There is an army of people rescuing animals from euthanasia in California’s public shelters, now armed with the internet and social media. Amber Houck was part of that rescue army. This amazing young woman also served in the United States Army in Kuwait just after the Gulf War, and was involved in the rebuilding process along the infamous Highway of Death. She was an American Hero and an Animal Hero. Amber volunteered much of her time at the Redlands Animal Shelter where she was the Volunteer Rescue, Adoption and K9 Foster Coordinator. Sadly, Amber lost the final battle and passed away from cancer at the age of 38 on July 9, 2012. After her diagnosis in March, her story was chronicled in a Facebook page “For the Love of Amber”. Up until a few days before her death she continued to seek homes for the dogs she so treasured. Over 200 mourners paid tribute to Amber at a candlelight vigil at the Redlands shelter. Amber was an incredible person with a story that needs to be shared.
Ed Parker spoke about his daughter’s devotion to animals at her funeral, describing the day she headed for Los Angeles at 7:00 am to save a Chihuahua that was going to be euthanized, returning jubilantly with the tiny animal on her lap. The family is comforted by Amber’s strong Christian faith and their knowing where her soul is now. Ed described Amber’s last days, “She knew where she was going, and a sense of humbleness and calmness took over her usual exuberant personality. Amber was a pistol!” Amber’s mom Susan Parker said one of the things she will miss the most is Amber’s constant smile. Amber’s funeral notice listed her loving family and her canine kids, Boo Boo, Chocolate Boo Boo, Toby, Lil’ Bit, Midnight, Pongo and Phil.
Amber’s best friend Lisa Kuhnle describes Amber’s work, “The sheer number of dogs Amber rescued was phenomenal. She would drive them anywhere to get them a home. Amber was so motivated, so passionate.” When no one else could, Amber made the 8 hour drive to San Francisco to deliver a Rottweiler to a specific breed rescue. Rottweiler’s have a hard time getting adopted from shelters and the dog was out of local options. Amber’s duties at the shelter included temperament testing, socializing the animals, contacting rescue groups, coordinating offsite adoptions, and transport. She found foster homes, and took in many of the special needs dogs to foster in her own home. She never gave up on a dog, gently bringing those labeled “do not handle” out of their fear.
Amber is pictured here with Buddy, a pit bull rehomed from Redlands three times and returned. Determined that Buddy not be euthanized, Amber arranged for him to complete a training program at the Good Dog Rehab Center and then networked with her over 5,000 Facebook friends to get him a successful placement. Lisa and Amber worked some nights until 3:00 am. Amber used skills from her marketing degree to make beautiful adoption posters and videos, sending countless emails and Facebook postings.
A rescuer’s spouse is often the subject of the offhand joke, “He’ll divorce me if I bring home one more animal!” But Gary Houck supported his wife 100% in her rescue work. Lisa told how Gary would call when Amber was on a rescue mission and check in with, “Hi Babe, when are you coming home? I’ll have dinner ready.” Gary and Amber met when they were both in the Army stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. Gary describes how Amber had an incredible way to turn around fearful and aggressive animals. He explains, “Rescue was her mission in life and I supported her. I believe dogs can sense if you are calm or if you’re ‘ramped up’ and they feel your emotions. I helped with the medical care of some of the special needs dogs. Amber brought home 2 dying dogs so they would be surrounded by love and not have to die at the shelter.”
Susan Parker believes her daughter’s rescue roots came from their families’ commitment to helping the underdog, those who have no voice to defend themselves. “Dogs have a human quality to them, and I think that’s what Amber connected with. You can sense their love and their thoughts. No matter what, they wait for you and are so giving even when humans fail to treat them right.” Living in the moment of innocent optimism, rescue dogs teach us humans to move beyond our past and hope for a better future.
Amber was the catalyst who pulled the Redlands volunteer group together and took things to a new level with her technical skills and tireless enthusiasm. This poem was posted at her funeral service. “I am an animal rescuer. I have bought dog food with my last dime. I have patted a mangy head with a Bare Hand. I have hugged someone vicious and afraid. I have fallen in Love a Thousand times, and I have cried into the fur of a lifeless body. I am a Rescuer. My work is never done. My Home is never Quiet. My wallet is always empty, but my Heart is always Full.” Rest in Peace dear Amber. Others will carry your legacy and we will look to your bright light to guide us.