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?