Saving Starfish

By Leslie Moore

Saving Starfish

There’s a popular story that tells of a woman walking along the beach and throwing stranded starfish back into the water. When asked why she was doing this when it was impossible to save the thousands of starfish washed up on the beach, the rescuer replied that was certainly very important to the ones she saved! This is the mindset of the thousands of volunteers that work in animal rescue. It is an overwhelming problem. The population of our four-legged friends is increasing dramatically, and the statistics are grim concerning the number of unwanted animals in shelters and rescue organizations. Some estimates say that nearly 10 million pets are euthanized each year in the United States, and our area is no exception. But, the good news is that many are saved and moved to loving forever homes through the efforts of caring animal rescue volunteers. In our community, devoted animal lovers give unselfishly of their time and resources to save abandoned, abused and unwanted cats and dogs of every breed.

In Georgetown, Suzanne Fox, like most people who volunteer with animal rescue, never intended to be the founder of Wild Heir Labrador Rescue. It happened gradually – one unwanted dog at a time.

“I morphed into rescue from training, breeding and hunting Labs,” said Suzanne, as we sat on the couch of her comfortable home in the historic district of Georgetown that she shares with six dogs and four cats. “I got my first Lab in 1992 after carefully researching all the different breeds – only to learn that Labrador Retrievers were the most popular breed in the country!”

Suzanne soon realized that she had a knack for dog training, and this led her to become proficient in training hunting companions, as well as field trial and hunt test competitors. Labs became her life and most weekends were spent travelling to trainers and trials to learn more about the retriever game. She became an expert in bloodlines and even bred her own dogs.

Gradually, Suzanne started noticing that many breeders would have puppies left that they could not sell. “No one wants to buy a puppy that’s more than about 10 or 12 weeks old, so I would take them, train them and place them into adoptive homes. Then I started looking at shelters. Petfinder.com was in its infancy and most rural shelters had no computer, much less Internet access. When I started visiting these shelters, I found too many purebred dogs that had been abandoned by their owners.”

This was a huge epiphany for Suzanne. She left the life she had made training and hunting Labrador Retrievers and began rescuing them instead. At one point she had 25 dogs living in her home and kennels. The passion and focus that Suzanne had poured into working with these remarkable, intelligent dogs was now turned to saving the ones no one wanted. It nearly consumed her.

Because Labrador Retrievers are such popular dogs, there are many who are adopted by people who do not realize that these active, good-natured dogs need lots of exercise, human companionship and a good grasp of basic obedience. Unfortunately for the dogs, many are abandoned, neglected, left at shelters or abused. The numbers are overwhelming, and Suzanne was trying to save them all.

“I was neglecting my business (Renaissance Signworks), my family and personal relationships. It just seemed more important to save a life than to do anything else. I spent all of my time outside of work caring for these Labs; some lived outside in dog runs and kennels, some were housedogs, and all had to be exercised, fed and loved every day.”

Finally, just when Suzanne was nearly burned out and ready to quit, a few other devoted Lab lovers stepped up to the plate. Today, Wild Heir Labrador Rescue is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with over 150 volunteers that handle fundraising events, provide foster homes and work to educate the public about responsible pet care and the importance of spay/neuter. This no-kill rescue placed 225 Labs and Lab mixes into forever homes in 2008, and has already placed more than 100 this year. Many shelters euthanize incoming animals after just a few days, and Wild Heir takes many dogs from these types of facilities. They also take case-by-case owner surrenders and even have a special program for senior dogs called Daisy’s Place. One of Suzanne’s foster dogs, Gina, a sweet, playful, Heinz 57 mixed breed, who was supposed to have been a chocolate Lab, has been with her for several years awaiting her forever home. She will be loved and cared for indefinitely.

Suzanne, who now serves on the board of directors of Wild Heir and fosters two lab mixes, is passionate about the importance of animal rescue. “Anyone who loves animals needs to be aware of rescue.”

Contact Wild Heir Labrador Rescue by visiting www.wildheirlabradorrescue.org , or call 843-240-0174.

Bernadette Kahl retired to the Grand Strand from Maryland and immediately began looking for ways to help make her new home a better place. With a life-long history of volunteerism, Bernadette soon became involved as a reader in her church, the queen mother of a local red hat group and this caring volunteer finds time to give three days a week to Sav-R-Cats, a local, non profit, 501(c)(3) rescue organization devoted to protecting and defending cats’ rights along the Grand Strand.

I visited Bernadette at the Sav-R-Cats office in Myrtle Beach which is home not only to files and paperwork, but to four cats rescued from the recent wildfires in our area. “Someone left seven cats in a large dog carrier outside our door with a note saying they had rescued them from the fires,” Bernadette said, showing us the carrier. “We’ve found homes for three of them, but we’re still looking for loving people to adopt the other four. One of the females was pregnant, but due to the stress of her situation, none of the kittens survived.”

Sav-R-Cats has an adoption center in Surfside Beach, but it is currently filled to capacity. While we were in the office, volunteers came in and out, all telling us how a love of cats led them to try to help this organization. Bernadette showed us a list with dozens of phone calls from people who, for a variety of reasons, could not keep their pets. With tears in her eyes Bernadette said, “We have to tell most of these people no, we can’t help them.”

Another important focus of Sav-R-Cats is controlling the feral cat population through trap, neuter and release programs. According to Bernadette, this is the most humane and cost effective way to control the population. Thousands of cats have been neutered or spayed and given basic vaccinations by the organization. The feral colonies are then cared for by volunteers for the rest of their lives.

Another Sav-R-Cats volunteer, Shirley Major, was working in the adoption center in Surfside Beach the day we met. Shirley, who lives with her son and daughter-in-law, moved here with them and soon realized she needed to find something to do. “I had never volunteered,” she said, laughing, “but we had promised a kitten to my granddaughter, and through the adoption I learned about Sav-R-Cats. Now I work here four days a week.”

The adoption center is home to nearly 80 cats of all shapes, colors and sizes. It is spotlessly clean, with separate quarantine areas for new arrivals. Walking into the center is an amazing experience. Cats are everywhere; on top of shelves built for cat perches, in cages, in cat “condos” and in almost every nook and cranny available. It takes a while to see all of the cats, as some are hidden in unlikely places, but one big gorgeous grey tabby sat on the table while Shirley and I talked, playing with my pen, my pad and generally letting me know he wanted my attention.

Shirley knows the name and personality of each and every cat at the center and loves to talk about her four-legged charges. Prospective owners may visit the center between 10 am and 2 pm, Monday through Saturday. Sav-R-Cats is currently looking for a larger sanctuary to house cats looking for forever homes and feral colonies. Shirley stressed the need for monetary donations and caring volunteers, as well as people willing to provide loving homes. “Come visit us at the adoption center, and meet your new best friend!”

Contact Sav-R-Cats at 843-839-6902 or visit them on the web at www.sav-r-cats.com. The adoption center is located in South Seas Village, on Hwy. 544, in Surfside Beach.

Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it.

– Mahatma Gandhi

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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