FAYETTEVILLE – Military wives make up most of the volunteer group, Fosters 4 Furbutts.
Besides the military, these women share another common bond: They are committed to saving animals about to be euthanized at county shelters.
“I have walked into Cumberland County (Animal Shelter) and they were getting ready to stick the needle into that leg, and we take it,” said group member Susie Hutchinson, 39, of Elizabethtown.
Jackie Thornton is one of the driving forces behind the group, which has been saving animals since September.
“We all share such a common passion,” said Thornton, a 30-year-old New York native. “We all bring something different to the group.”
To date, Thornton said, the team of about 70 women has rescued an estimated 170 dogs from shelters in Hoke, Robeson and Cumberland counties. Of the 70 women, she said, probably 15 are constantly doing something regarding the group’s rescue mission.
“The ladies at Robeson love us,” Hutchinson said.
Sadly, she expressed that sentiment the day before a second distemper outbreak in a month occurred at the Robeson County Animal Shelter, suspending adoptions and rescues indefinitely. The outbreak caused 106 dogs to be euthanized.
Women in the goup peruse county websites and animal shelter Facebook pages for potential pets to rescue.
“The sooner we can get them out,” Thornton said, “the better.”
On the last Sunday in March, about 15 of the rescuers and their families and friends gathered at Thornton’s Hoke County home for a cookout. Along with hamburgers and hot dogs, they shared stories about the desire to help dogs in need of good homes.
They consider it their job to pull the dogs from shelters and take them in for veterinary care. They foster them in their homes for a couple of weeks, until the dogs are ready for new owners and new homes. The group needs more people to foster the animals.
“We’ve had amazing success,” said Thornton, who still speaks with a distinct New York accent despite living in the Fayetteville area for seven years. “We’ve grown from something small to something huge.”
Initially, the group started as a support system for the Robeson County Animal Shelter, which was in need of people to foster animals for the short term.
Annette Walbon, who lives in Minnesota, founded the group and is considered the motivation behind it.
“She’s a visionary,” Thornton said. “She sees the big picture.”
Angela Todd, 38, put it this way: “It’s like she has angels on her shoulder picking up people.”
Along the way, a Fosters 4 Furbutts Facebook page has been developed, providing a resource for networking and getting the word out about shelter animals in need of help.
The group also preaches the importance of spaying, neutering and vaccinating pets.
To get the work done, the women -- the middlemen who move the rescue along -- are always on call. They never know when they may field a phone call from a shelter telling them about animals about to be put down.
They use their own vehicles to pick up an animal, then keep it quarantined. Afterward, a transporter takes it to the person who will adopt it, usually in a northern state.
State law requires that no dog can be transported across state lines within 10 to 14 days of being released from a shelter. The law can be costly for the people who rescue and adopt the animals.
“We’re talking about lots of money to save these pets,” said Laura Johnson, 36, another one of the group’s leaders.
The group stages fundraisers to cut the costs. People also are able to donate through the Facebook page. The volunteers provide free temporary board for the rescued animals, and some supplies are necessary.
For these women, it’s all about saving lives and trying to give the animals a good home.
The Fosters 4 Furbutts women also walk the walk: Almost all of them have dogs that were rescued from surrounding animal shelters.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for animals,” Thornton said. “Growing up, I was allergic to dogs and couldn’t have one. As I got older, my allergies improved. It was always my dream to have my own dog. Then it went from one dog to all dogs.
“There’s just something about helping them. It’s like, if we don’t do this, who’s going to?”