MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
A luscious green meadow sits beside a small highway in Sumter, South Carolina, April 1, 2012, broken only by a single crossroad.
The sun cast its final rays over the horizon as a lone driver, ready to put the day to rest, navigated toward her home. The stop that cut off the serpentine of traffic gave her a moment to reflect on the day’s activities. She inspected her surroundings prior to taking off again, but a glimpse of light brown caught her eye from afar.
She focused on the tuft of fur that offset the backdrop of a perfect field of grain in the breeze. In the middle of the field lay what was probably once a beautiful dog, left to rot and wallow in her own loneliness. From her body blossomed a grotesque flower of garbage and decaying nutrition. Without hesitation, the driver whipped out her phone to call for help.
An Air Force couple answered that call and raced to the scene, just as they would for any other situation.
“We’ve been rescuing animals since 2010,” said Master Sgt. Christian Bird, 5th Communications Squadron cable maintenance and cyber transport systems section chief. “We always saw stray animals or dead ones on the side of the road, so we decided we wanted to do our part.”
Twilight glimmered beyond the clouds as they arrived to assess the demise of this pit bull mix. She wagged her tail for the calm voices directed at her, and continued to do so as she was carried to a place she could call home.
“Some of the animals we rescue need some form of rehabilitation,” said Tech. Sgt. Shelby Bird, 5th Bomb Wing self-assessment program manager. “Whether physical, behavioral or mental, we take them all in and help them recover.”
Christian and Shelby have learned over the years that 99 percent of animals marked as red flags at animal shelters have mental or behavioral issues that are environment-induced. The Birds introduce these animals to a new environment which helps eliminate their bad behaviors and gives them a fair shot at a home.
When there is a hurt animal, Christian and Shelby ensure its treated properly and adopted into a home that provides time and patience to properly care for them.
After the Birds arrived home, they examined the dog. A prior-military emergency medical technician made his way to their house to further assess injuries since the closest after-hours veterinarian clinic was over an hour away. This malnourished dog, now named Belle, had two shattered back legs, a broken back and all the skin and muscle missing from one side of her body. Crawling within the injuries were hundreds of red ants, eating away at what was left of her body. Aside from massive blood loss and organ failure, the Birds knew that Belle would go through a long and painful recovery process, and would most likely not survive.
Shelby knelt beside Belle, gently holding her hands out. She knew that if there were two options, it should be Belle’s decision.
“Belle, what do you want,” she asked.
Belle rested her head into Shelby’s open palms, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.
“We lost that one, but we vowed to do our best to save as many as we could in her honor,” said Shelby.
Christian and Shelby named their service “For Belle’s Sake Rescue and Rehabilitation.” Since that day in 2012, they have rescued over 700 animals while stationed at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, and Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. They work directly from their home, allowing them to have around 40 animals at one given time.
“You have to be selfless,” Christian added. “You need to make sure you find the time, patience and commitment to see it through.”
The Birds not only have the animals to look after, but also four young children.
“It’s not easy,” said Shelby. “You have to give something up to [help] balance the military, family and the shelter, so we don’t sleep.”
Their saving grace is the teamwork between Shelby, Christian and their children.
“One parent is taking care of the animals, the other is taking care of the kids,” said Shelby. “We have a pretty good schedule and enough understanding and trust in each other to get everything done.”
Christian and Shelby mostly take care of the animals, but occasionally, their children assist.
“They’re involved, but not too much due to their ages and safety concerns,” said Shelby. “They love playing, feeding and filling the water bowls for the animals.”
The Air Force family has supported them as well. Military members sometimes volunteer for a couple of hours to take care of the animals.
“Where the Air Force takes care of us, we take care of them,” said Shelby.
They also care for the animals of deployed Airmen to avoid giving their family member away to a stranger or an animal shelter.
“Some people are unable to afford the high boarding cost of a facility,” said Shelby. “If you allow us to bring your animal into our family, we’ll give them back when you return from serving our country.”
With so many responsibilities and a healthy balance, Shelby and Christian have made it all work in their favor. They don’t plan on reducing any of their efforts due to one reason.
“Everything we do, we do for Belle’s sake,” said Shelby.