The sight of Oscar and his littermates was heartbreaking. They were stuffed into a tiny crate and dumped on the side of the road just off FM 2100 and Plum Grove Road near Huffman. Scrawled on a piece of paper were the words “perros libres” — free dogs.
“They were in such bad shape,” recalled John McDonald. “Once I got them healthy and crate-trained, the whole litter went to foster families in the Madison, Wisconsin area.”
McDonald was born in Mexico, grew up in New England and attended college in Ohio, eventually earning his MBA in Arizona.
“I have lived and worked all over, including three years in China,” he said.
Eventually, he found his way to Houston and started Jade’s Legacy in New Caney. “The dumped/abandoned/neglected dog problem here is terrible. I couldn’t walk away,” he said.
He humbly describes himself on his website as a “Crazy, multilingual, dog-training, dog-rescuing, MBA, Buddhist, rugby-playing, distance-running, music-enthusiast guy who abandoned the corporate grind to work with dogs.” He founded Jade’s Legacy, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization with the mission to rescue the most vulnerable of dogs, get them healthy, train them and find them homes.
“I have a board of directors that review my QuickBooks,” he said, “and my biggest support is my steering committee. They helped me through a capital campaign to build 10 beautiful indoor/outdoor kennels.”
“I started Jade’s Legacy a couple years ago,” he recalled. “I had always rescued and my dog training business generated enough revenue to support the three or four dogs I might have at a time.”
But the dumped dog and abandoned puppy problem is so prevalent in New Caney where he lives that McDonald found himself going broke trying to help and place all the abandoned dogs that he found. He filed for nonprofit status to accept donations.
As for the name, Jade’s Legacy, it honors a Gordon setter McDonald rescued when he was still working in downtown Houston in the corporate world.
“Jade was a tough cookie. I had to earn her trust. Once I did, she was such an amazingly sweet and intuitive dog,” he said. “She obviously was bred as a hunting dog but, for some reason, was neglected. She was skin and bones when I adopted her from Oklahoma. Once we started working on agility, she just blossomed and became a proud, gorgeous setter.”
McDonald estimates he has rescued more than 100 dogs.
“Usually, I see them trotting down FM 1485 or stuffed in a crate on the side of the road,” he said. “I have bought pups from people hanging out in parking lots who, on a whim, were selling the pups to anybody. I often get a text, too, from neighbors who see stray dogs or puppies and give me the location.”
McDonald says the three dogs he hasn’t adopted out are because two of them he “fell in love with” and the other has a fatal heart condition than can’t be fixed. “So she is staying here for however long she has,” he said.
“Ironically, puppies are pretty easy to say goodbye to,” he said. “They are resilient and are adopted quickly by great families. The dogs I always start crying about are the ones I find with heartworm, mange, whatever malady. I nurse them to health for four to five months and so I grow very attached to them.”
McDonald’s attachment to his rescues is understandable. He names each one of them — and he has a “naming system,” too.
“I have themes, usually from music, movies, television shows,” he admitted. “I named dogs after characters from “Sanford and Son,” “The Golden Girls,” actors from film noir and silent films and from tons of Frank Zappa songs. I have a Mo and Herb right now. And an Ophelia who was named after a song by The Band.”
Which leads us to Greta, which McDonald rescued — along with her puppies — out in Huffman.
Greta, by the way, is named for the legendary screen actress Greta Garbo.
Cynthia Calvert Shiflet, owner of the Tribune, and husband, Larry Shiflet, had lost their precious Cash suddenly one late afternoon.
“We were beside ourselves over his passing,” Cynthia recalled. “I spent days online looking at shelters, rescue groups and professional dog breeder sites. But nothing was working.”
“Then, in the middle of one night, it occurred to me to call our vet,” Cynthia said. “ I felt they may know of a dog in the area. Larry called them the very next morning and, 10 minutes later, they called back about Greta.”
Greta was the mom of six, all found by McDonald in a dilapidated house down a lonely old country road.
“Just an hour later, we met John and Greta in the vet’s parking lot,” said Cynthia. “I know he had intended to keep her, but he met us anyway and we brought her home. She is perfect. Small and black, just like our Cash, and so very smart.”
Greta was heartworm positive, which required several stress-filled months of care and she was in desperate need of a spa day. Her long curly hair stood straight up or out, “It was hilarious,” said Cynthia. “John named the whole family after 1930s movie stars. Hence, we have Greta Garbo’s namesake. It fits her perfectly.”
Like everyone who works with McDonald, the Shiflets are amazed at his dedication and devotion.
“He posts frequently about dogs he has rescued and then finds them all homes,” said Larry. “Just a quiet yet huge presence in our community. Doing such good work. I often think about Greta alone with six tiny puppies in an abandoned house. Thank God, John found her and we were led to her.”
McDonald works closely with Lola’s Lucky Day, a dog rescue group in Houston that finds homes for rescued dogs in Wisconsin “where the animal overpopulation does not exist,” according to their webpage. Greta would have gone to Wisconsin too, if not for the Shiflets.
Managing a one-man operation isn’t easy.
“If I do another capital campaign, I might be able to build some more, hire some help and take a vacation one day,” he said. “It has been a long time, with just me, since I’ve been able to visit family or go to the beach for a day.”
Oh, about Oscar, the abandoned puppy that McDonald found on FM 2100, rehabbed, and then sent to Wisconsin for adoption. He received an email from the family that adopted Oscar.
“The family explained how their special needs son and Oscar were inseparable,” said McDonald. “They thanked me and sent me really touching photos of the two best friends playing and napping together.”
McDonald recently built 10 kennels but often is at capacity. He accepts in-kind donations like potty pads, bowls, puppy kibble and the like.
McDonald also owns Zen Dogs in New Caney, where he trains and boards dogs; he provides in-home training, too.
“Whether it happens in-home or at our board and train here, you will get the best from your dog,” he said. “Sometimes, all it takes is letting a dog be a dog.”