Photos by Cameron Flaisch
The time of year has come to start anew. Promises have been made to lose the extra holiday pounds, pick up the hobby that has been stowed away in the garage or to cross that island getaway off your bucket list. All of these things are wonderful additions to living the life we all deserve, but sometimes our resolutions come in the form of lending a hand to a portion of our community that might not have the ability to help themselves.
Imagine the pains of hunger chipping away at you until it becomes hard to stand unassisted. The cold winter air strangles you as you take refuge on a bare spot of the ground that is wet from yesterday’s rain. No one stops to say hello, and the setting sun is the only thing to say goodbye. Life is desolate, loveless and cruel. And just as you think it can’t get worse, you are tossed into the corner of a pick-up truck, stricken by the fear of what’s to come and left to find your place in a world that passes without knowing you are there.
Thankfully, some of our friends and neighbors have heard the cries of these displaced family members and given a voice to the voiceless. As dogs, cats, and other pets are dealt a bad hand due to irresponsible owners who refuse to see them as living creatures, fellow northwest Georgians are cashing in their chips to change the luck of abandoned, neglected, and abused animals.
To creatures with paws and tails, they are heroes. But they don’t wear capes or masks, lift cars from stranded victims or save the world from disaster. They do, though, wear high heels and lipstick, lift animals in need from nightmares, and save them in the nick of time.
Monika Wesolowski has always been smitten by fur babies. Growing up with dogs in her home helped to develop her sensitivity to the needs of pets. However, her extreme sense of awareness came with a price. “I realized early on, how evil people can really be when it comes to stray animals,” she says. “One day, after my dad had picked me up from school at St. Mary’s, I watched a man accelerate in a car to hit a dog crossing the road. I watched a Golden Retriever fly into the air, hit the top of the car, and roll off, and several other cars hit him again. My ill feelings toward people who were mean to animals started then.”
At 10 years old, feeling the emotional blow equal to the pain the pup must have felt physically led Wesolowski to have many conversations with her parents about why people would ever think of mistreating some-thing as loyal as a dog. And as she would ride to and from school with her folks, she began to notice the deplorable conditions that many animals were living in along the way. Chains and trees were the norm, and looking into eyes pleading for help made her want to get involved.
“I decided that I wanted to be a veterinarian, and my mom talked me out of it,” Wesolowski says. “She told me that I cry too much about animals as it is, and she was probably right about suggesting I look at a different career.”
In 2007, she found a workplace home at Citizens First Bank, where she currently serves as a senior personal banker. Iron-ically, her savviness with a budget would soon come into play when she made some important connections to local Romans with hearts for helping.
“The need to help animals just kind of stuck with me. From worrying about my college roommate’s dog being outside with-out hay, to assisting dogs whose docked tails had become infected from not being sutured, I just really felt a strong connection to animals,” Wesolowski says. “Dogs are not lawn ornaments. They are living creatures who get hungry, cold and sick. They want to be a part of your family, not left outside on a chain in the elements. Eventually, it led to me taking money from my budget and packing a zombie apocalypse kit for animals in the back of my car. I had food, medicine, scissors, new collars and just about anything else I could think of to rescue a pet.”
Two cats started her collection of res-cued pets. When her purse began to feel the strain from every extra cent she earned being poured into dog bowls and vet bills, she knew she had to rely on her connections to the community. Rachel Meier (her monthly fundraising partner) and Amy Robitshek with Good Shepherd Animal Refuge Inc. have been by her side in the mission of animal welfare awareness. She adds that she is eternally grateful for the help from Dave and Molly Caldwell of Culbreth-Carr-Watson Animal Clinic for their early and continuous support during emergency cases she has with animals in crisis.
Many of the rescue organizations Wesolowski worked for led her to open her home to foster pets that were waiting for families to adopt them. Most of her work has been done through Animal Rescue League of Northwest Georgia.
Now, Wesolowski has created a net-work of people who are as passionate about helping animals find loving homes, and sometimes that home is hers. Four dogs now also share her address and have their own comfy couch inside for relaxing. One of her canine family members drew newsworthy attention after she saved him from one of the most vicious injuries imaginable.
Braveheart, a coco-colored pit bull terrier, had his throat cut by an unknown culprit. He was located in Murray County, and because of the severity of his injury, the local animal control center had decided to euthanize him. With a gaping slash denying him food and letting just enough air into his body to sustain 48 hours of life, it seemed the humane thing to do. But before they closed the door on Braveheart, a Facebook post seeking help went out to all rescue centers in the area. Animal Rescue League and Wesolowski answered his call.
The scar of a painful past is the only evidence left of what must have been a terrifying time in Braveheart’s life. His warm eyes tell his new story, while a tender touch of his wet nose lets you know he trusts again. Braveheart has his angel who mended all of his wounds.
The animal rescue business builds tight bonds between animals and new homes, but it also inspires lasting friendships between the people with a common passion. Dayna Crumley, a mortgage lender with Movement Mortgage who lived and worked in Rome for 16 years, crossed paths with Wesolowski through pet rescue operations.
“From the time I was able to breathe, I have always loved dogs,” Crumley says with a genuine smile, “and I actually left Rome and purchased a property in Canton, Ga., to facilitate having foster dogs there. I have three acres we use for them.
“But it wasn’t until I rescued a dog from North Carolina that I really got into foster-ing,” she continues. “I always worked in Floyd County with rescues, took treats out to animal control, and I would sometimes assist with rescues locally by fostering here and there. But on the way home from a trip, I saw a Facebook post with a picture of a dog that needed a home. I stopped by and ended up taking him home. His name was Neiman and his brothers were Marcus and Saks. There was a whole litter of puppies I wanted to take with me, but I only had space for one. So, we brought him home.”
During her work with animal shelters, rescues and pounds, Crumley constantly found animals needing temporary refuge. Of course, they all ended up in the back seat of her car instead of on the waiting list for certain death.
“One Sunday after working an adoption event at Tractor Supply, I finished my day by dropping in at animal control. A lady walked in with a silver lab that barely had its eyes open and it was missing an eye,” Crumley recalls. “I asked her what she was doing with the dog and where was the rest of the litter. She explained that she was leaving it at the pound because she couldn’t sell a dog that was missing an eye. Needless to say, that dog never entered animal control. She went into my car and home with me. Her name is Lexi. We nursed her back to health and we have her still.”
In 2011 alone, Crumley added three new pets to her home, which was already occupied by several dogs of her own. She couldn’t bear to see an animal reach the end of its life in a pound, so she made the move to help all of them that she could.
“The number of dogs that are euthanized on a daily basis is staggering,” she says. “I felt very strongly about helping a living creature who was given a death sentence, and never was able to make a choice to change their outcome.”
Working in the same circles led Crumley and Wesolowski to midnight stakeouts to find a stray dog that was getting by on scraps from the staff at our local Goodwill Thrift Store. Another mission included prying a scared canine from between the pallets behind a secluded warehouse.
One fateful day, it was the dog’s turn to save Crumley. While working with Inspire Rescue out of Kennesaw, Ga., she was injured lifting a dog into her SUV. What should have been a routine doctor’s visit led to a life-saving diagnosis.
“I was diagnosed with a hernia from lifting one of the many dogs we worked with that weekend in 2014,” Crumley explains. “I came to Rome for hernia surgery in July. I had no symptoms that would cause me to think that anything major was wrong. But after I woke up from surgery, the doctor told me that I had cancer.”
A rare cancer that only one in 1 million people are diagnosed with was attacking her abdominal region and all of her organs. The hernia from lifting the dogs led to the early detection of pseudomyxoma paracentesis, likely saving her life.
With 28 dogs at Crumley’s residence in Canton, Wesolowski and the rest of the rescue teams chipped in to see that kennels were clean and bowls were filled while Crumley recovered. And as soon as her strength returned, she was back on the road to help the furry friends who gave her a second chance to serve.
Now, Crumley doesn’t keep nearly as many animals in her home but she still fosters when she can. It may be because one lady with an enormous affection for animals is picking them all up before they can wander south to Canton.
Brandy Walker is another friend of Wesolowski who has affectionately named them “The Crazy Dog Ladies.” Like the others, Walker provides shelter to animals who just need a loving home, often at the expense of her own needs.
“I rescued my first dog when I was about 17. I saw him on the side of the road, sitting underneath a big tree,” she recalls. “It was late at night and I was just compelled to try and help him. Before I knew it, I was out of my car picking him up and putting him into my car. He was a little black lab.”
When she held him in her arms, she could tell he was not well. The next morning, she discovered that his skin was covered with mange.
“Everyone told me that I needed to put the dog out of his misery and I told them all that they were crazy!” she says. “I doctored him up, got him neutered, and he ended up being the best dog I ever had. His name was Oskar.”
Walker is a Florida native who moved to Georgia when she was 12. She currently mans the bar at La Scala’s 400 Block Bar, and every spare nickel she can afford goes to caring for the 13 dogs she currently resides with off Big Texas Valley Road. All of her pets were abandoned when she found them.
“When I was 3 years old, I got a dog, a pony and a swing set as a gift,” Walker says. “I was always in love with all animals and I just hate to see them suffer. My mom always said that she hoped that I never saw an elephant walking on the side of the road because I would do my best to give it a home.
“I live out in the country and there are far too many animals being dropped off in places where they have no resources,” she continues. “There is not a house they can walk up to for food or water; coyotes can attack them and they are just left to die. It really makes me sad to think about it.”
There are some things that all three ladies agree would help with the problem of stray pets. Walker says there is one needed service that would have an immediate effect on the number of cases she sees.
“An easy and affordable way for people to get their animals spayed and neutered would really help,” she says. “There are programs out there, but you have to qualify for them. Sometimes you have to show that you are receiving government assistance before you qualify, and not everyone who could benefit from this service does. The first step in helping most rescue efforts is decreasing the number of unwanted animals being born.
Walker, Wesolowski and Crumley also agree that having a larger population of foster parents would help keep animals from being killed in pounds or dying in the woods alone. However, if you are not a pet person, or you have an allergy, or you simply want to get involved indirectly, there is always the option of donating to local animal charities and rescues.
These three women selflessly give of their time, money, and often their homes to keep animals safe from harm and neglectful owners. Maybe Northwest Georgians can do just a little more than they have before, becoming the difference in life and death for these pets.
Walker currently houses a German Shepard named Daisy who lost the use of her back legs. Happy as ever, Daisy lies out in the sun of Walker’s front yard inching forward on her front paws for attention from whomever walks into the yard. Walker has fashioned a “doggy wheelchair” out of a wheelchair used for humans. Straps hold her in place as she pulls herself along the front of the house to pose for pictures.
Doing what they can is what these ladies do best.
To find out how you can get involved, contact Monika Wesolowski at email@example.com or find her on Facebook, Dayna Crumley at inspirepe-trescue.org and Brandy Walker at Brandyawalker@yahoo.com or also find her on Facebook.