A different kind of dog rescue

A craigslist furniture hunt this week led me to the doorstep of a remarkable woman. She is an artist, an eccentric, a carpenter, and a collector of antique and vintage furniture and architectural goodies — the types of things that others may cast aside as junk. She sees the beauty in these pieces, lovingly restores them or repurposes them as something new, and decorates her property with the ones that she doesn’t sell on craigslist or at flea markets. Walking through her yard feels like stepping into the secret garden.

A. lives on 10 acres in a rural county southeast of Austin. On her property she has created a beautiful, fanciful sanctuary for herself, her family, and a few dozen animals. Aside from being an artist, A. is an animal rescuer. Her work with animals is loving and true, but it’s pretty different from the type of animal rescue that most city folks are accustomed to.

She travels all around Central Texas collecting furniture and salvaged goods from demolition sites, general stores, and industrial warehouses. Everywhere she goes, she meets animals in bad shape — half-dead geese, abandoned cats with broken legs, lonely dogs chained to rusted trucks, and litters of puppies dumped in a ditch.

Pretty often, she arrives home with her salvaged treasure of the day in the bed of her truck, and an animal or two in the cab. She takes them to the vet when they need it, and finds them new, better homes when she can. All dogs and cats that pass through her home are spayed or neutered — at A.’s expense. Her rural county does not have any free or low-cost spay/neuter clinics for homeless animals, so she has to cough up the costs. She has never paid for an animal, and doesn’t want to make money off them either. She lists the animals on craigslist for free, and then carefully interviews any interested parties to make sure the homes are good ones. She can’t be as meticulous as an official rescue, but she does what she can.

Some of the work she takes on is even harder than this. She tries to forge trusting relationships with families whose pets are not being cared for properly, to encourage them to do better. Her corner of Central Texas is fairly poor, and a lot of families keep dogs and cats loose on their unfenced property or chained to their porches or sheds. Many of these animals have no shelter and little food. Most are not fixed, and when a new litter of puppies or kittens shows up, a family member rounds them up into a box, drives them a few miles away, and tosses them in a ditch. According to A., this is not uncommon. She found a few of her own dogs and cats as ditch puppies and kittens.

When she can, she convinces families to let her pay for a spay/neuter for their pets. She offers flea and heartworm meds when she can afford it. When the families seem uncommitted to their animals, she offers to take them away and find them new homes. Sometimes she’s successful, but it often takes her months to break through. Just after my visit, A. was on her way to visit a man who has a friendly young pit bull permanently shackled to a four-foot heavy rusted chain. She thought that maybe today would be the day that she convinces him to give the dog up. This was not her first visit to his property, 8 miles away on a dirt country road.

On the way home, my eyes scanned the highway’s edge, looking for ditch puppies or injured cats on the side of the road. As I drove along, I wondered: how many brave-hearted individuals are out there, engaged in this independent, unofficial sort of animal rescue, flying under the radar of so many of us? And what can be done to help individuals like A. work even more effectively to touch more lives?

42 responses

  1. Her backyard looks amazing! What a wonderful sanctuary for all of those animals!

    I recently met up with a Kansas City blogger who takes in wayward dogs she finds running loose on a bike path that runs in front of her house. If she cannot find the owner, she takes the dogs in and cares for them as if they were her own until she can find suitable homes for them. She does this 100% at her own expense. I was so impressed with the work she is doing but was unsure how I can help her. If you figure something out, let me know!

  2. wow. what an incredible person! it never ceases to amaze me how far some people will go to help, and others will go so far to hinder. that she has the perseverance, patience, and kindness to deal with the people causing these situations is a testament to her dedication.
    btw, i am in love with the dog with the black eye patches. what a face!!

  3. Wow, what a wonderful, wonderful woman. I am always amazing by the awesome people you meet, you must attract these life-changers! I am always grateful,that NY has programs for free spay and neuter and vaccinations for low-income families and those that rescue pitbulls (a favorite of low-income families). Maybe I should write about that program? People like A change the world, one pup at a time. Whenever I see a pup thats been saved froma dire situation in a sanctuary like A’s backyard I think “do you know how lucky you are?” But, of course they do!

    • I am thinking of doing a fundraiser for Christmas to sponsor some spay/neuters. It would be neat to partner with her and have a couple of the certificates go to her vet clinic for dogs she finds. Would you be into that?

      typed by my trained monkey. please excuse tybos.

  4. I’m in awe of people like A. This is the hardest work: trying to convince people who don’t want to be convinced or don’t necessarily care because there’s not much in it for them.
    I give thanks for A and all that she does on this Thanksgiving holiday.

  5. A shines… what a wonderful soul. Thank you for sharing this story of hope with us. I find myself becoming so overcome with the endless sad stories relating to animals (and humans). Hearing good stories is a nice glimpse of hope.

  6. A. is an amazing woman!! What a huge heart she must have….and energy that could light a city! I would definitely love to donate to her effort. As an aside, her yard is fantastic! If I had all of that in my yard, it’d look horrible….but A. has that artists touch that makes everything better for being in her hands…..whether it be animal, human or inanimate object!

  7. I have been in a quandary about what to do about a neighbor’s dog, who is outside 24/7, living in a trash-filled yard, barking for weeks, and even worse, now not barking at all. I will take a page from A’s book and muster some courage to go speak to the neighbors. I’m nervous just thinking about it. Thank you for your timely post, Aleksandra! I needed it.

    • You probably should take it slow– go over there with a bag of treats or some dog food or a few toys, and pretend that they’re extras in your home or your dog is allergic or hates them, so they don’t think it’s charity. See if you can visit with the dog, compliment them on how cute/nice/sweet it is. Baby steps will get them to earn your trust better than making them feel judged or guilty or defensive. Good luck, let us know if there’s anything we can do to support you!

    • Weeks later & I’m still wondering about Mimi @ Cabana’s efforts to reach out to this dog’s person. We’re keeping fingers & paws crossed that you were able to sooth that sweet dog’s soul, open the neighbor’s eyes to a better world for his/her dog, and make strides towards saving this sweet pup. Warmest wishes & best of luck!

      • Thanks for thinking of us. The guy is not ready to give up his dog yet, but my artist friend is going to keep trying. Eventually he may give in. In the meantime, I am hunting down a free spay-neuter program that will be able to help her offer support to more dogs in her community.

  8. These stories amaze me every time I hear them. So glad that there are people like this out in the world to help counteract the ones who well… aren’t so animal friendly.

  9. What an amazing woman you had the fortune of meeting. I know a few people who live in rural areas who participate in this type of “unorganized” or “unofficial” rescue, including a close relative. Sometimes, like when their land becomes a community dumping ground for unwanted pets, the rescuing stems from equal parts necessity and compassion.

  10. Thanks for these people who go out of their way to restore my faith in humans, and to make a difference in the lives of animals who need it.

    And to you and Chick – thanks for inspiring us to do better.

  11. A is a truly heartwarming person! The world is lucky people like her exist! And how wonderful it is Aleksandra stumbled across her!
    I would love to participate in a fundraiser to help her.

  12. She reminds me of one of the volunteers I worked with through HSUS’s anti-dog fighting program. A and his brother were former dog fighters themselves and now work Thursday-Saturday nights walking their neighborhood talking to young men (and whoever else may be involved, but generally it’s young men) about alternatives to gangs and alternatives to fighting their pit bulls. A had spent his vacation in the rural South. He was supposed to be visiting a friend but he ended up spending his time creating an ad hoc pit bull training camp for the people he met. He built agility runs and taught them the basics of dog training and manners. He was crying when he told me that, unlike their city counterparts, the people he met weren’t even fighting their dogs to put food on the table – they just plain didn’t know what else to do with them.

    It takes a special kind of person to put herself out in the world that way – and we sorely need more of them. If you want help planning your fundraiser or want to bounce ideas off of another person, please shoot me an email. I’ll help however I’m able. You know where to find me!

    – J

    (PS – Can we visit A when I come to visit you?)

  13. What an incredibly giving person she is. And what a gorgeous home! I am always stunned by the level of things individuals will do to help other people and animals. The things some people are willing to sacrific and lose sleep over just blow my mind. They don’t do it for money or recognition. They just see a problem and do everything in their power to fix it. Thank you for sharing this woman’s story.

  14. What a truly amazing and inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing. A is someone we can all look up to…for as much as we do, there is always more to be done. Thank you again for posting this….what a wonderful soul.

  15. Wow, that’s really amazing that she does all of that on her own. It takes a lot of guts and selflessness to do that kind of work. Many kudos to A. (and I think a fundraiser for spay/neuter costs to her vet is a great idea)

  16. I would definitely contribute to help pay for some of the vet costs that she incurs doing this great work. I never have much but I’m happy to give what I can to support people who are actually doing something for someone other than themselves….although I know that she must get so much out of it herself, it would be nice to help with some of the burden. Something someone else said in the comments section got me thinking….you do seem to find these awesome people and in thinking about that I realized that I hardly ever do. I wonder what about my perspective needs to change so that I either start noticing these people or is it just something about you that actually does attract these great people to you.

    • I just have a magnet for animal people. Some people are always finding abandoned/sick/homeless animals. I never find them. But I do always find people who are into dog rescue in general and pit bulls in particular. When this woman told me about what she does, I was not at all surprised. Just last week at our closing for our house, I met our mortgage broker, who we had been emailing with for months, and within 5 minutes it came up in conversation that she also, of course, is a pit bull rescue person. She has nine pit bulls at her house. Naturally.

  17. Wow, what a pile of good deeds! I’m so glad that she does things like this and responsibly rehomes, and tries to educate pet owners who aren’t doing so well. Definitely do a Christmas fundraiser!

  18. Such a great post and what a wonderful lady. I love the pictures you took of her home, even with all those animals it seems so peaceful. A fundraiser to help her out would be a very nice idea.

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  20. What an inspiration! Would love to contribute to a fundraiser and provide some support to this wonderful woman and the lucky dogs that find their way to her.

  21. Wow. What a beautiful soul. I’m so grateful for people like this woman. Her sanctuary looks magical. Heartbreaking to read about the rampant mistreatment of animals, but it makes me hopeful to know someone’s working to do something about it. And something tells me this isn’t the last time you’ll see her… Call me crazy, but I have a feeling you’ll be somehow involved with her work.

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  23. What an amazing woman! She’s totally my hero. I wish she had a blog with little stories about each creature and her other fun finds. It would be a good way to get the word out and maybe bring in some funds… Do you know if she has any interest in that sort of thing? I’d love to offer my assistance if she does!

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