Animal Rescue: The different ways of saving a life

“Animal rescue is so important to both our four-legged clients and our two-legged clients,” said Rebecca Burdo, shelter manager of Elmore SPCA in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Photo by Victoria St. John

Animal rescue establishes a system where rescuers can save animals from violent homes or from the dangers on the streets. What’s even more significant is that animal rescuing can be done in different ways.

Rescuer Victoria St. John has started a program, also located in Plattsburgh N.Y., called Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR). St. John and her team receive phone calls about local feral animals, specifically cats. Her team sets up a trap at night, then the next day, the team picks up the cats to have them spayed, neutered and vaccinated in order to make sure they’re healthy. Finally, if the original location is deemed safe, the team will take the feral cats back.

St. John mainly started the program to stop the overpopulation of feral cats and especially the spread of fatal diseases they can contract.

“I just always loved cats. I would see them on my paper route (when I was younger), and I always bonded with them,” said St. John. “I also saw a lot of cats suffering when I was young. I think that’s really what started it.”

St. John has been operating TNR for almost 18 years now.  Her hard work has been paying off because she has been seeing significant results.  

“We see less kittens being born, and cats are a lot healthier,” St. John said. “They’re vaccinated if they (had not) received a rabies shot. The reason for this is because they’re more likely to be infected when going near a skunk or raccoon. We’re actually helping the area to reduce the risks of rabies.”  

Over the years, St. John and her team have been working alongside rescue shelters that can take in kittens. One of the shelters she works with is Elmore SPCA.  

Photo by Victoria St. John

“Elmore SPCA’s mission has been very different throughout its long history.” said Burdo. “I believe that in the early ‘90s, Elmore became a no-kill-shelter where animals could find a brief respite and receive proper nutrition and care on their way to their new homes. Currently our mission is still evolving and growing to meet the changing needs of our community.”

Elmore, like St. John, has done so many rescues over the years that have impacted not just the animals’ lives, but their own.  

“We have been pulling healthy and behaviorally sound dogs, destined to be euthanized due to simply not having enough space to house them, from the south for years,” Burdo explained. “The ones that really hit home, though, are the local rescues. My first real rescue was a family who was breeding Great Danes locally. The dogs were in such poor health, and the owners just couldn’t or wouldn’t recognize it. We were able to pull those dogs from the home, help them get healthy and find them outstanding homes. That pull was almost six years ago, but it feels like it was yesterday. The feeling I had when I was able to see those dogs living, loving, playing, goofing off… They were whole, healthy, happy and were content to just be the dogs they were meant to be. There have been so many rescues throughout the years that will always stay with us.”

Adopting a rescue animal is another very important part of rescuing because, not only does it save an animal’s life, but also creates a bond between the rescue animal and owner.  

Patrick Hazilla adopted his rescue dog, Jillian, a German shepherd, from Elmore SPCA located in Peru, N.Y. Hazilla first searched for animal shelters within a three-to-five-hour drive of Plattsburgh before he stumbled upon Elmore. “I was looking to see what dogs I thought would be able to handle living in a small apartment,” Hazilla said, “but was still a dog I would be interested in adopting or rescuing. Jillian just so happened to be at the Elmore SPCA.” Before Hazilla met Jillian, he knew that taking her on a long walk would allow him to understand the kind of dog she is. “She just had this huge smile on her face all the time and was really energetic and happy. I just felt a connection whenever I’d see her.”  

Today, Hazilla and Jillian have an even stronger connection, “It’s gotten to a point where she really cares for me as much as I care for her.”  

Photo by Patrick Hazilla

Jillian had begun favoring him over other people, too. “When people come over to see her, she’s always around me and always comes to me,” Hazilla explained. “She likes people, and she’ll let people pet her, but she would always come to me and let me pet her.”  Hazilla’s favorite activity to do with Jillian is to go on walks. “As simple as it is, I really do like to go on walks with her. The hardest part is she really doesn’t get along with other dogs, so I end up going [walking] late at night with her.”

Joellen Winters met her now 4-year-old dog, Olive, at Elmore SPCA as well. When Olive came into her family’s life, it was a blessing after losing their first dog.  

“After 14 years together, my family had to put our 14-year-old Rottweiler/Lab mix, Buddy, to sleep. Our miniature pinscher, Holly, took the loss really hard as well because she has been with Buddy for all of her life. ”

A week after Buddy’s death, Winters went on Facebook. As she scrolled through, she came across a picture of a litter of puppies that had just arrived at the shelter where she rescued Buddy from. She instantly fell in love with one of the puppies in the photo because its big, loving eyes and long, floppy ears reminded her of Buddy.

Photo by Joellen Winters

“We called the shelter to see if we could meet the puppy. They said yes, so we immediately drove to the shelter. Upon arrival, Olive came running around the corner, and she ran right to my daughter’s arms. I knew that Buddy had sent her to us,” Winters said.

Winters instantly formed a bond with the dog. “Olive holds a very special place in my heart. The moment my daughters and I brought Olive home, she was so shy and timid at first, but as soon as my daughters started playing with her and showing her a little affection, she really came back to life.”

Like Hazilla, Winters also enjoys going on walks with Olive. “I take Olive for a walk every night with my husband. Olive also loves popcorn, so we also enjoy watching movies together.”  

Burdo and the rest of the Elmore staff love seeing animals at the shelter being adopted into loving homes. “We can’t express how happy it makes the staff, board and volunteers when a pet finds a home and becomes a part of a family. Sometimes they come in to the shelter so afraid and unsure. It is amazing to see their transformation.”  

She loves it even more when owners tell her how much the rescue animals changed their lives. “We often get emails, letters, Facebook posts and, of course, visits from Elmore alumni. We love those visits!! I specifically love running into clients at the dog parks in Clinton County. Those happy tails are a HUGE inspiration to all of us!”

St. John feels the same way. “It makes me feel wonderful; I’m glad they have homes. I hoped every home would be like me with the animals. We do screen everyone, so we have adoption contracts. It makes you feel really good when you know the animal is off the street.”

Rescues have also inspired others to help make a difference in each animal’s life any way they can.

Winters has also volunteered a few times at Elmore SPCA. The time she’s spent with Olive and at the rescue shelter only strengthened her passion for animal rescue. “I’ve always been passionate about helping animals, but adopting an animal for the first time made me more passionate about making sure that an animal’s time in the shelter is comfortable and enjoyable.”  

Winters learned that although these animals at the shelter went through dark times, they’re still forgiving and always have smiles on their faces. “I’ve met animals that have been abused. At the end of the day, they just want to be cuddled. It’s amazing.”

“Animals have no voice. We’re their voice,” St. John explained. “We have to make sure laws are applied to people who commit animal cruelty.”

“I know that we have changed literally thousands of animals’ lives through our rescue efforts, which puts a huge smile on my face,” Burdo said. “I also know that we have changed so many people’s lives. Whether through adoption, fostering, volunteering or just smiling at a cute animal pic or video on our social-media sites, we touch thousands of lives and help people know that they can make a difference in their community.”

“Some animals were not given a chance to be in a loving family or to be taken care of and loved,” Hazilla said. “I think that in that aspect, they need that and deserve that chance.”


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