Humane Society Honors Young Animal Advocates

October 2, 2012 | By Margo Ann Sullivan

Awards will celebrate children who helped injured dogs.

Three children who made it their mission to help injured dogs will be recognized at a humane society's upcoming award celebration.

"We love the stories of the children who step up for an animal," said Candy Lash, community and media relations director for the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society. Lash said Sarah, Chloe, and Zachary Otterbeck, of Huntington, Mass., will receive the Dakin Youth Award.

The children "didn't hesitate to help," Lash said "two abandoned, emaciated, and horribly matted dogs," that apparently had been abandoned near their home. "The children secured grooming and veterinary care for the dogs and began a fundraising campaign in their community for animal control to help these and other animals in the future," she said.

Sarah, 15, Chloe, 12 and Zachary, 9, will share the spotlight Oct. 19 with several other honorees, including the two Animal Heroes--Lilly, the Shirley, Mass. pit bull that stepped in front of a freight train on May 3 to save her best friend, and Seeger, a Springfield, Mass. guide dog that led his owner to safety during the June 1, 2011 Central Massachusetts tornado, Lash said.

The children's mother, Martha Otterbeck, said the youngsters are pleased but a little baffled about their award. They still don't think they did anything heroic when they took up the dogs' cause the night Beck and Otter, the two Goldendoodles, staggered up a country road in front of the family's house.

"I was more shell shocked than scared," Sarah said when she saw the two enormous matted animals. "They were really furry and dirty."

Otterbeck said she did not allow the children to go too close to the dogs, but her husband went out with Sarah and Zach. (Chloe was at a friend's house until later that evening.) They used kibble to "coax" the dogs into the backyard and away from the cars, she said.

It was slow going, Sarah said.

Sarah said Otter and Beck could barely see through the mats over their eyes; Beck was trying to use scent to follow Otter.

"He was very carefully walking," she said, but finally the dogs were safe in an outdoor kennel. They spent the night under a willow tree. Otterbeck's husband put blankets down for them and gave them food and water. It was Jan. 30, and it was cold.

"They were wandering around in the kennel like they would do in the woods," Chloe said.

"They never barked; they never cried," Otterbeck said. "We didn't know what to do," except to call the animal control officer, who came the next day and took the animals to Cedar Hill Kennels, where the owner Terry Andrews bathed them, groomed them and boarded them.

That first night, the children thought the dogs were lost and started a social media campaign to find their owners. They posted their story on Facebook and on Craig's List, and they made posters to display at their schools the next day. Zach is in elementary school; Chloe is in middle school, and Sarah is in high school. They asked their school principals to make an announcement over the public address system, too.

Eventually, Otterbeck said, everyone realized the dogs were not lost but had been abandoned. When the Otterbeck children realized someone had dropped these dogs on the road and would not be coming back, they raised money to pay for veterinary bills and kennel expenses. The children put donation boxes out at the local market and at the pet supply store; they set up a table near the Blanford Ski Area and collected $200 in one day there. Once they realized the need, they started a community fund to take care of other pets in distress, Otterbeck said.

The children also went to the kennel every day after school to walk the dogs, Otterbeck said. They also watched when Andrews started to groom the two "big brown messy dogs;" they cried when Otter and Beck turned out to be little, skinny dogs, Chloe said.

"There was not really a dry eye," she said.

And then the children started working on their mother to adopt one of the dogs.

Otterbeck put her foot down. The family already has a dog, a golden retriever named Lucy, Otterbeck said.

No more dogs, she said. But when Otter was adopted, Chloe insisted Beck had to come home with them and their father agreed. The dog, who is now Lucy's best friend, came home March 23 on Zach's birthday.

Zach said Beck was waiting in the house when he came home from school.

As for Otter, Chloe said, the whole family also keeps in touch with his new family in Maine, and they share pictures. Otter and Beck still look identical, she said.

"I think Otter and Beck are happy they found us," she said.

Lash said the Dakin will also honor Mary Ann Coffrin, whose philanthropy financed dog training programs at the Dakin; Sergeant Roy Sutton and Officer Christine Allenberg, of the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law Enforcement Department, and Doris Holden, a humane society volunteer for 28 years, Lash said. Five Star Building Corp. is sponsoring the event with Baystate Health, Berkshire Bank, Bertera Subaru, N.F. Creed Communications, S. Reichelt & Company, LLC, and White Rose Pet Memorial Services.

Last year's event sold out, Lash said, with about 250 people in attendance. Tickets are still available for this year's dinner; the deadline to make reservations is Oct. 5.

How to Help: To attend the Oct. 19 event at the Wyckoff Country Club, Holyoke, Mass., call 413-781-4000, ext. DOG (364) or go to the website at and sign up by Oct. 5. Tickets cost $100 and include dinner, followed by dancing to the Floyd Patterson Band. The Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society accepts contributions by mail addressed to P.O. Box 6307, Springfield, Massachusetts 01101 or online.

Pictured: Beck, Zachary and Sarah Otterbeck, and Otter. (Photo Courtesy of Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society)

What do you think of these awards? How would you encourage children to get involved in animal advocacy? Tell us below!

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