Even though her ears are no longer able to perk up when she listens and her back is scarred where second and third degree burns scorched her body, Susie is still a tail-wagging happy canine. If it wasn’t for the physical signs left behind, one might never know she had been abused and left for dead.
But she was, and fourth graders at Kernersville Elementary School (KES) heard Susie’s story on Wednesday, June 11 as they wrapped up a six-week program about pet responsibility. They even got to meet the famous pooch.
Susie and her fellow doggy companion, Babygirl, were at KES with their owner, Donna Lawrence, and others from Susie’s Hope, a non-profit organization founded in honor of its namesake to foster awareness of the animal abuse that exists in society and to provide education about the issue to people of all ages.
Both Lawrence and Susie have stories forged in terror. Five years ago, Lawrence was attacked by a dog and almost killed, creating in her a fear of dogs that she might never have recovered from had it not been for Susie.
A little less than a year after Lawrence’s attack, Susie was found nearly dead in Greenfield Park in Greensboro in August 2009. She was only eight-weeks old and had been beaten, set on fire and left for dead, Lawrence explained to the group of students.
When one of the children asked if they ever caught the person who abused Susie, now a certified therapy dog, Lawrence said they did, but because North Carolina’s laws were so old, they didn’t adequately punish people for animal abuse. Her abuser was charged only with a misdemeanor and let go.
It didn’t matter that Susie had second and third degree burns over 60 percent of her body. She had been beaten so severely that her teeth had been knocked out and her jaw broken. She was only eight-weeks old and it was learned that her owner became angry when Susie licked his newborn baby.
“She was a mess when she was found,” said Lawrence.
Because of the risk of infection to her injuries, Susie was placed in foster care and required daily treatment for the next three months. The Guilford County Animal Shelter set up Susie’s Fund to help pay for her care.
The people who saw Susie knew she had to be saved because despite everything – that included 10 days suffering in the park before anyone found her – Susie had a will to live, said Lawrence.
“She had a strong will to live. She was a born leader,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence said she was terrified of dogs after being attacked, but when she met Susie, something special happened.
“She brought healing to me,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence and Susie became advocates for changing the punishment in N.C. for first-time offenders who commit animal abuse. Together they lobbied the General Assembly and met with Gov. Beverly Perdue. When Perdue signed the stricter legislation into law, she asked that Susie’s paw print be there with her own signature.
“It passed unanimously and Susie’s paw print is on the bill,” said Lawrence. “It was a big deal. This dog brought big change in North Carolina. It used to be that it was a slap on the wrist to abuse an animal, but because of Susie, they go to jail.”
Since then, Lawrence and Susie have traveled near and far to get their message across. Susie has also starred in her own movie, “Susie’s Hope,” and Lawrence has written two children’s books about Susie and she even has a couple stuffed animals made in her likeness.
Lawrence, Susie and Babygirl visited KES as part of the Guilford County Pet Responsibility Program, an educational program based on a similar one developed in Moore County, N.C. The program is taught entirely by volunteers, and includes a total of six lessons for fourth grade students. During the lessons, students learn about the basic needs of animals (nutritious food, fresh water, warm and dry shelter, exercise), the importance of having pets spayed or neutered to prevent pet overpopulation, how to keep their pets safe and healthy, and how to safely handle encounters with unknown animals.
According to the organization’s website, students discover they can be advocates for animals by sharing the information they learn about responsible pet care with their friends and family, so their communities can be a safer place for people and animals. Guest speakers (including animal control officers) and visits from insured therapy dogs and their owners enhance the learning experience.
Following Wednesday’s presentation at KES, students and teachers visited with Lawrence, Susie and Babygirl and had their pictures taken showing their support for a contest Susie is competing in that requires voting support from the community.
Susie is trying to move on to the second round in the Hero Dog Award competition sponsored by the American Humane Society. Lawrence said Susie was among the top 24 semi-finalists, but she hopes that with enough votes, Susie can move on to the top eight, each of which will be invited to California to walk the red carpet at the awards ceremony. Voters and a panel of judges will decide the final winner.
“Ask people to vote for Susie,” Lawrence encouraged the students.
To find out about how to vote in the Hero Dog Awards, visit www.herodogawards.org/.