Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Aiken County Animal Advocates
THE VOICE OF PAWS
(Palmetto Animal Welfare Services, Inc.)
By Joya DiStefano
Once upon a time in far away Zambia lived a girl immersed in the torrent of living things enveloping and invading the family farm.
Her childhood memories are of weaver birds nesting along the Zambezi River, her mother tending to the strange animals that appeared in her house and cheetah, monkeys, deer and always dogs.
The girl entered womanhood aware of, and bonded with, animals in ways few humans understand, much less experience.Her 20s found her in South Africa, where she studied, met Piers, her husband of 30 years, and where she became a dedicated animal advocate.
From circus animals working hot summers, to the cruelties of product testing, or to cleaning 15,000 oil-drenched penguins, the plight of animals consumed her.
She joined many volunteer rescue groups as she and her husband moved from South Africa to the Caribbean and ultimately to Aiken County, where the challenges of a public animal shelter that killed nine of every 10 animals that came through its doors defined her life.
“I feel I was born to be a rescuer,” Annette said in her soft pleasing accent that actually improves on the British. She was. No one can have 12 dogs of their own and still be pulling dogs and networking to find a ride to the nearest transport to save one more.
My husband and I met Annette Vanderwalt at her then rented farm beyond I-20 on Wire Road four years ago. We had been recruited to take a dog or two to Greenville to meet a transport going north the next day. It was on our way.
Annette mostly relied on Facebook to develop her network of supporters and opportunities for Aiken County Shelter animals. One only has to go to her Facebook page to see how she did it.Beware, if you are busy, the focus and passion can pull you in to the drama and trials of the rescue world she portrays. She takes stunningly beautiful photos of animals to improve the chances of survival for those in need.
You may find yourself with a new cat or dog, or networking your own connections to save another. And why not? What could be more rewarding?
Annette’s results were astounding. With one rescue out of New Hampshire she saved 500 dogs in two years plus another 100 to other rescues up north. Never say to Annette Vanderwalt, “We can’t save them all.” Her wrath is instantaneous. She does not think we can; she knows it. She can tell you place after place that is already doing it and a bunch more that are trying. That is her goal; these compatriots are her network.
Then a year ago tragedy struck. Annette had said her routine goodbye to Piers on Nov. 16.
He was a merchant marine, and she had grown used to his long absences. It was Piers’ job that made her rescue work possible.The phone call came on Christmas Eve. Piers died at sea off the coast of Indonesia. They had just bought their own farm.Annette is still working her way back through the searing grief and the shattered life.
She has help, like Maks the foundling pointer. Re-homed to New Hampshire to take some of the pressure off, Maks disappeared, only to be captured when Annette flew up to search for him.But it was Maks who knew exactly what kind of support Annette needed to get through Piers’s memorial service.
And it is her closest friends who knew what she needed to get through the rest of the days after his death, one by one:
They bugged Annette relentlessly when she dropped off the radar. They needed her energy. They needed her pictures. Annette needed rescuing and who better to do it?
It is a long way back and it has been rocky. Almost to the day, a year after Piers left home for the last time, their first “home dog,” as she calls her rescue clients, Chess passed away at 13. Chess had come off a dock in the Dominican Republic. Another piece of life with Piers was gone.
So what does Annette do to go on? She saves the heartworm-positive dogs at the shelter, the ones with zero chance at the adoption floor. She and her partners push social media to raise the money for treatment.
She rescues the black pit bulls. She puts the dogs whose time is running out in front of as many people who might care as she can and she saves them, one after another, again and again.If you want to know how it feels to be part of a community of love and hope, go to Annette Vanderwalt or “CSRA Shelter Animal Advocates: Aiken Foster Network” on Facebook, and find living proof of lives saved, and that sometimes even the rescuer is rescued.
A retired organizational problem-solver and radical educator, Joya Jiménez DiStefano is an artist, Servant Leader, and co-founder of FOTAS, Inc.