One woman makes mission of saving underdog
A Lorenzo woman is on a rescue mission armed with a 300-gallon tank of water and a bottle of Ajax.
The victims she hopes to save, she says, are being ejected from or killed in their own homes — whole families and communities at a time.
Those victims, thousands of prairie dogs, have been rescued by Joann Haddock from the constant development threatening their burrows and tunnels in and around Lubbock.
Haddock says she’s spent tens of thousands of hours rescuing prairie dogs, mostly by herself, as part of Citizens for Prairie Dogs, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2003.
Her method for saving the marmots is simple: flush them from their homes with soapy water and transport them to country ranch land before someone else poisons them or grinds them into the ground.
And, kneeling over a prairie dog hole in the rocky brown dirt of a desolate South Lubbock field, she admitted she’s not always welcomed in her efforts.
“To me, I go on the premise of what’s right — trespassing or killing prairie dogs,” she said. “If I don’t do this, they’re going to starve to death and get scraped down.”
Haddock said she’s often greeted with indifference — and sometimes hostility — when she approaches developers, urging them to allow her the chance to remove the native creatures from their land before it’s too late.
In those situations of indifference, Haddock continues nonetheless, like she did last month in the field south of 98th Street near University Avenue.
She said the land was in the process of being developed for construction. The dozens of prairie dogs under the surface, she feared, were starving because the land had been scraped nearly clean.
There seemed to be a sense of urgency in her motions, dragging her water hose to a hole in the ground, rushing back to her trailer to start a gasoline-powered pump.
The hot afternoon sun beamed on her sweaty brow as she knelt over the hole to the clanking sound of the donated mechanical pump.
Her brown GMC Suburban marked with a Citizens for Prairie Dogs magnet was parked nearby, responsible for hauling a trailer loaded down with a 300-gallon water tank, the pump, hoses, cages and other equipment.
All of the equipment, including the Suburban, was donated to Haddock’s organization by supportive citizens, she said.
The hole she worked that mid-Saturday afternoon must have been very deep, she said, because more than five minutes of pumping wasn’t showing any results.
On her knees, she waited with her hands just around the hole.
“Sometimes it takes forever — prairie dogs are so smart,” she said.
Haddock said she wished Lubbockites would treat prairie dogs with the same respect they do their pets.
“If this was a field of dogs and cats out here people would be in an uproar,” she said.
Occasionally, a prairie dog a dozen or so yards away would peek its head from another hole and bark.
But Haddock stayed in position.
She explained she spends several hours a day during most days of the week in her prairie-dog removal effort.
She stopped talking in mid-sentence, looking down as a geyser of soap suds erupted from the hole.
She repositioned her hands around the burrow opening.
Within seconds, a soapy prairie dog head popped out.
He was quickly surrounded by Haddock’s hand and dropped into a blue, 30-gallon plastic trash can nearby.
She moved her hands back to the hole and, again within seconds, another prairie dog tried to make an escape
But he was caught.
“Oh, he’s a big boy,” she said holding the chubby, squirming mammal in her hands.
Then, one at a time, she picked up each prairie dog by the tail, used a bottle to squirt fresh water in their eyes and put the pair in a wire cage half-filled with hay.
Their next stop, like all the others she’s rescued, is a temporary holding facility — an air-conditioned trailer on her three-acre farm in Crosby County.
After a quarantine period of several days to a few weeks, she drives the prairie dogs to a ranch in Cochran County, one of several sites where she has approval from landowners, she said.
It’s cooperation and support from landowners, businesses and churches that has helped Haddock and the occasional volunteer operate Citizens for Prairie Dogs, she said.
But undertaking the rescue operation is usually a solo effort, she said.
Haddock has a part-time job at a Lubbock investment firm, money from which keeps her alive and working to relocate more prairie dogs.
“I don’t really have the time or the money to do it,” she said, “but I have to.”
She takes donations when they’re offered from property owners or concerned citizens wanting to help pay for the soap, water and gasoline needed to drive from location to location.
Haddock praised assistance and cooperation she said she’s received from Betenbough Homes, Indiana Avenue Baptist Church and several other churches and businesses in the city.
Another, more recent project for Haddock, has been in East Lubbock.
Prairie dogs in recent months have been overrunning land surrounding Calvillo Funeral Home on East 19th Street.
The land east of the funeral home, according to a sign, is the future home of a yet-to-be-constructed church.
Though not the funeral home’s property, Calvillo has worked with Haddock to safely relocate the prairie dogs, said Lupe Munoz, a manager at the funeral home.
Munoz said his company donated $50 to Haddock’s organization in September and more in the past year to help her remove the marmots from the adjacent land.
He said he knows saving prairie dogs is not his company’s responsibility, but believes it’s the right thing to prevent the animals from getting in the way of construction and meeting an untimely death.
“And we’re just trying to protect the community from them scurrying out and populating where they don’t need to be,” he said. “They’re cute to watch, but one or two quickly become hundreds of them really, really fast.”
Like Munoz, Haddock said she’s not opposed to moving the prairie dogs for the sake of progress.
“It’s OK to build houses — obviously we have to build — but be responsible with what you build on,” she said.
Haddock said she encourages other business and landowners to work with her organization before they opt for lethal methods of prairie dog removal.
She’s also looking for anyone who, like her, doesn’t mind volunteering several hours of their time crawling in the dirt to save prairie dogs before it’s too late.
“I just want to try to spread the word so this doesn’t have to happen,” she said.
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