The angels will smile

When Juno, the beagle rescued from a bankrupt research lab, fixes her soft, brown eyes on the Newtown school children and wags her tail, a circle of compassion will be completed that will likely make the youngsters’ guardian angels choke up a bit.

Juno has a story of her own with a happy ending, but it could easily have turned out as sadly as those of the thousands of lab beagles who preceded her as a result of the soft economy. Juno would have been unceremoniously dispatched with a needle and stuffed into a garbage bag were it not for the vigilance of the animal welfare community.

But Juno and her companions had a different fate in store for them.

They were nicknamed the “Freegles” — 120 laboratory beagles who were sprung from the New Jersey research lab AniClim when the owners shut down operations, leaving 100 people out of work and 120+ beagles unattended. Best Friends Animal Society stepped in and claimed 90 of the dogs* and took them to the Pets Alive Sanctuary in New York, where we partnered with that organization in transitioning the dogs to loving homes. It all happened over the 2010 July Fourth holiday, and fittingly the first arrival at Pets Alive was named Liberty. The Great Beagle Escape was the feel-good story of the summer, but it didn’t end there.

One of the Freegles, Juno, was adopted by Kate Aubry, and as often happens with rescued pets, she transformed her benefactor’s life in a way that poses the inevitable “who rescued who” question. Juno is a joy, with a characteristically sweet beagle face and buoyant personality that betrays not a hint of her several years of incarceration in a lab cage. As a result of Juno’s charisma and Kate’s very positive experience with the Best Friends New York programs staff, Kate has become a passionate advocate for the animals and a super volunteer for Best Friends. Most recently, Kate was to be found trucking loads of donated supplies into Manhattan for Best Friends' Hurricane Sandy relief effort. Last October, Kate and another transformed Freegle mom drove to Las Vegas for the No More Homeless Pets National Conference. Many of us at Best Friends have met Kate and Juno on several occasions and can attest to the compellingly positive personalities possessed by both.

Appropriately, Juno is now a therapy dog and yesterday was invited to bring her gentle exuberance to the aid of the children of Newtown, Connecticut, who are still coming to terms with the tragedy that took the lives of their friends and family members just before Christmas.

Juno will absolutely lift spirits and warm hearts. The fact that she was rescued from a research facility, and a sad death that normally awaits lab animals when they have outlived their usefulness, will probably not be a part of the conversation, but for animal lovers her story is an inseparable part of the joy and the positive effects she creates on everyone she meets.

The truth is that, right now, there are tens of thousands of pets in cages waiting for the opportunity to transform someone’s life or bring joy and a smile to a child’s face. They are waiting for someone to turn the key to their cage door and take them home. They are waiting at a shelter or rescue right now and right in your own community, and whether they are a cat or a dog, a beagle or a mutt of undeterminable ancestry, they will know that you freed them and will confer as much love and gratitude upon you as you are ever likely to receive.

* The other 30 dogs went to St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey.

Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
Best Friends Animal Society