WALTHILL, Neb. | It has been said many times that a dog is man's best friend.
That relationship isn't just a one-way street. The world is full of dogs who are outwardly friendly to every human they encounter.
For nine years, dogs have been finding two of the best friends they could hope for at a home in rural Walthill.
Nola and Chuck Briggs have been taking in abandoned, neglected, abused and surrendered dogs of all breeds at the non-profit 12 Hills Dog Rescue since 2008. The operation began, as many businesses and services seem to, with an offhand remark that took root.
In 2006, two dogs were dumped along the road running past the Briggs farm in the middle of winter.
One, a yellow lab they named Rose, had been shot twice and left for dead. Rex, a black lab, showed signs of abuse. Chuck nursed them back to health.
"I said to him, you might as well just start a rescue," Nola said. "He said, 'Why don't you look that up?'"
Chuck was looking toward retiring after working two decades at Conagra Foods in South Sioux City and knew he'd need something to do to keep him busy.
"This was going to be a retirement project," he said. "This just kind of escalated."
He converted an old hog house into kennels, and just before 12 Hills was licensed, someone dropped off Bebe and her eight puppies. A German shepherd, Bebe had bitten a police officer and was to be put to sleep, but she was dropped off at the Briggses' home instead. They found homes for the puppies and Bebe, too.
"Bebe went to the most wonderful lady in Sioux City," Nola said.
It hasn't slowed down since then.
Initially, Nola said, they thought they'd house maybe eight dogs at any given time. By the end of the first year, they had 20 dogs, then 30 the next year. Now they have about 60 dogs on their farm at any time. Many come from Walthill and Winnebago, brought to their farm by law enforcement officers or owners who can't care for them. It's not uncommon for people to drop off litters of puppies that were found in an abandoned building or other remote location.
"We don't usually go looking," Nola said. "People bring them here."
Chuck and Nola will take in any dog, as long as it's not vicious. If it's sick, they'll nurse it back to health with the help of one of three local veterinarians who spay or neuter and vaccinate the dogs. A recent grant from Partnership With Native Americans has helped pay for some of those expenses.
If the dog is old, it can find a special place here. It will live out its life here on the farm if no one adopts it.
"I have this thing for old dogs," Nola said with a shrug of her shoulders and a loving smile.
Last year, Chuck and Nola paired 163 dogs with new humans and homes. They average 150 adoptions a year. Nola, who's also the Walthill Public Library director, maintains a website (12hillsdogrescue.org) and Facebook page and posts photos on petfinder.com, making it easier for anyone seeking a dog to find their farm.
"It gets kind of scary," Chuck said. "You've got all these dogs and don't know what you're going to do with them, but it always seems to work out that there's a person for that dog."
With all the dogs, 12 Hills has expanded since opening. In 2011, they built a kennel with heated floors and automatic waterers. Chuck and Nola have one employee and other volunteers and family members who help.
Every dog that passes through here leaves a mark on Chuck and Nola, two people with huge hearts for dogs. They receive photos weekly from owners who have adopted dogs here. Nola can rattle off the names of dogs they housed years ago. Chuck may be even more of a softie than Nola.
"The dogs of course, they're the main thing that keeps you going," he said. "I love my dogs."
Walk through the farm and it's obvious that that love is returned in kind. Eager eyes seeking attention and affection peer from every kennel on the farm.
Those cheerful-looking dogs know: they're among friends.