ODESSA — The man read a story in the St. Petersburg Times about an animal rescue organization in Odessa, founded by two women and run on whatever donations they can get — but mostly from their own money and time.
The women, Lisa Lewis and Sue Lambert, have dedicated their lives to saving pets. They volunteered to rescue animals after Hurricane Katrina — and witnessed ghastly scenes that still haunt them — and came back wanting to do even more, which is why they founded the organization.
The man told the women that he wanted to donate money to their nonprofit rescue, the Community Animal Rescue & Educational Shelter. He asked to come visit the shelter, which is on several acres of lovely land.
Lewis and Lambert thought he might donate $50. But what if he donated more? They dreamed of what they could do with $500 — pay vet bills, build new kennels.
The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, asked the women what they needed most.
"A transport vehicle," Lewis said.
"Done," the man said.
Lewis and Lambert felt like fainting. They had been using their own cars and wished they had a van so they could take several animals to the veterinarian's office at once. Or sometimes they rescue many pets at one time or take them to their new homes. They wanted something with their logo and number so people could see it and call to tell them about animals in need.
The man wrote them a check for $25,000.
"We couldn't believe it," Lewis said. "It's overwhelming."
They bought a Ford E-250 cargo van and used the remaining money for gas cards and to get their logo painted on the sides. They've got an emergency kit inside to do first aid on pets they rescue while taking them to the veterinarian's office. They have leashes and food and traps.
"It's perfect," Lewis said.
Many others responded to the article and sent in donations of money and supplies. A soccer coach read the story and contacted the women to help him catch a scared stray dog. Lewis and Lambert got the dog, a shepherd mix that turned out to be so sweet.
"She was so grateful to not be scared anymore," Lewis said of the dog, which has now been adopted by a family with a young boy, who calls the dog his best friend. The soccer coach's students have rallied together and sent in two huge donations of supplies, Lewis said. Other people have donated their time as volunteers — something the rescue also desperately needs.
Since the rescue opened a year ago, the women have saved and found homes for 238 pets. An elderly dog named Mister Mister, which was featured in a photograph with a story, was adopted and is now being spoiled rotten, Lewis said.
Teddy, the deaf and nearly blind Australian shepherd also featured in the original article (and shown here) is now in a foster home. Lewis said he's doing well, but the search is still on for his permanent home. He is a difficult one to place because he needs extra training because of his hearing disability.
"Oh my gosh, I miss him," Lewis said.
As she finds homes for her beloved rescues, there are always others needing help. On New Year's Eve, Lewis was in her Brooksville home, bottle-feeding 3-day-old beagle puppies whose mother died giving birth. The mother had been saved from being euthanized in a shelter and was on her way to the rescue when she went into labor. She had 14 puppies, which have been doled out among volunteers. Lewis has named her four babies Lexi, Jag, Diesel and Titan. They have to be fed every two hours. She keeps telling them that they have to survive.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4609.