Get to know Natalie Freshour & Hot Mess Pooches
By Nicole Simone
Photo credit: Chase Warren
Natalie Freshour (Hot Mess Pooches) is a very dedicated lady. A dog behaviorist by trade, she spends a lot of her time helping the dogs of Houston. She specializes in black-and-white dogs — not because of their looks but because many black-and-white breeds like Dalmatians and Great Danes suffer from vision and hearing impairments.
Natalie gets sent dogs from all over the state and sometimes beyond. Fostering special needs dogs is one thing, but trying to find them homes in a city where 80,000 to 100,000 dogs and cats are euthanized per year is a challenge unlike any other. Somehow Natalie gets it done and keeps going. We caught up with Natalie near Houston and talked to her about what it’s like to run a special needs canine rescue.
How did Hot Mess pooches start?
A little over six years ago I agreed to foster my first deaf Dalmatian, Selena. I had been involved in rescue since I was in high school, and had gone to school for dog behavior, so I was confident that I would be able to handle a deaf dog. She turned out to be one of the best dogs I’ve ever had, but she was overlooked because she was different. I decided to adopt Selena and started to seek out deaf Dalmatians, then eventually deaf Great Danes. I had been working with other rescue groups and had been saving dogs independently until Fall of 2014, when I decided to pursue my dream of having a rescue and sanctuary for special needs dogs.
What type of breeds do you work with?
Hot Mess Pooches is mostly special needs Dalmatians and Great Danes, but we also have a deaf Lab, a deaf Dogo Argentino, and a blind Lab mix. Occasionally a non-special needs dog will sneak in; typically these are dogs who have been found living on the streets of Houston.
What is your adoption rate?
We typically have 2-3 adoptions per month. Since most of the dogs with Hot Mess are special needs, we take extra time and care in placing our adoptable dogs in appropriate homes. We also have permanent residents — dogs who will live out their lives with the Hot Mess Pack.
What are some of the struggles doing dog rescue in and around Houston?
Unfortunately, Houston has a problem. A huge problem. It is estimated that our public shelters euthanize roughly 80,000-100,000 dogs and cats every year, and we have a huge stray dog problem. There are always dogs in need, and never enough homes, fosters, and donations to save them all.
Tell us about the most populated place for homeless dogs in Houston?
You can see stray, abandoned, and loose dogs just about anywhere in Houston, but our worst areas are just outside of downtown in places like Houston’s Fifth Ward, East End, and an area dubbed “The Corridor of Cruelty.” These dogs are often flea-ridden, and suffering from mange and other health issues. The problem has gotten so bad that there are groups of volunteers who go out daily to feed the stray dog population. Even the city and county animal controls aren’t able to keep up with the problem, and about 77% of calls to them are left unanswered.
What are some things people should know about adopting a deaf/blind dog?
Special needs dogs are just like any other dog, they need training and socialization. Deaf dogs can easily be taught sign language, blind dogs can be taught to respond to verbal cues, dogs who are deaf and blind are taught to respond to touch. I do full behavior assessments on every dog who comes into rescue, so I can give each adopter tools to make their adoption successful. But, the biggest thing I stress to every adopter, is every dog, special needs or not, needs training, socialization, and adequate exercise!
What are issues you face on a day-to-day basis running a rescue?
Lack of funding is the biggest issue. There will always be a surplus of dogs who need our help, but vetting, food, flea/tick/heartworm prevention get to be really expensive. A lack of education is also a huge issue. If more people would spay and neuter their dogs, we wouldn’t have a problem this big.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about handicapped dogs?
They are happy! Often times people feel bad for dogs who are different, but most of the time, the dogs have no idea or they just don’t care! They act just like “normal” dogs! I often tell people we should be more like dogs; they don’t stress over what they can’t control, and they just enjoy life!
Who have been some of your most memorable rescues?
Last spring I drove from Houston to Ohio to pick up four special needs Great Dane puppies who came from West Virginia. One pup was deaf, one was blind, one was deaf and blind, and the only boy had megaesophagus. A 20 hour drive, and a night in a hotel with four 10 week-old puppies was something I won’t forget any time soon! The vet they had seen in West Virginia recommended euthanasia, but I was determined to give them a shot at a normal life, and they are now all happy and well-loved in amazing homes of their own!
What are ways people can help your cause?
Adopt! There are several special needs dogs currently in the program who would love a home of their own! If you can’t adopt, donate! We have a fundraiser and Amazon Wish list posted on our Facebook page: Hot Mess Pooches Rescue and Sanctuary. If you can’t adopt or donate, share and educate! Everyone can do something!