Along the 800-block of DuPont Road off Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, behind the Best Buy, lies a house of second chances. Charlie Freeman, 42, is there, running a doggy daycare and boarding service, working one-on-one with other dogs, and giving he and the property another shot. And some of the dogs he finds will get the opportunity to be trained as “live-recovery” search and rescue rapid-response disaster teams, hopefully giving other people a second chance at life. Charlie is a Canine Recruiter for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.
Freeman had run a successful doggie daycare and training business in Mt. Pleasant that was spinoff of his lifelong love of dogs and the training he’d given to a cast-off dog, Red Dog, so named by the previous owner due to its collar color. Hanging out downtown with Red Dog, passersby noticed how his big lab kept with him every step of the way, without a leash. Training gigs followed, and soon he was augmenting the money he made as a Music Farm bartender, with countless hours working with dogs. “I think I made $71 the first month” he spent teaming with a Mt. Pleasant vet clinic. Some days, he would ferry as many as eight dogs to and from that kennel in his old Volvo station wagon. Things were solid for a while. He picked up several “best of” awards from various local publications. And then, suddenly, they weren’t solid. He had to put down Red Dog after he got aggressive, out of the blue. “I’d counseled people in the past that if it happens once, it will happen again,” said Freeman, a North Carolina native.
The years 2009-2010 were especially tough. He endured a painful breakup with his longtime girlfriend, which was nothing in comparison to the heartache he was about to feel – the 100-percent blockage of his left main artery. “It felt like an angry squirrel crossed with Edward Scissorhands, trying to dig its way out of my chest,” Freeman said of his first heart attack. Brought on by congenital issues handed down from his maternal grandfather, cardiologists told him he’d just suffered the “widowmaker” with less than a 10-percent survival rate. But survive he did, only to have another heart attack, a smaller one medically, but much more disastrous financially. Having lost his medical insurance, Freeman is grateful for the help he got from various friends and organizations like Hosptality Heroes who helped paying down some the bills.
Having walked away from his Mt. Pleasant gig, he sold Kia’s and tended bar at Husk and made do. Ridiculed earlier purchases on eBay paid off when he sold them to cyber shoppers for rent and food. But then, it wasn’t enough, spiritually anyway. He found out that the Evans family, which had run a kennel at his current spot at 820 DuPont wanted to sell. They had operated a family business there since the 1960’s. And once again, his heartstrings got pulled to work with dogs. In the past, while working in Wyoming, Freeman began pulling his ’79 Jeep CJ7 over on the side of the road to spy on wolves with old timers, staring through hunting scopes detached from rifles. “A tea cup Chihuahua is still a wolf on the inside,” he said. “They are programmed and work the same way as a wolf; they need to be stimulated, they need to work, and they need to be rewarded.” And so, the old dog returned to caring for a pack. He and a few friends poured sweat equity over the Dog Daze kennel, which had been the area’s original SPCA facility back in the 1950s.
Sitting in the repainted and reappointed office space last week, with Deuce his puppy-looking 11-year-old multi-mix mutt in his lap, Freeman pours over the contract he just signed with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Located on 120 acres in Ojai, Calif., the foundation is training dogs for crisis response for events like 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters. While a bevy of tests, most centering on distractibility, will be administered on potential rescue dogs, the first test usually utilizes a tennis ball; just to see of the dog is friendly and focused. The dogs selected are always from shelters or rescues, having been left behind and needing a second chance. Like Red Dog. Like Charlie Freeman. Like a somewhat forgotten light-industrial stretch of DuPont Road.