By Sandra Sarr, LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, La Veterinaire magazine
(Editors Note: Many residents in Natchitoches might remember Cardi, a former resident at the Natchitoches Humane Society (NHS) shelter. Her success story is republished in the Natchitoches Times, courtesy of Sandra Sarr and the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, originally featured in the 2020 edition of La Veterinaire. Certain paragraphs have been cut from the original due to lengthiness.)
This is a story about a dog desperate for a home, an inmate-caretaker who believed in her, and friends and strangers who bonded around their common cause and wouldn’t give up.
In April 2020, LSU SVM donor Connie Frank Soong received a call for assistance from high school friend, Melissa Cloutier, of Natchitoches, about a dog named Cardi found in their hometown wandering, emaciated, burned, tail mutilated. It was June 2018, and she was just one year old.
“Cardi had endured the most unimaginable abuse at the hands of humans. She was physically and mentally broken. She healed. Still, nobody wanted her. It broke my heart,” Soong said.
Soong had already demonstrated tremendous generosity and compassion for animals with a $2 million estate gift, which established the Connie Soong Good Samaritan Fund at the LSU SVM. An alumna of the LSU E. J. Ourso College of Business, she had personally experienced the effectiveness of the LSU SVM, bringing her family pets for treatment.
Cardi loved people, but she had shown aggression towards other dogs, likely because she had to fight to survive.
Paige Brewton found Cardi dragging a broken chain around her neck. She named her after Cardi B., a singer who’d overcome hardships and made a strong comeback. Paige kept her for several months while her burns partially healed, and eventually asked Juanita Murphy, president of the Natchitoches Humane Society (NHS), if she could take her in. After consulting local authorities for help in finding the abusers, Murphy agreed to take Cardi and placed her at Happy Tails, the small, outdoor shelter the NHS had established within the Natchitoches Parish Detention Center.
“We had her spayed, got her up to date on vaccines, rabies, microchipped, treated her heartworms. We had been trying to get her adopted ever since. Cardi had been living in an outdoor shelter, alone for 16 hours a day,” said Murphy, who Soong credits with mentoring her in rescue work.
Cardi had two short-term fosters, including a month-long stay with Robert and Karn Richoux, but consistent efforts to find her a home fell through again and again. Jeff, an inmate at the Detention Center, where the NHS built 12 outdoor kennels and a treatment room “staffed” by inmates, noticed Cardi was starting to shut down in that setting, despite the progress he’d helped her make.
“Even at the few adoption events we were able to take her to, we had to be so careful because of her dog aggression. It was a challenge. She always loved the people’s attention and made lots of friends, but nothing serious ever happened for her,” Murphy said.
Concerned, inmate-caretaker, Jeff, wrote a two-page letter on Cardi’s behalf and gave it to Murphy. “Cardi was just existing. Jeff asked me to do more for her, the start of Cardi’s Warriors,” Murphy said.
Jeff worked daily to socialize and train her over the nearly two years she lived at Happy Tails in the Detention Center.
Jeff wrote, “Today, Cardi is house-trained, great on a leash, loves her chew toys, and enjoys playing fetch. We are talking about a terrific little dog who absolutely loves people and lives to please, despite the torture she suffered at the hands of humans. There is one drawback with Cardi. She is not dog or cat friendly and is better suited for a single-pet household. Please help us accomplish the mission and find the ideal match for Cardi so she can brighten up someone’s life with her love.”
Murphy shared Jeff’s letter with Cloutier, who had fostered dogs for Murphy and the NHS. “It was a call to action for me,” Cloutier said. That’s when she decided to reach out to her former schoolmate, Soong.
Despite sustained and vigorous efforts to find Cardi a home, prospects were looking bleak.
“I could hear the weariness in their voices, and I’d say, ‘We can’t give up,’” said Soong.
“Giving that gift to the LSU SVM for homeless and injured animals was important, but it was never enough to fulfill my passion to help animals in need,” she said.
Soong set out to do what she once thought was impossible for her. She was ready to spring into action when the call came about Cardi.
The following day, Soong phoned Murphy. “With Juanita’s guidance, I began mega-networking to find either a foster or a permanent home for Cardi,” said Soong.
Soong began networking, making calls, writing letters, answering Facebook posts, and generally expanding awareness of Cardi in search of a perfect match. She uncovered three promising leads, but each one fell through because Cardi would need to be the only pet in a new home.
“This was a huge obstacle for us. We were running out of options,” Soong said.
A return to the Detention Center’s shelter seemed imminent— and unacceptable to Soong.
“Cardi was so frightened by rain, thunder, and lightning at the Happy Tails outdoor shelter. She would not come out of her igloo the next day. We stressed out every time there was a storm to the point where we lost sleep at night worrying about Cardi suffering,” Soong said.
Through a national network of animal rescuers, Murphy connected with Jean Hruschak of Ohio. Jean and Holly Smith of Metairie championed Cardi with outreach communications, including high- engagement social media posts. Jean said, “We will get her to Ohio before we’ll let her go back to that shelter. I will foster her until we find her a home.”
Jean arranged for Cardi’s emergency transport from Natchitoches to Ohio. Cloutier drove Cardi the first two legs of the trip, starting in her hometown to Mississippi.
Cloutier spoke to Cardi as they crossed the Louisiana-Mississippi state line. “I told her, ‘I want you to know that we are leaving the place where people did horrible things to you, and for every minute of abuse you suffered, there were also warriors there fighting for you,’” Melissa said.
“While current events were troubling and the world felt like it was falling apart, Cardi brought us together to save her. She gave us purpose,” Cloutier said.
Even as Cardi was en route to Jean in Ohio, an adopter of another one of Murphy’s shelter dogs reached out to say someone she knew was interested in adopting a dog, and that Cardi could be the one. Holly had arranged for Animal Rescue of New Orleans (ARNO) to post Cardi’s story and pictures on their social media. Murphy assigned Connie networking tasks on Cardi’s page on ARNO’s rescue site. It was a former ARNO adopter who told Murphy that Kim Baker on Martha’s Vineyard was interested in Cardi. Kim called Juanita the next morning. She wanted to meet Cardi. Once Murphy knew Baker was serious about adopting Cardi, she shared the news with the rest of Cardi’s team. They held their breath that this time, Cardi would find her home. After only days in Ohio, where she got further medical and dental treatment, Cardi was off on a two-day trip with Jean and Cardi supporter, Linda Skonieczny, from Ohio to Martha’s Vineyard.
“I got off the ferry to meet them, and Cardi came right to me and wrapped her paws around my neck. It was like she knew. It feels so good to have her in my life. She’s like a celebrity here,” said Baker, who had looked at hundreds of dog pictures seeking her perfect match, and when she looked into Cardi’s eyes, she knew she needed to look no further.
Baker, a cook at a charter school, serves Cardi daily homemade meals of beef, turkey, chicken, vegetables, rice and beans simmered in a crockpot.
“We have a steady routine. I run her, get her focused for training, go on walks, let her sniff to her heart’s content. I introduced her to boating, the ocean, the horse barn. She’s figuring out this is her forever home. She’s been here for five months. We celebrate every 17th of the month, the day of the month she arrived. We have a pretty tight bond,” said Baker.
Jeff’s words were prophetic. Cardi’s Warriors did “find the ideal match for Cardi so she can brighten up someone’s life with her love.”
Adopter Kim Baker says Cardi has given her a purpose, and she credits Cardi’s Warriors for finding the dog she knows was meant for her.
“It’s satisfying when I’m able to help change the course of a dog’s life,” said Soong, who is now working to re-home the seventh dog she’s helped since starting with Cardi.