Animal Instinct

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Three area rescue organizations lead with steadfast heart — and hope

Home on Thanksgiving nearly 22 years ago, Jennifer Smith refused to cook dinner until someone in her family helped her build a website for a nonprofit she was starting. Hunger set in. The website went up. By the time the turkey came out of the oven, the shingle for Noah’s Arks Rescue was digitally hung.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia
Photography by Gina Soule
All animals pictured are from local rescues

Like most animal rescues, Noah’s Arks was built by Smith’s fierce passion for animals. Her entire life she’s rescued strays from the sides of roads or taken in dogs nobody wanted.

Many of these dogs, to the loving protestations of Smith’s husband, wound up in their house. Their canine brood grew. And grew. And grew some more. When she brought home her eighth dog, a sweet blind Lab mix named Sammy, Smith realized she needed either a new house or a new plan.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia

Then came Riley, a Yorkshire terrier who was ordered by a judge in South Carolina to be euthanized after his owner was sentenced for the crime of animal neglect. Riley didn’t have a voice in the matter, but Smith did, and she used it, loudly.

“I’m not a go-away kind of person,” Smith says. She refused to let this canine victim become yet another sad statistic. She followed the case and advocated for Riley, who became the first dog officially rescued by Noah’s Arks.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia

Noah’s Arks is a true rescue — a sanctuary — for dogs scheduled to be euthanized, for dogs who’ve been gravely injured or abused or who simply have no place left to go. Some, like Sammy, are blind. Others are missing limbs or are in critical condition due to grievous wounds or illness.

A few of these dogs can be rehabilitated enough to be adopted out, but most stay on to live at Noah’s Arks in a state-of-the-art facility that has been rebuilt and redesigned for the comfort and purpose of these animals.

“You close the doors, and you’re in a dog paradise. The outside world ceases to exist,” Smith says. Noah’s Arks’ small staff tends to each dog one-on-one, giving them medical care, play time, classical music and lots and lots of love. “We are their family,” Smith says. And Noah’s Arks is their home.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia

Home. Perhaps this term has never meant more than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Home is the place where we live, but, ideally, it’s also a space of comfort and safety. The poet Robert Frost famously said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” For Noah’s Arks, home is not born of obligation, but of compassion.

Compassion is at the heart of One Love Animal Rescue, too, which also serves neglected animals in the region.

In December 2012 Karrie Bulski, a marine biologist, was helping her grandparents adopt a dog from a local shelter. The lines at the shelter were long, the wait times interminable. Bulski sat in the waiting area for hours, watching other families interested in adoption leave, frustrated by the lack of attention.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia

Wanting to help, Bulski soon became a volunteer at the local animal control, where she met two other women who, together, recognized a community need for better programs to prevent the sky-high rates of euthanasia. “I grew up on a farm,” says Bulski, “and have always had a deep love for animals and the relationships built with them.”

One Love Animal Rescue was licensed in September 2013 and has been running at full tilt ever since. They’ve adopted or transported out more than 5,000 animals to date.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia
Dr. David and Stacey Sedory with their son, Evan, and two “foster fails,” a Staffordshire terrier named Miley and a Basset Hound/Lab mix named Chunk. The Sedorys regularly foster for One Love (they‘re currently fostering a puppy named Haven).

One Love Animal Rescue takes in cats and dogs (and occasionally a tortoise, ferret, bunny or pig) from local kill shelters or from owners who are forced to surrender their pets.

One Love, like Noah’s Arks, focuses on severe medical cases, broken bones, broken hearts. “If I see a place where I can make a difference, I am pushed to try my best to help create manageable solutions for all the homeless animals in our community who need us,” Bulski says.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia

The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, has been a uniquely difficult time for many who love animals. Families are struggling, not only with the effects of isolation, but also with job layoffs and fewer resources.

Bulski notes a growing interest in pet adoptions — more than double, compared to similar summer months last year. Yet, despite these promising numbers, the challenges of our present moment remain.

Recognizing the limitations of adoption and transport, One Love now runs Operation Pet Rescue, a community outreach program that provides free essential services, such as vaccines and spaying and neutering. Soon, they’ll be offering pet food to families in need through their food bank.

“A house is not a home without a pet,” says Bulski. “The joy of having a pet welcome you home each day is absolutely irreplaceable.”

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia
This dog was a long-time resident of one local shelter. Happy ending: he’s been adopted!

Like Smith’s and Bulski’s experience, strays have always seemed to find Lisa Scarbrough, who grew up on Tybee Island in the ’90s surrounded by pets. She and her family, who run Captain Mike’s Dolphin Tours, constantly took in feral cats who showed up near the marina. They’d spay or neuter the animals, then, if they couldn’t find them a suitable home, allow them to live out their days lounging by the marina.

In college, needy animals magically appeared on Scarbrough’s doorstep. In fact, she developed a reputation as “the woman who knows what to do with stray animals.”

It was her vet, in fact, who suggested she start a nonprofit so she could use donations to help with the mounting bills. Young and optimistic, she did just that. On Feb. 5, 2003, Coastal Pet Rescue officially opened its doors.

For Scarbrough, the role of Coastal Pet Rescue is more important now than ever. Although adoption numbers climbed during the first months of the pandemic, the summer gave way to more cases of neglect and owner surrender. Many families, struggling with job loss or moves that could not accommodate animals, were forced to abandon their pets.

Animal rescues in Savannah, Georgia

“When some consider adopting a pet, they think: ‘I want it now,’” Scarbrough says, something she calls Amazon Prime Syndrome. “Take your time. Find the right match. This isn’t an impulse purchase,” she says, “but a family member for life.”

Jennifer Smith’s 10-page adoption application speaks to her own organization’s commitment to finding the right match, both for the animal and its potential owner. “It’s easier to get a home loan than to adopt at Noah’s Arks,” she says with a laugh — but not an apology. She wants to find an unconditionally loving environment for her rescues where they’ll thrive. “We want them to have the best life possible,” she says. Isn’t that what family should be about? “