogs a week,” she said. “There is always something going on around here. It is a very demanding profession, but at the end of the day it is worth it.”
The Sterling Animal Shelter has saved over 100,000 animals, and has an astonishing 98.6 percent placement rate. A no-kill shelter, Sterling only puts an animal down if they are terminally ill and they perform close to 3,000.
The shelter has been involved in major rescues from Virginia, Tennessee, and as far away as Puerto Rico.
“Rescuing is a big part of what we do,” she said. “We want to save and place in loving homes as many dogs and cats as we can. We have tried very hard to implement as many programs as necessary to serve not only our community, but surrounding communities that need assistance.”
Grady said she couldn’t do it without her staff of 12 or the support of her husband and family.
“My staff is amazing,” she said. “They work extremely hard for very little. They are here because they love the animals and want to help, and it’s because of their effort that we have had such success.”
To donate or get involved with the Sterling Animal Shelter, go to SterlingShelter.org.