By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury PostWhen you step onto Harry and Terri Welch’s property , you’ll likely be greeted by an enthusiastic waggle of dogs, from teeny Fudge, a 5-pound chihuahua, to massive Thoró a 160-pound Anatolian Shepherd.
If you walk around the groundsó with its large air-conditioned kennel and open fields perfect for chasing tennis balls ó you might wonder if you’ve landed in dog heaven.
Maybe haven is a better word ó and in fact, that’s where you are. Welch Haven is a safe, comfortable place for dogs who aren’t ready to go to heaven just yet ó but who’d probably already be there if not for the efforts of Harry and Terri.
There’s quite an assortment of canines here, from Jazz ó who’s been shot three times ó to Zena, a Staffordshire bull terrier who, Harry says, has just two gears: idle and fifth.
There’s Bear, whose owner died of cancer and who was left without anyone who wanted him.
The dogs come from all over ó Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas.
The Welches learn about most of their rescue dogs from Petfinders.com, the Web site that most animal control and rescue groups use as a clearinghouse, Harry says.
In all, Harry and Terri have 27 dogs. That’s reasonable, if you know Harry and Terri, who are not halfway sort of folks. If they’re doing something, they’re probably doing it big. Years ago, when they lived in Durham, the Welches kept a pair of tigers for 15 years. Yes, tigers. (The tigers are now stuffed and have a place of honor in the Welches’ home.)
Their habit of rescuing dogs began when they lived in Durham back in the 1980s. Once, Terri says, after returning from vacation, they found a strange dog in their back yard. He was accompanied by a note on a bag of dog food expressing confidence that the Welches would give him a good home.
After that, they began to take in all types of dogs Irish wolfhounds, Weimaraners, Airedales, Dalmatians, whippets, Labradors and a mastiff.
Eventually, the Welches moved back to Harry’s native Rowan County, buying a home in Hidden Hut subdivision.
They brought all their “remnant” dogs and soon acquired more, including a deaf and blind Great Dane they named Powder.
“I just couldn’t bear to see that sweet puppy put down,” Terri says.
Powder ó named after the TV movie about an exceptional child ó managed wonderfully, with the help of two other rescued Great Danes, who helped guide her around the yard.
Another exceptional animal the Welches saved was an Irish wolfhound with an amputated front leg. Although they’d been told by a veterinarian that the dog probably wouldn’t survive, much less hold up its weight, Harry and Terri weren’t about to give up on her.
She walked within a week, was able to run within a month and lived a normal life, Terri says, continuing to hunt, run and play.
“Dogs can overcome extreme obstacles as long as they have their master’s love and devotion,” Terri says.
After about 15 years of living in Hidden Hut, Harry wanted to get back in the country. When his parents decided to downsize, Harry and Terry moved to the Welch homestead ó their current home ó in western Rowan County.
Then came Hurricane Katrina, and the Welches got caught up in the aftermath when they became aware that many dogs had been left behind, homeless, or had been separated from their owners.
Harry rescued two Anatolian shepherds from a 10-day kill shelter, and things snowballed from there.
Most of the animals they’ve rescued will stay with the Welches, but seven they consider foster animals that will eventually, they hope, find “forever homes.”
Not only do the Welches rescue animals themselves but they help deliver pets across the nation through a network of volunteers who pick up and deliver animals.
To accommodate their animals, Harry and Terri designed and built a kennel, which was completed several months ago. Dogs play outside with one another, and when they want to get inside where it’s cooler ó the kennel is air conditioned ó they simply pop in through doggy doors.
Caring for the dogs takes up most of the couple’s free time. They get up about 6 a.m. and spend about an hour and a half feeding. After work ó Harry writes and produces movies, and Terri works for Congressman Howard Coble ó it’s time to feed and exercise the dogs.
Before they know it, Harry says, it’s 10 p.m. and they’re wondering where the day went.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
For the Welches, rescuing animals is simply part of their life.
“It’s just a passion of ours to offer rescue to these animals that cannot help themselves and are helpless due to circumstances beyond their control,” Terri says. “We feel pets are a life-long commitment and a responsibility not to be entered into lightly or impulsively.”
Although Terri says that she and Harry love what they do, they wish that pet owners would be responsible about spaying and neutering their pets so that there wouldn’t be such a problem with unwanted animals.
They’re glad that Faithful Friends has plans to build a no-kill shelter locally.
“Our shelters are so overwhelmed that they cannot keep animals as long as may be needed to find new homes and are forced to euthanize,” Terri says.
The Welches are grateful to many folks who helped them out in building their kennel and to the “heroic efforts and cooperation” of their friends at Rowan Animal Hospital.
They are currently applying for 501c3 non-profit status so they can receive donations in hopes of offsetting some of the expenses for food and medical care for the dogs.
Expenditures for food run a minimum of $150 a week on dry dog food alone, Terri says, and veterinarian expenses ó which may include spay/neutering, heart worm and flea preventatives, rabies and other inoculations, treatment for kennel cough, ear mites, mange, etc. ó run much more.
The Welches never know when they’ll get a call. Recently, they heard from someone who’d rescued a small Dachshund mix ó apparently lost or abandoned ó found weaving in and out of traffic.
“We took her in that evening since we had a kennel, knowing it would be an emergent placement and we are hoping to find her family,” Terri says.
The Welches prefer to do short-term fostering for animals in extreme jeopardy, but that depends on the space they have.
She wants to make it clear that they are not a boarding facility and can’t take every dog.
“We have had to turn down offers to take in pets that are in private ownership simply because they are not in jeopardy,” Terri says.
“We play a small part in a big problem,” she continues, “but at least these dogs are given a chance at life.”
If you’re interested in one of the Welches’ adoptable dogs, call 704-630-0942.
nnnContact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@ salisburypost. com.
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