By Denise Bitz
When I started Brother Wolf Animal Rescue nine years ago, the local shelter system in Buncombe County had a 70 percent kill rate. As a result of all of us working together as a community—local officials, humane groups, and generous, caring citizens—last year we achieved several months at an above 90 percent save rate for the first time ever. And our numbers continue to improve.
At any given time, we at Brother Wolf have more than 600 orphaned animals in our care. Since we receive no government funding for our rescue work, we rely greatly on community support, including a robust foster network of more than 800 local volunteers. The generosity, passion, and hard work of these local volunteers truly make the difference between life and death for animals in our community.
Anyone involved in animal rescue will tell you it’s the unique spirit of each and every life we save that inspires our efforts. Take, for example, shy little Dora. I first saw her at Marion County Animal Shelter in South Carolina, when Brother Wolf staff and volunteers were helping with disaster recovery efforts after devastating floods last fall. Dora and her puppies had just been surrendered to the county shelter, and she was terrified, afraid for the safety of her babies. Somehow, as they were unloading Dora and her puppies from the animal control truck, Dora managed to escape!
For several weeks after, every time we’d go back to Marion County, I’d see Dora patrolling the shelter grounds, watching our every move. “She’s trying to get to her puppies,” the shelter worker told me, “but we can’t catch her.” When folks would drive up and approach the shelter with a pet carrier, Dora would dart in close to see if she could smell her pups, then quickly run away, tail tucked.
Weeks turned to months, and all her puppies were eventually rescued, but Dora never left the shelter grounds. I believe she was holding out hope that she would be reunited with her puppies. I felt so sad for her; she wanted to be such a good mama! It wasn’t until one of the animal control trucks accidently ran over her that they were able to finally catch her. She had a fractured pelvis and, because they couldn’t afford to care for her and no foster home was available, we brought her home to Asheville with us.
Dora’s recovery has been nothing less than inspiring! Her pelvis is now fully healed, and even after losing her babies and having clearly suffered a lifetime of neglect, she’s learned to trust us and accept our love and hugs. She’s even struck up a friendship with sweet Khaleesi at her foster home. Her foster mom tells us that Dora likes to gather her stuffed animals each day, tending to them like the babies she never got a chance to care for. She’s now ready for adoption and, of course, we’ll make sure she gets a great forever home.
There are far too many communities in the South that are still decades behind the rest of the country in terms of progress toward the concept of no-kill shelters. Dora’s legacy is that she inspired us to continue helping out down in Marion County. We’re now working with a small group of caring local citizens to help build the key programs they need for a no-kill community—a small adoption center, a robust volunteer foster network, and a thrift store to help cover ongoing rescue and spay-neuter costs. After they’re up and running a few years, and once we’ve developed a solid base of local support there, we aim to transition ownership to local leaders. Along the way, we’ll ask them to “pay it forward” and help us advise other communities in need.
In addition to our work in Marion County, we plan to help two other communities develop no-kill programming this year: McDowell County, North Carolina, and Dickenson County, Virginia. Like Marion County, both face significant economic challenges and so are perfect candidates to benefit greatly from Brother Wolf’s community-based approach to organizing no-kill resources. We’ve already been helping these communities build local support for transport, foster, and adoption efforts. In fact, as I write, McDowell County Animal Control is now in their eighth straight week without a single dog or cat being killed due to space issues. It’s working!
Denise Bitz is president and founder of Brother Wolf Animal Rescue. For more information about Brother Wolf’s revolutionary No-Kill Community Development Program, visit bwar.org.