I have always loved animals. It’s not an uncommon interest I know, loving animals, but it is an essential part of who I am. I am especially passionate about fostering rescue dogs, dogs that are sick or broken, who have to have leg amputations or who have heartworms and mange, the ones who ooze and puss and have to be given baths every other day. I love the transformation, to help and watch as a sick dog becomes healthy and happy.
I also love to help people. When I moved to Rome three years ago, I became involved in community non-profits and started to consider ways I could contribute to my new community. I was in the process of pursuing a degree in Human Services, because of my interests and previous experiences with non-profits, when I was inspired to start Good Shepherd Animal Refuge (GSAR.)
Good Shepherd Animal Refuge was born from my desire to help animals, to help people, and to form a ministry around my work. I recognized that by helping their pets, I could also help people. Callie, one of my rescues, is a therapy dog who I sometimes take on visits to the hospital. My husband is also a doctor, so we are also very close to the medical community in Rome. Through this, I became aware of a unique need among patients when I discovered that people seeking long-term medical care are often at a loss for what to do with their pets when illness prevents them from being able to properly care for them. As word spread through the medical community about my hopes for GSAR, I was told stories by hospice workers and nurses that only affirmed the need to provide animal care for those in the medical community. I was told a particularly disturbing story about an elderly woman who was suffering from cancer and refused medical attention because she did not want to leave her cat, which she had no other means to care for, behind while she sought treatment.
After a great deal of praying, I decided to pursue my dream of starting Good Shepherd Animal Refuge. I decided to stop taking classes at Kennesaw so that I could concentrate my efforts on developing the non-profit instead of finishing my degree. My first client, a cancer patient, found out about my service through her nurse. She was a woman with stage four cancer who had to go to Emory Hospital for an eight week treatment service. Her husband was going to accompany her throughout her treatment and was desperate to find care for their two dogs. They did not know anyone in the area who could watch their pets for them while they were away and were seriously considering turning them over to animal control when they were told about me and the organization I was planning. I was able to foster and care for the dogs, so that their owner’s did not have to worry about them while they sought treatment. As of now, I am the only person working with Good Shepherd- I say working because it truly is like having another job. I am able to house foster pets on my own property and, right now, am using a great deal of my own funds to help support the organization.
My primary vision for Good Shepherd is just that—to help people keep or remain with their pets while they seek medical treatment. Animals play such an important role in our lives, and I truly believe in their enormous capacity to provide emotional healing which is why, through GSAR, I also wanted to provide home-based animal care services in addition to fostering animals. I visit people whose medical condition prohibits them from being able to care for their animals, offering to clean cages, purchase food, and take the pets to veterinary appointments in an effort to help keep pets and owners together through times of crisis and illness.
Potentially, I would like to expand the services of Good Shepherd Animal Refuge beyond helping people and pets in health care. Initially, that is where I saw the most immediate need in our community, but I would like to offer animal care services to people in homeless shelters and deployed soldiers. I also plan to expand the organization as a ministry. One of the stipulations I included in the bi-laws is that everyone who serves on the Good Shepherd Animal Refuge Board of Directors must be Christian. I know this is unique, but it is important to me that the heart of Good Shepherd Animal Refuge reflects my original dream to form a group that helps people by ultimately showing the love of Christ. Because of my desire to form a ministry, I also envision developing the organization so that it comes to be largely connected to churches in Rome, drawing volunteers from church communities and encouraging children’s ministries to sponsor foster dogs that I am keeping. My plans include bringing the dogs to interact with the children’s ministries and incorporating examples of the pet’s stories to help teach values like compassion, care, and nurturing.
The community support I have witnessed and received throughout this process has been so inspiring to me. Just the other day I received a call from a woman inquiring how to make a donation to Good Shepherd. Her young daughter had recently had a birthday party and instead of asking for presents, requested donations for Good Shepherd Animal Refuge. Starting this non-profit has not been an easy or, by any means, inexpensive journey, but encounters like that are really encouraging and inspire me to continue dreaming of ways to help people and their pets.
-As told to Kasey Haessler. Student Writer
This story originally appeared in Facing Hope, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Georgia Highlands College, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, and Berry College in Rome, Georgia.