Summer 2013 Magazine

Volunteers Helping Animals

Northern New Mexico Rescurer

By Nancy Marano

Growing up in rural Questa, NM, Gail didn't have any brothers or sisters so animals were her friends. "I guess that's why I love them so much. They just give you everything they have. They trust you. They love you for whatever attention you give them. They don't judge you. I just can't say enough about them and how wonderful they are," Gail said.

That Gail is a warm, caring person is evident in what she does every day to help animals in northern New Mexico. But the warmth is strong enough to come through the phone line between Questa and Albuquerque. Interviewing Gail was like listening to a ray of hope with some soft laughter thrown in now and then when she recounted an animal's antics or she felt she'd said too much about herself.

Gail and her husband, Joe, rescued animals for about 15 years on their own. In the last year several other people have joined their rescue efforts and they've formed a nonprofit called Northern New Mexico Friends of Animals, Inc. Now they have help with the animals' medical expenses and a break on sales tax but Gail and her husband still provide the food.

The rescue group now includes Gail and Joe, Jim and Janice Vaughan, Holly Howard and Jake Lafore. They are assisted by the Cisneros' son, Shawn, and their grandchildren, Jordan, Alyssa and Landyn. The children work at socializing puppies.

"When Gail and Joe shop for dog food, they take a pickup truck due to the large amount of food they get on a monthly basis. They provide a lot of hay not only for the horses in our care but also for the wild horses in Colorado between Costilla and San Luis. Gail gives a lot of feed to people who have animals needing help due to the bad economic times in our area," Jim Vaughan said.

"Going to Sam's Club is an adventure. We take one of those big pallet carts and load it up with ten or twelve 50 pound bags of food. Then we add a lot of canned food and treats. It's a great conversation starter. People ask us why we have so much food. It gives us a chance to educate them about animals, what we do and the importance of spaying and neutering their animals," Gail said.

Spay and neuter is not common in rural areas. "We try to educate people so they understand that an animal needs love, compassion, friendship and good treatment. Some people beat a dog and just don't care. They think animals are just throwaway things. We try but those people just don't get it," Gail said.

Many animals run loose in the area. And many others are just thrown out in a field. Unfortunately, there is ample opportunity for abuse, too. Gail and her group don't want that to happen. People let the group know when animals are out on their own or being abused. Gail's group goes after the animals and brings them in.

"We'll take any animal out of the mountains, off the road, at any time of the day or night. If there is an animal hurt or in distress, we pick it up and take it to the vet," Gail said. "Right now we have 17 dogs, two miniature horses, eight abused horses, cats and two pigs. We don't take any animals to the shelter. If an animal is adoptable, we find a home for it and we take it back if the home doesn't work out. Before we adopt an animal we check the situation it will go into. We want to know that there are fences and places for the animal to get out of the weather and that they will get a lot of love. The puppies go to Colorado. We call Pat Steele in Angel Fire the 'puppy wagon lady.' She packs them up after they are socialized and ready to go and takes them to Colorado for adoption."

Gail and her husband live on five acres of land. Three acres is devoted to housing for the animals. The other two acres are used for growing alfalfa and hay. They have 15 kennels and an exercise area outside as well as crates and dog beds in the house for those animals who need to come inside at night.

"I had a call that there was a pack of dogs running loose in Questa. We managed to trap the alpha male and female then brought them back to our outdoor kennels. One day they were gone. Somehow they managed to pull up the chain link fence. I don't know how they got the fence out of the ground but they did. Several days later, I looked out in the field and saw a dog I thought I knew. Then I saw another dog and another. They had gone across town and brought back all the other dogs! I call them my doggie six-pack.

Bruno, the alpha dog, still won't let me touch him but when it's his turn to be out, he follows me everywhere. He comes in the house at night and sleeps on my bed. I have sleep apnea. If I have trouble while I'm sleeping, he takes his paw or his nose and pushes on me or shakes the bed to wake me up. Once in a while he'll put his nose on mine and give me a kiss."

Taking care of all the animals they've rescued is a full-time job. Their daily schedule runs something like this.

Gail and Joe start at 6:00 a.m. Two to two and a half hours are spent getting the animals fed and watered. Another three to four hours are spent exercising everyone. And at least one hour is spent giving everyone treats. She brings some animals into the house at night to sleep because they need extra attention. Sometimes these animals need to go outside during the night which means she or Joe gets up for them. When they have puppies, they spend a lot more time with them. Add to this the time it takes to rescue animals who need help. The whole rescue group is ready to go out after an animal at a moment's notice no matter the time of day or night. While Gail spends her day tending the animals, Joe works as a plumber. "My husband wasn't an animal person when I met him, but he's learned," Gail laughs.

"It just breaks your heart to see what people do. I can hardly stand it. Sometimes I think I can't do this because it hurts so much," Gail said. But she is always ready when the next call for help comes.

"We learned about a donkey a man had chained to an old pickup truck. We weren't able to save the donkey but there were many other abused animals on the property including a miniature horse named Shorty. He was tied to a tire with a chain that was embedded in his neck. We took him with us and the man just ripped the chain out of his neck. Imagine the pain and damage that did. After Shorty recovered, we thought we had him placed but he came back to us. He's like a dog. He follows me around the yard. When I pull weeds he wants to eat them, but only if I hand them to him," Gail said.

Gail has rescued thousands of animals over the years. "I can't see an animal that looks like it's lost without picking it up and trying to find the owner or trying to find a new home for it. Each one touches your heart. I take animals from such bad situations. Then I fall in love with them. When they are adopted, I cry. People say, 'Why are you crying?' I say because they are taking a piece of my heart with them. We can never reach all the animals here but the ones we do help are so much better for it," she said.

"Gail is a very loving mother to each animal lucky enough to come into her care. She has nursed animals through every kind of illness and amputation. She will stay up with them as many hours as it takes. She has helped many animals who have been the victims of severe cruelty, abuse and torture," Vaughan said.

When asked the most difficult part of rescuing, Gail answered, "It is so painful to see how animals have been treated. Seeing the abuse and the hurt animals go through is the hardest part. You can't put compassion in a person's heart if he doesn't have it."

But rescuing isn't all bad. "The best part of rescuing is seeing how the animals respond to love after all they've been through. You'd think they would hate everybody, but they don't. They know that somebody cares for them and will feed them. They know you won't hurt them. Finally, they can wag their tails." she said.

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who is owned by two cats, Callie, a tortoiseshell, and Max, a black, panther wannabe. She is a member of the Cat Writers' Association and Dog Writers of America.

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