WILSON – Rescue groups turned Mimi away. Animal shelters would have put her to sleep.
But the mixed-breed puppy with mangled front paws is running and leaping on four feet thanks to the Maggie Society, a last-chance dog rescue network that specializes in what founder Laurie Brumfield calls “the hopeless cases.”
“I tell people, ‘If it’s got one eye and three legs, we’ll take it,’” said Laurie’s husband, Jesse Brumfield.
The rescue group that the Brumfields started two years ago with a few like-minded friends is expanding into an incorporated nonprofit with paid staff courtesy of an adoptive owner-turned-benefactor.
David Haddad of Connecticut is paying Laurie Brumfield to serve as the Maggie Society’s director. She left her job as a Spanish teacher at Beddingfield High School late last month to work for the Maggie Society full-time.
“He’s made this huge financial commitment,” Brumfield said. “He’s investing his money, but he’s also investing in dogs’ lives. He has jumped in with both feet.”
The group’s expansion comes as another Wilson County animal rescue scales back. For the Love of Dogs operators Max and Della Fitz-Gerald announced last week that they’re reducing their private shelter’s capacity by about a third, from around 150 dogs to eventually fewer than 100.
Max Fitz-Gerald, who is 70, said he and his wife can’t continue the frenetic pace of 15-hour days that their rescue group requires.
“This is a full-time job that we do in our spare time,” Jesse Brumfield said.
“Regardless of all the other rescues’ efforts, there’s not enough of us,” Laurie Brumfield added. “Until the community makes a few changes in the laws, there’s just not enough of us.”
The Maggie Society’s namesake is a mottled brown Chesapeake Bay retriever who’s about 14 years old. The Brumfields adopted her when she was around 8. Overlooked by other families, Maggie became the Brumfields’ dream dog.
“The group that had her at the time considered her too old and too antisocial to adopted, so I said I’d give her a try,” Laurie Brumfield said. “With a little love and stability, she soon became a wonderful family dog. I thought there must be other Maggies out there.”
About two years later, the Maggie Society was born. Laurie and Jesse Brumfield formed a network of friends and acquaintances willing to provide foster homes for strays and special-needs dogs while they worked to find them new families.
Barbara Batts, Amanda Perry and Angie Reed joined the Brumfields, and the five now comprise the Maggie Society’s core group, informally called the council.
“We focus on the dogs that are typically looked over by other rescue groups,” Laurie Brumfield said.
“We don’t discriminate – we’ll take in anything – but we focus our efforts on dogs that are in the eleventh hour.”
Haddad’s involvement began when he adopted a black Lab mix that bore an uncanny resemblance to his dog, Lucky, who had died of cancer. He saw the dog he’d later name Lucky’s Baby online and traveled to North Carolina to pick up the pooch.
“When he saw the amount of need that there was for senior and special-needs dogs, he took two more dogs with him,” Brumfield said. “And the next week, he came and took a few more.”
Haddad had his own private kennel built in Connecticut to house the Wilson County dogs he adopted. He worked with other rescue groups to find them loving homes and pushed the Maggie Society to expand when he learned of the growing need.
“He encouraged me by saying, ‘The need is overwhelming, and it needs your full attention,’” Brumfield said, recalling Haddad’s offer of full-time employment at the group she had organized and helped manage as a volunteer.
Brumfield said she misses teaching, but she’s grateful for the opportunity to devote her career to caring for neglected and abused dogs.
Many Maggie Society rescues find new homes in the Northeast, where animal advocates say stringent spay and neuter laws have largely curbed pet overpopulation. Brumfield said the demand for dogs in states like Pennsylvania and Connecticut outstrips the supply.
“People can open the door and whistle here and find a dog if they want one,” she said.
The Maggie Society has formed a partnership with Southampton, Pa.-based Wags Rescue, which takes in 50 or more Wilson County dogs each month.
Perry serves as the group’s transport coordinator and drives the dogs to Pennsylvania and Connecticut once a month. Reed, who had her husband build a “puppy barn” in her back yard to house some of the group’s foster dogs, accompanies Perry on the road trips.
“It’s absolutely wonderful when you drive all night long and you pull in to a parking lot of people holding their leashes,” Perry said. “Most of the time, the people are already there waiting to adopt their dogs.”
Pennsylvania and Connecticut families are eager to open their homes to Southeastern strays, and Interstate 95 is becoming a veritable puppy pipeline.
“They love the dogs with a Southern accent,” Brumfield joked.
But the dearth of abandoned dogs in the Northeast and their abundance in eastern North Carolina is no laughing matter to animal advocates.
“One of the biggest reasons why we have such a need is we do not have spay and neuter laws in place and we don’t have education in place, either,” Brumfield said. “A lot of people don’t have the understanding as to why it’s important.”
The Maggie Society is pushing for more low-cost spay and neuter clinics, more incentives for owners to have their pets “fixed” and, ultimately, laws that require dogs to be altered in order to reduce overpopulation.
In five years, one unsprayed female dog can produce 12,288 puppies if none of her offspring are spayed and neutered and all reproduce at average rates, according to the New York-based nonprofit Spay USA.
“We have no laws or fees that are taking a real bite out of this problem,” Brumfield said. “Why reinvent the wheel? Why aren’t we looking at other communities that have done it well?”
Maggie Society members said they’d like to see the Wilson County Board of Commissioners’ animal control subcommittee – now composed of three commissioners – expanded to include veterinarians, animal rescuers and interested county residents.
“It is truly a community problem, and only the community can help us solve it,” said Batts, who coordinates the Maggie Society’s small-dog rescues.
The Maggie Society has several dozen dogs divided between its members and affiliates. Because the group doesn’t have a private shelter, it relies heavily on foster families who keep dogs anywhere from two weeks to two years while the group tries to find them permanent homes.
“We’re making a concerted effort to increase our foster community,” Brumfield said. “We’re hoping some other people in the community would like to step forward to open their hearts and their homes, because the need is overwhelming.”
Volunteers don’t have to house a dozen dogs or agree to keep them for years. Brumfield said short-term foster families that provide homes for one or two dogs for a matter of weeks can help the Maggie Society save those dogs from being euthanized.
“Sometimes we just need short-term fosters,” she said. “It can be a week sometimes or two weeks, but that can mean the difference between life and death.”
Fostering a dog isn’t always easy, however. Brumfield said some temporary homes become permanent when families get attached to the playful pups. She calls those arrangements “failed fosters,” but each failure represents a success.
“Our goal is for all of our dogs to have a couch of their own one day,” Jesse Brumfield said. “Every dog deserves to have a couch.”
The Maggie Society also is looking for those interested in adopting one or more dogs as permanent members of their families.
“Perfect dogs come through our door every day,” Laurie Brumfield said. “They just need a home.”
The screening process includes an application, veterinarian references and a home visit. Not all families and all dogs are compatible, and the group tries to match prospective owners with the right pet.
The Maggie Society is still in the process of incorporating as a nonprofit organization and attaining tax-exempt status. But in the meantime, the volunteers are asking for cash and supplies so they can continue their lifesaving work.
“”We are trying to do everything we can to make sure we save them one at a time,” Brumfield said. “Dog food, collars, kennels, beds, blankets, puppy pads, we need it all.”
As the Maggie Society expands, volunteers will continue caring for abused, neglected, old, sick and unwanted dogs–and cleaning up after them.
“One thing about rescue is you’ve got to get used to being licked in the face and peed on,” Jesse Brumfield said. “I say it’s not rescue if you haven’t been peed on.”
To find out more about the Maggie Society, find the group on Facebook, email themaggiesociety(at)yahoo.com or call Laurie Brumfield at 292-6305.