by Animal Wise Radio
MF: Mike Fry
BN: Beth Nelson
LS: Laura Syring
Find the show podcast here.
BN: I’m really excited to welcome our next guest to Animal Wise Radio. She is Laura Syring. She is a police officer who has years of experience working with rescuing animals, and has recently partnered with Animal Ark to officially announce a sanctuary where she’s actually been saving and rescuing animals for a very long time. She’s very thoughtful. She’s had a breadth and depth of animal experience that’s just heartfelt and inspiring, and I just can't wait to talk to her. Welcome to Animal Wise Radio, Laura.
LS: Thanks, Mike. I really appreciate it. I’m glad to be on the air.
MF: I would like to start by maybe having you share your story about how you decided to get into rescuing animals.
LS: I don’t know that there’s ever a true beginning or a definitive line. From the time I was tiny, I have always been drawn to animals. It’s just something that was a natural gift and ability that I’ve had.
The first actual rescue was really through you, and through Marlene from Animal Ark, and that was about nine years ago when I took in Elvis, the Cocker Spaniel, who now is on the website as a foster dog. I took him in as a foster. We didn’t know his history. He obviously had some behavioral issues, and we felt after meeting and discussing his behaviors that he’s probably been abused and mishandled. He’s now known as Buddy. He had to drag a 6-foot leash around my home for about 30 days upon his initial arrival, and I called him Buddy because I didn’t want to call him Elvis.
We tried to establish a new relationship, but once I learned how to handle him and understood what his scars and his issues were really about, I just didn’t feel comfortable sending him off to another family, knowing he had a history of some behavioral inappropriateness and outbursts, and some anger issues. When I learned how to handle him, I just felt he was safer to stay with me.
I was in the process of purchasing a small farm in the north metro, and I just felt if I could get him to the farm and get him out and he had a yard to run in and a safe place to heal his damaged little soul, that would be his best opportunity to have a good life.
MF: It’s interesting that you say safe for him, but if people understood Elvis’ issues, there was a safety issue on the other side of that equation, too, and you found a series of creative ways to bridge that gap so that you stayed safe and Elvis stayed safe. I’m curious, what was that challenge or struggle like for you? Were you ever afraid for yourself with Elvis/Buddy?
LS: Yes. To be perfectly honest, of course. When I got the call from Marlene to see if I would take him in on a foster basis, she called me because she knew I had experience with Cocker Spaniels. The difference was is that I’d been very blessed in having two little female Cocker Spaniels prior to getting Elvis, now Buddy, and they were well socialized, well behaved. They went everywhere with me. They weren’t used to being around kids, but they were good with kids. They were just good with everyone.
I had never dealt with any animals that had behavioral issues before, so it was really a learn as you go process with him. I learned right and wrong in the beginning, and yes, there were times when I was concerned, but I learned to read him and watch his behavior, watch his eyes, watch his lips, watch his mouth, watch his body language. He would give me signs if something was too much, that he was uncomfortable, that this was scary. In any of those situations, whatever the circumstance was that made him uncomfortable, if I just watched him, he gave me the warnings that I needed, and that’s what other people prior to him coming to me had missed. Either they pushed past it, they weren’t forgiving of it, or they just simply didn’t pay attention to the signs.
From that point forward, once I learned how to work with him, I knew that we could have a relationship, and if he failed, it was my fault, because I knew that he would present the signs. I just had to make sure that I kept an eye on him and didn’t set him up into a position where he could fail. He’s done very well ever since, and now he’s 11 years old.
MF: That’s such a big thing that you just said. You were taking responsibility for this dog who might bite you, but if he does, you’re saying it would be your fault. I think that’s a big step. I’m curious, how do you get to that place? Most people would say, “This dog bites; it should be put down.”
LS: Again, Mike, I wish I had a clear-cut easy answer, and I just simply don’t. It was just simply such a learning process for me, and putting myself in his position. He wasn’t an aggressive dog. He wasn’t an, “I’m going to attack whoever I see,” kind of a dog. I had him evaluated by several veterinarians. I had him evaluated by professional dog handlers and dog trainers. Every single person came back with the same thing – he was fearful. His issues were based out of fear – mishandling and fear. How can I punish him for being fearful and be angry with him, and hurt him further because he’s fearful?
MF: That’s a great place to take a break. I believe because you made that step that he’s brought more to your life than most people might guess. We’ll find out more about that and rescue dogs that are in that situation when we come back.
MF: On the line we’re speaking with Laura Syring, who runs a sanctuary for horses, dogs, and cats. She’s been working with Animal Ark for many years. She’s a police officer.
BN: When you say that though, Mike, it’s only recently that Animal Ark and Laura have worked together to develop a more formal relationship. This is what I would say is the announcement part of this. Even though Laura’s been working with us since Buddy, as she was telling us in the first segment, came into her world and rocked it, she’s been gradually moving into this space where we might ask, what is this sanctuary, what is this idea that started with Buddy?
MF: I would say even more than that in a way. Over the years, I would say Laura has provided more help and support for Animal Ark, and now we’re looking to see if we can find ways to support her back, because she’s been an unspoken resource in the community. I think part of that is directly due to her work at the police department. When she gets involved in animal cases, the one thing I know about her is she just tends to not let go of those animal cases. She doesn’t just haul the animals over to animal control; she likes to make sure that the animals actually end up someplace good.
Maybe that’s a good way for us to transition from this experience, Laura, that you had with Elvis (Buddy) into how you ended up thinking about helping more animals and your work at the police department, and if there’s any connection or correlation between those two.
LS: Yes, Mike, that’s really true. My relationship with Animal Ark goes back well over 20 years. I’ve been a police officer now for 16 years, 14 of which have been within the city of St. Paul. It’s an urban setting, and I come across many animal cases throughout my career, and although animal control is not my primary job, there is an actual unit of animal control that provides services for the city. I have been in situations and on calls and/or to circumstances where I’ve come across animals that have needed help, and although I know I can't go out and save each and every individual animal that’s in bad circumstances, I’ve just taken it as though when an animal comes into my space for whatever reason, I feel obligated to see it through to do the best I can for that animal.
I wish I could save them all; unfortunately, I know I can't. When one comes across my radar screen for whatever reason, I will do everything that I can to make sure that that animal gets help, and that includes some investigation work and followup, and maybe I’m looking for ways to find long-term homes and adoption and long-term care for these animals, and that’s where the Ark has come in. I’ve made some very desperate calls to the Ark at the last minute where we had animals that just didn’t have another place to go, and they would have otherwise been euthanized. Animal Ark saved the day and saved animals, and we’ve gotten several homes that way. It’s been a good thing.
MF: I think that’s by and large the role that Animal Ark likes to play. We have a rescue community that’s full. We’ve got a lot of rescue groups and shelters in our area, and we like to make sure that in some ways we’re like the shelter of last resort, that if we’re taking an animal in, by doing that we’re actually saving its life. I think sometimes taking some of the most extreme cases that you talk about, I feel like we really ensure that we are fulfilling that role. If an animal ends up at animal control and other rescue groups want it, if it’s marked for us, we say, “Sure, fine, take it, please.” If it has another place to go, it doesn’t need to come to us.
BN: Laura, I’m curious – going back to the story of Buddy, as you started to wrestle a little bit with the idea of, “I don’t have the capacity to be the person that saves all of them, and yet I have now this space, this small farm where I do have some capacity,” talk a little bit about how things started to grow and expand.
LS: Again, it’s really not dissimilar to my policing experience with animals. I have never gone out and sought to specifically rescue animals. These animals have come to me and come across my path in every type of story, every circumstance that you can possibly imagine. As they came into my life, I felt at that point that I was obligated to do what I could to help. That’s really how things got started. It was just taking in more or less one sad story at a time, and before I knew it I was a one-person rescue operation with about 50 or 55 animals, just doing the best I could taking care of everyone and getting them everything that they needed.
We have stories here, everything from animals that have been dumped, abandoned, neglected, abused, and then also we have a few stories of animals that simply their owners just couldn’t take care of them any longer, and they just needed a place to go.
MF: I’m curious, and this is kind of changing topics a little bit, but one of the things that I am just stunned by whenever I have been to your place to hang out or meet your animals, many of them have challenging histories – a dangerous dog potentially (you don’t like to use those words because I think they’re sometimes misleading) – or I think you’ve got a horse or two that maybe had a troubled history, but when I interact with them by and large, they’re just these impeccably well-behaved animals who are sweet and nice and kind, and are very well cared for and very well trained. How does somebody with such limited resources and a full-time job keep that all going?
LS: The animals that have their individual issues and hurtful histories, they’re really not dissimilar from people. What we want as people is we each want as an individual to be understood, and we want to be appreciated for who and what we are. If we as people can open up our minds to animals in the same way and treat them how we would like to be treated, that’s all they’re asking.
For the animals that have had these difficult histories, if you really just open yourself up and pay attention to what they’re telling you through their body language, through their eyes, through their behaviors, and you just work with them on a gentle, trusting, safe basis, what they give back is a hundredfold more than what I could ever give them.
They just want to be understood and handled appropriately. It’s really not that difficult to do, but unfortunately like you said earlier in the broadcast, Mike, some people, if there’s an animal that has an issue, they want to force the issue out of the animal rather than try to understand why the issue is there.
BN: I think that’s super admirable, but it does raise a question in my mind, and that is that there are times when at Animal Ark we’ve even had to make the really tough choice to put an animal down, and some people might think that this sanctuary should be then the place for every animal. I’m guessing that in discussions as you guys were dreaming what this partnership would be like and knowing your staffing limitations and some of the other parameters that exist in this space, that not every animal would be successful in this environment. Is that fair to say?
LS: It’s absolutely fair to say. For an animal that is simply too dangerous to handle and is certainly aggressive or it has some type of a debilitating issue where its health is completely compromised and it has what I would say is a poor quality of life, then I think there are times where it’s certainly appropriate to do what needs to be done. I think that would ultimately give the animal the peace that it needs, rather than allowing it to continue to fail.
MF: You talk about how the animals give back to you, and when I spend time with you, Laura, I think I see a spark and a fire in you that is rare. I’ll just say that. I’m curious if you can articulate what the animals at the sanctuary have given or brought to your life?
LS: That’s interesting that you say that. The name of our farm is Rescued H.E.A.R.T.S. Farm. H.E.A.R.T.S. stands for Helping Each Animal Restore Their Spirit. What I’ve learned as I’ve taken animals in over the years is again, as we discussed, is really evaluating them and just watching them and trying to figure out what makes them tick, where their scars are, their strengths and weaknesses, their past hurts, and then working with that, trying to nurture that.
They’ve also done that for me through the years. There has been a period of time where I lost both my parents in a very short time period. Several of my family members had some personal life issues that had gone on. Taking care of these animals and giving back to them, and then seeing them respond to me was such a reciprocal relationship.
I’ve had people tell me that this a wonderful place and that it’s great work that I do taking care of the animals. I simply respond back, “But they’ve given me so much. They’ve given me more in return. I owe them because of what they’ve given me.” Again, I think it boils down to dealing with the animals at a deeper, more spiritual level.
MF: I’m curious, going forward, part of Animal Ark’s goal in setting up this relationship is to find ways to support your efforts. What are some of the things that people in the community can do to help support?
LS: Probably the main thing, Mike, is certainly financial donations. As the years have gone on, in the last probably nine years, horse feed has doubled, hay has nearly doubled in price. We certainly know that dog and cat food becomes increasingly expensive.
There are opportunities to volunteer and come out and spend time with the animals, spend time with the dogs, the cats, the horses, but certainly financial donations would certainly help, especially with the horses. They are extremely expensive to maintain with their vet work, their ferrier expenses, feed, and things like that.
For people that can't donate monetarily, they’re always welcome to come and just spend some time here as well. This farm and spending time with the animals is an opportunity for us to give back to the community as well, rather than just standing and asking for donations or asking for any help. We want to be able to give back.
MF: I was there very recently on a Saturday, and the thing that I was just absolutely blown away by is how much the horses appreciate the time people spend with them. They clearly really love it. That’s just a great thing. Again, Laura, thanks so much for your work. Thank you for being part of Animal Ark’s story, and thanks for coming on the show. You did a great job.