The long journey for two dogs that rose to local celebrity status ended Saturday in Liberty County where one was reunited with her family and the other revisited the place where she made history.
Amazing Grace, the mixed breed that survived a July 2006 euthanization attempt in a Liberty County gas chamber, received a warm welcome in Hinesville, where Mayor Jim Thomas proclaimed July 14 “Amazing Grace day.”
Thomas spoke about Amazing Grace’s close call when she and four other dogs were sentenced to an untimely fate. Deborah Sell, who operated the shelter when Grace was slated to be put down, said the black-and-white dog — then unnamed — survived the 30-minute gassing, which killed the other animals and left Grace standing in their waste as she foamed at the mouth and gasped for air.
Grace then was rushed to veterinarian Dr. David Beatie, who, in a 2006 interview, said, “I can’t explain it, but by God’s grace, she survived it.”
After she was thoroughly examined and declared healthy, Amazing Grace was adopted by Phil Draughon of Barrington, Ill.
Six years later, standing in the parking lot of Savannah Technical College’s Hinesville campus on Airport Road, Draughon said Grace is a normal pet.
“She suffered no disabilities. She is a very affectionate dog despite all she went through.”
Draughon, who saw her story on CNN.com, knew he had to give Grace a home where she would be loved and cared for.
“It just spoke to my soul to adopt her,” he said.
Sells, fighting back tears during an interview, had not seen Amazing Grace since Draughon adopted her.
“I am so happy, overjoyed. I cried when I saw her. To look at her now and to think back at (what) she was like that day is just amazing — absolutely amazing. She is courageous, just a beautiful, sweet dog.”
Amazing Grace traveled to Liberty County with a Siberian husky named Savannah that belonged to Johnny Stevenson, a retired Army soldier who was working as a contractor in Afghanistan when he died in February. The pair came from New Jersey, a stop on the caravan’s tour, which was sponsored by St. Joseph Elementary School’s Paws for a Cause, Making of Miracles Stories (MOMS), Animal Aid USA and Carpathia Paws’ local chapter.
Belinda Stevenson, Johnny Stevenson’s wife of 29 years, returned to her Allenhurst home from work one night in May and, as she always did, let her Siberian husky out in the fenced in backyard. Several minutes later she noticed Savannah had not returned to the house and went to investigate. Stevenson found the back of her fence had been damaged during a storm earlier that day and Savannah, her husband’s beloved dog, was nowhere to be found.
Stevenson and her son, Terrell Stevenson, walked the neighborhood and the surrounding area until 4 a.m. searching for Savannah. Unable to locate the dog, Belinda Stevenson turned to the Liberty County Humane Shelter for help.
“I went through all the kennels and she was not there,” she said.
During the next several weeks, the Stevensons checked the shelter regularly but to no avail. Belinda Stevenson said she felt like she had lost another part of her husband, who died of heart disease.
“I felt as if another piece of my husband had been taken from me. I felt as if I had lost another piece of my world,” she said.
In June, Stevenson’s daughter, Lakesha Stevenson, called and said a photo of a dog that looked like Savannah had been posted on Carpathia Paws’ website and Facebook. When Belinda Stevenson saw the photo, she immediately knew it was Savannah. She learned that her dog had been rescued by the animal group and transported to Westwood, N.J., where she’d been placed with a woman named Julia Ogden, a member of Last Resort Rescue. Ogden said she pulled Savannah from the shelter when she learned the dog was slated to be euthanized.
“It was a last-minute decision. I waited to see if she would be adopted before I had her pulled and brought up to N.J.,” she said.
Members of the animal group assured Belinda Stevenson that Savannah would return to Liberty County with the upcoming Amazing Grace Caravan. And, as the caravan entered Savannah Tech’s parking lot, Stevenson and her children watched as Savannah made her way out of an air-conditioned trailer before the gathered crowd. Skittish at first, Savannah hesitated but Stevenson eventually coaxed the husky to her. Within a half hour, the two were nestled in the shade, where Savannah enjoyed plenty of pats and rubs.
Had it not been for the kindness of the animal group, Stevenson said she never would have known what happed to Savannah.
“It’s amazing these wonderful people brought her back to me. I know that while she was gone she was loved and cared for. I can’t thank them enough for returning here home,” Stevenson said.
Karen Talbot, who founded the MOMS and St. Joseph’s groups, said she and the other members make monthly trips to Liberty County to pick up 80 to 100 dogs from the Liberty County Humane Shelter and bring them up north to be adopted.
“If we miss a month coming to Liberty County to pick up the dogs, unfortunately, they will all be euthanized. That’s why we make every effort to get down here and save as many as we can,” she said.
Talbot also is fighting to get legislation passed in the 31 states that still use gas to euthanize animals.
“If Georgia can change their laws for a dog — a dog who spoke with no voice and changed the laws for the state of Georgia — many other states in this country can follow suit.”