New Mexico's Pet Resource EDITORS' PICKS



By Bob Swandby

“That the moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings d material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way.” - Goethe

When Jeannie Cornelius moved from Georgia to Dixon in 1982 in 1982 she had no idea that her life would quickly change from being a full time potter to a full time animal protector and educator. Shortly after settling in, she discovered a scraggly cat living in a dumpster. Then she found a dog caught in a steel leg trap and a crippled dog at the dump. This was just the beginning of a stream of abandoned and abused creatures which wended their way to her house. Soon she was taking in over fifty animals a year, but was having fair results placing many of them in permanent homes. “When our land was home to forty dogs and fifteen cats, I knew my luck was running out,” Jeannie said with a furrowed brow.

She hadn’t set out to become a collector of strays. They just kept coming her way and when she felt overwhelmed she remembered that Mother Theresa started her program in the slums of Calcutta with only thirty beds. “Do little things with great love,” was that wise woman’s motto. When I visited Jeannie, it was clear to me that she cares for these dogs and cats with great love. They send out an energy of complete contentment. They gathered around us while we ate lunch, as if they wanted to hear the story of how they were saved by this woman who talks to each one as if it were the most important.

When I asked her how she felt about this role change from full time potter to full time animal caregiver she said, “I Feel l have no choice. It’s as if the ani­mals choose me rather than the other way around. This is a spe­cial gift, which was given. I was not seeking it, but I stayed open and it happened.”

Taking care of all these animals, time consuming as that task is, is only part of Jeannie’s work. She realized several years ago that the only way to start to slow this growing stream of abandoned cats and dogs was to begin a spay and neuter pro­gram. So she and a few friends founded Friends of St. Francis discount spay and neuter program. In the first year alone, the program paid for 1,000 spays and neuters and after that year her intake of strays began to slow. This feat was accomplished in a rural area where spaying and neutering was essentially a foreign concept. Jeannie said that she believes they were successful with the program because she was a part of the community. These were friends and neighbors who were learning that there was an effective way to reduce the unwanted animal population in the area. Friends of St. Francis later became a part of the Española Animal Shelter spay and neuter program.

Most people would have patted themselves on the back after creating a sanctuary for unwanted animals and developing a spay and neuter program, but Jeannie had a stronger vision. She realized that for her efforts to have a last­ing impact, she needed to also begin educating the younger generation about animal care and spaying and neutering. She started going to local schools with puppet programs and reading materials aimed at educating young people in the community on the humane treatment of companion animals and livestock. Jeannie said, “It became very clear to me at this point that the main focus of Dixon Animal Protection Society (DAPS) should be education and raising money to help spay and neuter as many animals as possible. DAPS became a feder­al tax exempt animal rescue and shelter organization last October and since then has helped make possible over fifty spays and neuters in the Dixon, Peñasco, Española and Taos areas through kind donations. DAPS is now in the process of applying for a grant to expand its spay and neuter work.”

The work has not been easy, but it’s been rewarding. When funds were running out little miracles would happen. When her vehicles were not running, the adoptive mother of a blind dog that Jeannie had rescued donated a truck. When the bake sale funds were running out, another guardian of a rescued animal rounded up donations, and an animal lover in Santa Fe heard of their difficulties and sent funds. Placitas Animal Rescue Foundation has donated food. DAPS animals eat near ly 1,000 pounds of food per month.

DAPS is run strictly on donations and has no paid staff. Jeannie stated, “Our focus is to help animals and educate as many people as possible about their care through spay/neuter, emergency vet care, feeding and caretaking” She says she can’t do it alone and wants to thank all her friends and helpers. Special thanks go to Hallie Hayden, who helps with caretaking, and Adelle Zimmerman, who does com­puter work and writing. She is also grateful to her daughter Hannah, who helps with the animals and raises her own small herd of goats and her husband, Bob, who has been “long suffering through all this craziness”, according to Jeannie.

The story of DAPS is the story of Jeannie Cornelius, a mod­est woman who helps her community by attending to all these stray animals with great compassion, love and commitment. After all the hard work and frustration she still has a ready smile and a keen sense of humor. She’s the kind of person you’d love to have for a neighbor.

Note: This article first appeared in the Fall/Winter 1998 issue.

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