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Rescuing animals a labor of love

Dec 1, 2016
by Bobbie Stewart

Every animal that ends up on a euthanized “kill list” comes with a story of how they got there.  Sam, a Labrador mix, belonged to a family that fell on hard times and could no longer support him. Jasmine, a hound mix, was brought in as a stray and overstayed her welcome at the shelter. Families move, babies are born, veterinary bills mount and all the other events in life that make it difficult to care for pets result in the animals being dropped off at a shelter, where with each passing day without adoption, they face death.

That wasn’t acceptable to Summer Swindell, ‘98. Two years ago, the History major created Rescue Junkie with co-founder David McCudden, an organization that rescues dogs and cats from rural shelters in northeast Florida and places them in temporary homes until adoptive homes are located.

Rescue Junkie, based out of Atlantic Beach, Fla., partners with roughly 30 volunteers willing to offer temporary homes to animals, as well as with the Petco Foundation, which allows the group to hold adoption and education events at their site. Rescue Junkie is supported through donations, nearly 90 percent of which pay for the medical expenses of animals, including spay and neuter sterilization, vaccinations, X-rays, surgeries and general veterinary bills.

The program sustains itself on the sheer love of animals. When Swindell hears that one is set to be euthanized, she locates a volunteer who will accept the cat or dog into their temporary shelter, and at the same time finds another volunteer to transport the rescue animal from the shelter to the temporary home. The animal is then spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Finally, the four-legged friends are put up for adoption online. To date, more than 300 animals have been rescued.

“For me, it’s not just seeing an animal being rehabilitated and seeing there’s love in this world,” Swindell said. “It’s when you have a family that thinks they’re whole, and then they bring home a cat or dog and realize they’re a complete family. Adoption gives an animal a second chance and enriches the lives of families.”

Swindell, a former teacher who now devotes most of her time to the non-profit, said you have to take a leap of faith when you start a project like this.

“It’s a true labor of love,” she said. “There’s a lot of naysayers. When you start a rescue, you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s a passion. It’s a calling.”

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