Animal Rescue Heroes

updated 03/05/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/2007 AT 01:00 AM EST

INJURED WILDLIFE HELPED BACK TO NATURE
GINNIE FRATI, HAMPTON BAYS, N.Y.

Driving home from work in 1991, Ginnie Frati was dismayed to see an injured woodchuck still moving by the side of the road. A lifelong animal lover, she pulled into a diner and "made call after call for help," she says, "then realized none was coming."

Shocked that no outlet existed to help nondomestic animals, Frati, 50, decided to earn her license as a wildlife rehabilitator. By 1995 she was caring for critters at the Sag Harbor, N.Y., home she shares with husband Augie. "I had swans, gulls and a loon in my bathtub," says Frati, who also held down a secretarial job. "I had baby birds in my desk drawer. I'd feed them every half hour."

Exhausted by her dual duties and frustrated by the calls about injured animals she'd miss while she was at work, Frati quit her day job in 1997 and three years later opened the Wildlife Rescue Center of the Hamptons. Now she and her staff of six (and 45 volunteers) take calls 24-7 and will go out any time of day or night to help everything from a sick swan sleeping in the middle of the road to deer hit by cars. "I always wear boots because I never know if I'm going to be running in a field somewhere," says Frati, who goes out at least once a night during the busiest months. "Yesterday I chased down a goose with a broken wing—man, could he run!"

In the Rescue Center's intensive care unit, Frati dotes on a diamondback terrapin turtle who was discarded in a Dumpster after a pet store closed down, a possum whose leg was amputated after it got caught in a lawn chair, and a Canadian goose shot—and then abandoned—by a hunter.

"Encounters with humans account for just about all of their problems," says Frati of her patients. With her staff and donations, she's able to treat more than 1,000 animals a year, half of which are eventually able to return to the wild, which is Frati's ultimate goal. Among her most rewarding moments? Releasing a robin she helped heal after it had hit a car's windshield. "When he flew, I got teary-eyed," she says. "And he just started singing."

FINDING HOMES FOR PETS WHOSE OWNERS ARE DYING
KELLY MOYER, GURNEE, ILL.

When Kelly Moyer's father realized he wasn't going to survive his second bout with cancer, he couldn't relax until he knew his cat Garfield would be okay even after he was gone. "Once we found Garfield a home," says Moyer, whose rigorous work schedule prevented her from taking him in, "my father was so relieved."

Wanting to provide that sense of calm to other dying pet lovers, Moyer, 48, left her job as a ConAgra food saleswoman in 2002 and founded Tails of Hope. "A lot of these folks are worried their animals will end up in a shelter or euthanized," says Moyer. "Tails of Hope guarantees they'll end up in a good home." Since 2002, Moyer and her volunteers—who often take in pets until prospective adopters are found and screened—have placed 1,200 animals with new caregivers.

For Moyer, her new line of work (which is supported entirely by charitable donations) is rewarding but can be emotionally draining. She often has to wait outside a room while dying pet owners say a final goodbye to their companions. "It can break your heart," says Moyer. "But it feels good to know you're taking a sad situation and making it better."

PROVIDING A HAVEN FOR DOOMED HORSES
HELEN MEREDITH, ARCADIA, CALIF.

In 1996 horse trainer Meredith found herself at an auction for baby foals—the by-products of the creation of Wyeth Pharmaceutical's female hormone replacement drug Premarin (an acronym for Pregnant Mares Urine, from which the drug's estrogen is harvested). Although farmers were making money on the moms, they had no use for the babies, which is why "meat buyers were snapping them up," says Meredith. "It was devastating."

Having earlier founded the United Pegasus Foundation to save retired racehorses from slaughter, Meredith, 50, wanted to help the foals too. She'd go to auctions and, using her own money and UPF donations, try to circumvent the meat buyers. "One would always try to outbid me," she recalls. But Meredith held her ground.

In 2000 her mission got a boost from a farmer's wife who insisted their foals go directly to UPF. Other farmers followed suit, helping Meredith save up to 4,500 foals. Though Premarin production has been cut back since a 2002 study showed it had negative side effects (says a Wyeth rep: Premarin "is the only treatment proven to relieve menopausal symptoms. Like any drug, there are risks involved"), thousands of foals are still produced.

Now Meredith cares for about 500 horses until she finds folks like Karen Miller, who adopted two rescued fillies. Says Miller: "[Meredith's] made awesome efforts to save these beautiful creatures."

HELPING SICK PETS GET THE PRICEY TREATMENTS THEY NEED
KATE BLAND, LOVETTSVILLE, VA.

Despite the $11,500 that Kate Bland poured into treating her cancer-stricken dogs Sammy and Maddie, neither could be saved. "I would have sold everything to help them," the software marketing director, 43, says. "I thought, 'What do people do if they don't have the money?'"

A year later she saw an Internet plea from a single mom for donations to help pay for her dog Shadow's chemotherapy. Bland wanted to "do something I couldn't do for my own dogs," she says, so she began knitting and selling scarves, ultimately raising $6,243 for Shadow.

Shadow eventually died, but Bland's passion to help people pay pet medical bills lived on. Through her organization Wrapped in Kindness she kept selling scarves online and added pet beds, totes and more. In the last two years she's raised more than $82,000, helping 83 pets including Meg, a Bernese mountain dog who needed a nearly $3,000 operation to correct a liver defect. "In a hopeless time, Kate appeared," says Meg's owner Anna Lofton.

"It's worth coming home from work and [working on] this for hours," says Bland. "It changes lives."

CREATING A SANCTUARY FOR DISABLED PETS
STEVE SMITH AND ALAYNE MARKER, OVANDO, MONT.

Doggy dinnertime at Smith and Marker's ranch is an unusual affair. Three-legged labrador retriever Cody spins on his remaining rear leg before chowing down, while husky mix Travis, who suffers from a muscle disease preventing him from opening his jaw, slurps up a bowl of liquefied food, and dachshund mix Ito, afflicted by a neurological disorder, wobbles back and forth as she dives in to eat. "You can tell they like being here," says Marker, 51, who, with husband Steve, 48, opened the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in 2000 after realizing there was a dearth of facilities caring exclusively for disabled pets. Adds Smith: "You can't imagine they might've been put down."

Yet that's exactly the fate many of the 80 dogs, cats and horses afflicted with everything from blindness to deafness to muscular dystrophy would have met had the couple not given up their day jobs as Boeing executives to create a home for them. "It didn't seem right to keep making lots of money but do nothing about this problem," says Smith.

The couple turned their 160-acre rural vacation home into the Sanctuary, and hordes of needy animals (some of whose previous owners were ready to put them down) followed. Since their facility opened, the couple have been able to find adoptive homes for 40 pets. "Disabled animals can have a wonderful quality of life," says Smith. "You don't have to give up on them."

For more information on the organizations featured in these stories, go to:
www.rollingdogranch.org
www.wildliferescuecenter.org
www.tailsofhope.org
www.unitedpegasus.com
www.wrappedinkindness.com

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