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For 61 animals rescued from Liberty and Long counties, an 800-mile, multi-state journey over Labor Day weekend marked a new beginning — and a saving grace.
The animals, which initially were removed from the Liberty County Animal Control facility by the Hinesville animal rescue organization Carpathia Paws, were transported to various animal rescue groups in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey by four members of The M.O.M.S. Rescue (Making of Miracle Stories).
“We’ve created this team that nobody’s done in this country,” M.O.M.S. founder Karen Talbot said.
“We don’t just come down and take animals and hope we find places; they’re all pre-selected.”
Talbot, her husband, Dante LaSasso, and two other members spent about $1,500 on travel and drove about 27 hours round-trip from Hammonton, N.J., to retrieve the dogs and cats in need of homes.
Since they began making monthly trips in January, Talbot and her group have moved an estimated 500 animals to rescue groups up north and have a 100 percent adoption rate for previous trips, Talbot said.
Her group works with Carpathia Paws, the only rescue operation currently allowed to retrieve pets from the Liberty County Animal Control, a high-kill facility that is required to keep animals without tags for a minimum of five days and those with tags for 10.
Meike Wilder, founder of Carpathia Paws, said the leaders at the facility try to help her keep the animals alive long enough for them to be adopted, but it lacks the resources it needs to sustain the daily influx of new animals.
“If we didn’t do our work, every one would just die,” Wilder said about the animals. “We were hoping it would slow down after the summer break; it’s full again.”
Representatives from Animal Control and the county did not return calls by press time Tuesday.
Almost daily, Wilder goes into the facility to help keep it clean, check on the dogs and get to know their personalities. While there, she takes pictures of the dogs and cats and tries to determine whether they are adoptable. The group also works with a small network of foster families who hold animals until they find permanent homes.
Much of the group’s work has been done through social networking. Wilder posts photos and descriptions of the animals on Facebook in hopes that another rescue group or a family takes the animal.
These photos and descriptions often link the creatures to the rescue groups that select them before Talbot transports them out of state.
For Wilder, it’s the best-case scenario for the animals.
“My goal is to get most of the animals out of the community, because we just have too many,” she said. “Why would I want to adopt them out to the same community where they came from, where they were unwanted?”
The group also is trying to raise funds for a low-cost spay and neutering operation in Long County, which does not have a single veterinary practice, Wilder said.
Carpathia Paws also wishes to educate people about the importance of spaying and neutering pets — one of the greatest causes of pet homelessness — and not allowing them to roam aimlessly, she added.
For Talbot, who counts some dogs rescued in Hinesville among her own pets, educating people about the perils of animal-control facilities is both a life mission and the catalyst for change.
Talbot is working with an NBC Creative Studios producer on a documentary called “Take Me Home” that will feature footage from the Liberty rescues as well as a mission to save animals from extermination at the Chattooga County Animal Control last year.
“They’re entering every film festival they can get into — Sundance, Tribeca — you name it,” Talbot said. Producers also are working on a song, “All You Gotta Do is Take Me Home,” featuring a range of artists, as well as an accompanying music video.
“Every time we see an animal rescue PSA on television, the response is, ‘We’re too sad. We’ve got to turn this off,’” songwriter Skip Denenberg said. “We’re coming from a different perspective with this music video.”
“It’s going to explode and the whole world is going to be helping Liberty Animal Control,” Talbot said.
While it’s the horror of deceased, maltreated animals that motivates Talbot and Wilder to make change, stories of hope and progress are the ones that keep them going.
The story about Grace, a dog who was found alive among a pile of dead dogs that had been gassed in Liberty County in 2006 and now lives with an owner in Chicago, is one example. It inspired Talbot to work with the county, and it was the basis for Gracie’s Law, or HB788, that effectively outlawed gas chamber euthanasia as of Dec. 31, 2010.
“It’s very exhausting, tiring, and all of us are broke,” Wilder said. “But it’s worth it when you see the faces, when you look in their eyes, when they go to new homes, when you see the pictures that people send you when they get adopted.”