A young woman showed up at a drug recovery center in Manchester, New Hampshire, late last month with Curly, a small white dog. The woman was addicted to heroin and seeking treatment and although she'd been living on the streets, Curly looked well-groomed and well-loved -- leading Kriss Blevens, one of the center's founders, to wonder if he had been stolen.
Blevens spoke with police, local animal rescue groups and a vet who checked Curly for a microchip. When she realized Curly likely hadn't been stolen, she started thinking that this young woman must have found a way to do right by her dog, regardless of everything else she was facing.
Blevens is a makeup artist who lost her stepdaughter, Amber, to a heroin overdose last year. She has been tireless in her efforts to help others avoid the same fate -- a hard thing to do in a city where, as of September, 65 residents have died of heroin overdoses this year. The state as a whole is expected to see a record-setting 350-plus opioid-related deaths this year.
Blevens has joined forces with Hope for NH Recovery, a local drug recovery center, to build an emergency response center called Amber's Place. And once she met Curly, Blevens realized that helping her community's addicts will mean helping their animals as well.
"We're the place where they crawl in from off the streets when they are totally addicted and need help," Blevens told The Huffington Post. "We are the support system that helps them find their recovery."
"If you're willing to go to treatment," she added, "I will make sure your dog is OK."
Amber's Place is developing procedures for what to do when people arrive at the facility with animals. But it's not easy.
Blevens adopted her own dogs from shelters, but she is new to finding temporary foster homes for pets.
She needs help with funds as well. Blevens has been looking for donations to cover overnight staffing and other operational costs at Amber's Place. Now she's hoping to build a kennel for animals she expects to show up at the treatment facility while the city continues to battle its drug problems.
Director Shelly Greenglass estimates that 15 to 20 dogs belonging to heroin addicts have arrived at the shelter in the last year -- which amounts to about an extra month's worth of canine residents needing kennels, food and other resources.
Compounding the problem is that these dogs often still have legal owners, so they can't be put up for adoption. Blevens has found herself having to draft contracts specifying that the pets will go back to their original owners once the time comes.
"A couple of years ago, you had none of this," Greenglass said.
The Manchester Animal Shelter is now asking for donations, too, so they can properly care for these furry victims of Manchester's heroin epidemic. Not just for the animals' sake, either.
"You want the addicts to get help," Greenglass said. "Some aren't because they don't want to give up their animals."
Curly, for his part, is safe in a foster home now. So is a pit bull that came in last week.
Blevens thinks Amber, who loved animals, would be pleased.
"She was an incredible, loving, giving soul," Blevens said. "She took care of everybody else, furry and human, but couldn't take care of herself."
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