Over a thousand puppies and adult dogs were saved from euthanasia in Kentucky last year, thanks to the work of Margie Swift and other Chicago area graduates of the Landmark Forum. Margie Swift always had a love of animals. Prior to doing the Landmark Forum, she talked about them, but never did anything about it. As she completed the Curriculum for Living and other Landmark Programs, she actually began to do something, not just talk about it. There was volunteering and raising awareness at a local animal shelter to sponsoring animals at out of state places that needed help, or, her previous venture – bringing a pet magazine to Indianapolis (Indy Tails) to help the animals, raise awareness in the community and bring together groups and people all interested in animals. During her 4 years with Indy Tails, she met many contacts – but about 16 months ago, things began to change.
She received an email from a graduate who wrote ‘You like animals, maybe you can help?’ The email was forwarded from a Landmark Education graduate in Minneapolis who was looking for someone to help drive dogs from Chicago to Madison. Swift transported those pups, then did the same last weekend, then started asking questions.
She got intrigued about how she could make a difference. When Hurricane Katrina hit, many animal rescuers drove to New Orleans to help. While they were there, they learned of the enormous numbers of animals being euthanized in Kentucky – several rescuers decided to create Safe Hands Animal Rescue in Minnesota in an effort to help those animals. When Swift did her first transport, it turned out it was for that rescue.
Swift states, “I had no idea the poverty in Appalachia still existed – I learned about it in school years ago, and in my ignorance, I thought it was gone. Over 30% of families live below the poverty level – that’s families living on under $20,000 per year, for an entire family. They cannot afford to feed themselves, let alone animals. Forget it if you think many of them can afford to spay or neuter their pets.”
Swift readily admits that the programs she took at Landmark Education learning how to build teams and teamwork has made the biggest difference here. She has been able to find at least 20 rescue groups/shelters who are willing to help take animals from the shelter – when she came on, there were only two groups participating.
She began working with one particular shelter and transporting large numbers of dogs out of Kentucky to approved rescues and shelters. Partnering with Safe Hands, they were able to triple the rescue number (1500 up from 500 the previous year) and half their euthanasia numbers (500 down from 1000). All told, Swift was directly responsible for transporting at least 1,200 dogs to homes that otherwise would have been euthanized.
Swift realizes that the only way to create a long term solution for Appalachian animals is through spay/neuter programs. A year ago, when she looked, there was no program available. She kept looking and making calls and in the process she met up with Denise Jones, who, it turns out, is another Landmark Forum graduate, who she calls “the best kept secret in Kentucky spay/neuter.”
Through the Woodstock Animal foundation that she runs, Jones is responsible for spay/neutering 7,000 animals a year for the last 10 years – that’s 70,000 animals! “When I met Denise and found out she was a graduate, I cried” admits Swift. “I knew, with the ability to come from what is possible for both of us, we sped up the solution in Appalachia by 10 years.”
Through her training with teams at Landmark Education and through her connections in animal welfare and incredible people like Denise Jones, she is reaching out to new groups and individuals as well as working with existing structures and organizations to enroll more vets and find more resources to dramatically expand spay/neutering in this region. “I can feel it starting to shift, a little at a time. And the community is seeing it as well – people are getting excited to help and can truly see ‘what’s possible’. I believe our first spay/neuter weekend will happen April of this year.”
Swift is in the process of forming her own non-profit group, whose long-term goal is nothing less than the end of pet euthanasia in North America. She is not daunted by the scope of the challenge in front of her. The non-profit will be named Starfish Animal Rescue. Swift says, “Because of the starfish story. You know, the one where the man walks along the beach and in the distance notices a boy picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As the man approaches the boy, he sees the boy is surrounded by thousands of starfish that have washed ashore. The man says to the boy, “You are surrounded by thousands of starfish, you can’t make a difference here.” The boy picks up another, looks at it, throws it into the ocean and says, “Well, I made a difference for that one”. “This is who all animal welfare workers are to me,” says Swift, “unstoppable in the face of daunting numbers – and, every single one saved makes a difference.”
Swift is always looking for additional ideas and people who want to help. She can be contacted at [email protected]