Some people drive by and ignore these animals, while others look sorrowfully toward their pitiful frames as they drive by, lamenting the lack of resources to help these poor animals.
But three local women aren’t content to keep driving. Instead they pull over and coax the animals to safety, often braving the elements, risking their own safety and health to save the life of an animal that had the bad luck to be born in a poor county, where there aren’t enough resources or homes.
Marsha Miller, Kara Ford and Melody Gilliland were each taking in strays and trying to provide them with a better life. Eventually the trio met, banded together and formed a nonprofit. Rescuers United for Furbabies, or RUFF, was born.
“Our major focus is on abandoned, sick, injured dogs,” Gilliland said. She said they were not equipped to take dogs surrendered by their owners, but would help by sharing the animals on social media and trying to help find them a new home.
When the women find a stray dog, they run an ad in the paper, in case there is an owner to be found, they also get the dog checked and evaluated by veterinarian Dr. David Kimbrell. Healthy animals are then vaccinated, wormed and scheduled for a spay or neuter surgery, which can cost more than $200 per animal. And healthy animals are not what fill rescues like RUFF.
“It seems like 99 percent of the time they have mange,” Ford lamented.
In fact, recently the rescuers have been battling the highly contagious mange in almost every animal they handle, as well as facing parvo with virtually every puppy and heartworms in every adult dog they encounter. The bills to nurse animals through those types of illnesses can quickly climb to two or three times that of a healthy dog. With sixty or more animals in their care, this means the vet bills can quickly overwhelm a small startup rescue.
Because of the large number of strays here, the women also networked to find a number of other rescues across the country that could help take animals and find them loving homes. In some areas of the country, spay and neuter laws, leash laws and other measures have resulted in a very low number of homeless animals available for adoption, meaning rescues in those areas can relieve some of the overpopulation in Walker County. This often means the women or other volunteers drive transports to Wisconsin, Florida or into New England to find homes for needy animals.
These rescues have been checked out by the three women extensively, including a check into their adoption contract and policies.
“We’re not going to go through all this to get them healthy just to send them off to somebody we don’t know,” Gilliland said.
In less than a year, RUFF has helped transport more than 600 strays from the streets of Walker County into rescues in other areas or forever homes. They often get updates on their alumni via social media.
Although the successes are numerous, the woman are haunted by the lives they couldn’t save. The animals killed by cars because they couldn’t find or catch them in time or the animals who were simply too injured or sick to be saved.
Recently they were called to a dog hit by a car that had to be euthanized because of his extensive injuries. The dog was wearing a collar, but had no identifying tags so they have no way of notifying his owners.
But, another dog, with extensive injuries to one of his legs, severe emaciation and numerous other injuries was found and taken to the vet for treatment.
He is now on the mend and has begun standing to greet his rescuers with a wagging tail.
They agree that is what keeps them going, even through the heartbreaks.
RUFF has a number of needs to enable them to keep helping strays. Of course, they need funds. Treatment for parvo and mange keep their coffers running low, and they stress that even a few dollars can help.
Monetary donations can be made by mail at P.O. Box 453, Oakman, AL 35579, via Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling the rescue or can be directly sent to the vet’s office.
RUFF has an account at the Animal Hospital with Dr. Kimbrell. The phone number for the clinic is 221-4500, please specify the RUFF account. The group has been approved as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, so all donations are tax deductible.
They also welcome pet supplies, kennels, crates or gift cards to local stores that allow them to purchase food, vaccinations or other supplies needed for the animals in their care.
They host various fundraisers throughout the year, including yard sales, events and other fundraisers. Recently a volunteer who has put together a number of benefit motorcycle rides approached them about organizing a ride to help the rescue.
The first RUFF Ride will be held on July 19. Call RUFF for more details.
The rescue is also in need of a vehicle to use for transport. Ideally that would be a large cargo van or other vehicle that could transport a number of animals and the crates used to contain them for transport.
“That’s really our biggest need and our first major goal,” Miller explained. She added that the rescue hopes to be able to get a facility to create a shelter in the distant future, but now they are focusing all their efforts and resources on caring for the animals they currently have, and sorting through the dozens of calls they get every day.