Downeast Dog News

Rescue of the Month: Catahoula Rescue of New England

Caring for Houlas and Heelers
By Susan Spisak | Dec 01, 2019
JT (aka James Taylor)

Shannon Nachajko and Mark Deane adopted a black and white Catahoula Leopard, a hunting and herding dog, from a local shelter in 2006. Poncho was just 9 months old and had been transported to Maine after Hurricane Katrina. The poor guy had been misunderstood - adopters weren’t familiar with this southern breed also referred to as Catahoula Hound, Catahoula cur and Houla. As a result, he’d been adopted and returned nine times. This couple met him, fell for him, and adopted him.

They started their journey with Poncho by educating themselves. They learned this breed needs a job to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. “They need a leader from day one and the right role model. People feel with their heart instead of being a guide and master. Then what happens is the dog takes over and gets bossy, so they let it go. And it gets worse. In the end the dog wins,” Shannon explained. Seems like Poncho blossomed with their tutelage: “He simply needed guidance, trust, and a lot of love and time – six months later he was fine.”

Once Shannon was well-versed with the breed and to help others like Poncho, she began volunteering for a Catahoula rescue, then in 2014 she founded her own national 501(c) 3, nonprofit based in Warren, adding Australian Cattle Dogs, “Heelers,” to her efforts. “Poncho is the reason why our rescue exists; what we learned from him is why we got involved in fostering, then rescue, leading to the organization and development of Catahoula Rescue of New England. Prior to Katrina, their breed was rarely seen in New England and people knew very little. Education was key.”

Most of their dogs come from southern shelters on relay transports. But they’ve had an influx of owner relinquishments – and this falls back on the education and managing of the dog. “They adopted and weren’t well-informed, or adopted cute puppies, and as they aged didn’t know what to do.” She spoke about personality-plus Brogan who’s been in their care for two years and just needs someone who understands Cattle Dog breeds. “He is a good dog with no serious issues.”

Her intake numbers are lower over the past 18 months. She was critically ill, and while she’s doing better, she admitted she’s not 100%. She’s been humbled by the outpouring of support from her volunteers, rescue community, and friends. “You get so engrossed in saving animals, you don’t think you matter. Just to have that recognition that people think you matter. Holy crap, people do care…The love and compassion that poured in.”

To add to her troubles, Shannon and Mark lost their beloved Poncho, the dog who started it all, in March of 2019. “To continue to honor his memory, we will go on helping save Catahoulas and Cattle Dogs that are in need. This is the best way we can honor Poncho’s legacy and thank him for all he has given us.”

Shannon stressed the need for fosters to join their band of volunteers. For info on fostering, adopting, and donating, visit To see upcoming events such as their nail clinics, go to