Emptying an overburdened municipal shelter — like the one in the rural community of Fitzgerald, Georgia — would take a miracle, but last week a group of rescue angels made the impossible happen.
On January 16, more than a dozen volunteers from Angels Among Us Pet Rescue descended upon the shelter, quickly clearing the kennels of 40 dogs and six cats.
“When I emailed, I was asking them to take one dog,” says shelter volunteer Valerie Veal. “We never even dreamed they would come and clear us out!”
Veal moved to Fitzgerald from Atlanta one year ago and began volunteering at the Fitzgerald Ben Hill County Humane Society. The shelter takes in more than 2,000 animals a year, and local ordinances require that it hold all animals brought in by the animal control department for at least 72 hours before a pet can be placed for adoption or euthanized. When Veal began volunteering there, she was impressed by the efforts staff make to adopt out the animals brought in by animal control, and she says the shelter rarely has to euthanize animals for space.
“This is a place where we want to make sure each and every dog and cat makes it out,” says Veal.
That’s why she was surprised — and concerned — to see the shelter at maximum capacity when she arrived to check on a stray dog she’d first spotted in a church parking lot.
“I knew cold weather was coming later that week, so I spent three days myself feeding that dog and trying to get her to let me put her in my car — and she never did.”
Despite Veal’s efforts to coax the brindle Plott Hound mix into her vehicle, in the end, animal control had to set traps so the dog could be brought to the humane society. Inside the shelter, she would be protected from the elements as the temperatures dipped below freezing.
“Mostly when I was trying to catch her, I was telling her that if she would just trust me I would keep her safe.”
An animal lover with two dogs of her own, Veal couldn’t get the stray out of her mind and went down to the shelter on January 13 to check on the brindle beauty she’d been feeding. It was during that visit that Veal realized just how full the shelter had become. Afraid of what the future held for the dog she’d promised to keep safe, Veal asked staff to call her if euthanasia became a possibility for the pretty Plott Hound.
“I realized, we’re about to start killing these adoptable animals, and that’s when I called Angels,” says Veal.
One of more than 500,000 people who follow Angels Among Us on Facebook, Veal was familiar with the rescue’s many success stories. On the other end of her call for help, the folks at Angels were familiar with the challenges municipal shelters face in small towns.
“We know how often these rural shelters just do not get the kind of exposure or press that they need,” says Elizabeth Hale, manager of publications and media promotions for Angels Among Us.
“We knew what this little shelter down in Fitzgerald was facing, we knew what Valerie was facing — how could we turn away?”
With so many animal lives in jeopardy, the network of volunteers at Angels Among Us began making plans to move the Fitzgerald pets out of the shelter and into foster homes in the Greater Atlanta area. The foster-based rescue has no brick-and-mortar facility — just a lot of volunteers with room in their homes and hearts.
Three days after receiving Veal’s call for help, 13 Angels volunteers arrived in nine vehicles at the humane society. Animal control officers and the mayor of the community of 9,000 were waiting to thank the group.
They called it Operation Invisible Paws, and two hours after the Angels arrived, 46 animals in the Fitzgerald shelter had made the nearly four-hour journey to Atlanta, where six veterinary offices were waiting to assist.
Of the 40 dogs, two young puppies were suffering from parvo virus and were taken to an emergency veterinary hospital. One died, but the other is now responding well to treatment.
Medical treatment for the parvo puppies, as well as the other 44 pets, resulted in thousands of dollars in vetting expenses for Angels Among Us. Spaying and neutering surgeries, as well as heartworm treatments and extractions for dental disease, created the rescue’s largest ever need for funding.
According to Hale, Angels spends an average of $700 on each pet it rescues, and the current situation has the nonprofit renewing calls for donations. Hale suggests those who want to help can make a donation specifically for the Operation Invisible Paws pets or even for a specific animal.
“We have a very low overhead,” says Hale. “Ninety-four percent of all our donations goes directly to our animals.”
While the rescue is hoping for financial gifts to help cover the costs of the 45 Fitzgerald fosters, the animals have already been given the gift of life, and the Fitzgerald Ben Hill County Humane Society has been given the priceless gift of social media savvy.
“They gave us a lot of tips,” says Veal, referencing the vast social media reach of Angels Among Us. “In fact, our shelter — as of now — has a Facebook page.”
Thanks to Veal and Angels Among Us, Operation Invisible Paws spawned its own hashtag and a social media legacy that means the next generation of adoptable animals in Fitzgerald will be online — and no longer invisible.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. Sixteen paws is definitely enough. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.