When Tina first came home with Mel Gallagher, she was very timid and scared. The 6-pound Chihuahua had been squeezed repeatedly by an overly affectionate 3-year-old before finding her new home. After a few weeks, says Gallagher, she started coming out of her shell. “She trusts her family and she’s not so scared.”
Tina is just one of the animals who’s gained a new life through Emmit’s Magic Animal Rescue, a Lacey non-profit organization that fosters pets who might not normally get adopted. Many are abuse or neglect cases that founder Brook Snow learns of through Joint Animal Services Cruelty Investigator Erika Johnson, while others are brought in by families in crisis who don’t want to leave their pets at a conventional shelter.
“The service Emmit’s provides is invaluable,” says Johnson. “It’s been a lifesaver for some of my cases. They get to be in a home setting so it helps them transition from where they’ve been to a place where they can relax.”
Volunteers run every aspect of the organization, from transporting animals to operating the thrift store that keeps it afloat. Snow still works two 12-hour shifts per week as a respiratory therapist, spending most of the rest of her time in the store. “We’re open four days a week right now,” she says. “There are so many people involved that have done so much. I’ve got a really good team and a lot of support. The families that have adopted dogs and the families that have had to surrender dogs are such a part of it.”
The idea of the thrift store came when Snow was pondering how to fund the rescue without spending all of her retirement savings. “I started researching how small animal welfare organizations support themselves,” she says. “The more research I did, the more I started seeing little thrift shops popping up, so I just thought we could give this a try.
In the spring the team got a storage unit and visited local yard sales at the end of the day asking for donations. “Within about five weeks, our 10 by 20 unit was full,” says Snow. “We were inundated with donations.” They opened the thrift shop the first week in August, establishing a more boutique-like atmosphere in the front, with a room in the back for people who want to rummage through bins and fill a bag with items for $5.00. “That way we can serve different clientele,” says Snow.
Within nine days of opening, despite being limited to word of mouth marketing and a Facebook page, the store had earned enough money to pay the rent and the bills for the first month. “We knew then that we could keep it open,” says Snow.
The store acts as the public face of the organization, which intentionally has no shelter facility. “The point was to have a rescue just made of families and homes,” says Snow. “I wanted to take dogs out of shelter facilities where they’re not thriving and bring them into a home environment. There is definitely a need for shelters, but there are reasons that some dogs are cowering in the back of a kennel wetting themselves when they get petted. How do we get past that and make these adoptable pets, because so many of them are? So that’s what we’ve done.”
Foxy was one such dog. The stray Chow mix was covered in her own excrement and too scared to come out of her crate for days before coming to Emmit’s. She’s now been in a rescue home for several months. “You can’t touch her or pet her yet, but she’ll take treats from your hand and we’ve had her spayed, vaccinated and microchipped,” says Snow. “She gets along great with other dogs. She’s just scared, but she’s young and has potential. If she were somewhere else, she would have been put down.”
Emmit’s doesn’t take dogs with a history of aggression, lacking the resources to deal with behavioral issues. “We work with trainers and consult behaviorists, but we’re just families with other dogs and cats and kids,” says Snow. “When people surrender an animal to us, they sign a form stating that there’s no history of biting.”
If a dog like Foxy doesn’t find a family that wants to adopt her, she’ll stay in the foster home forever. “We’ll find a way,” says Snow. “We commit to that as an organization.” Finding the right fit can take time, but it’s worth it. “We’ve had dogs for up to six months looking for the right family because it has to be about that right fit,” she says. “It’s not about volume or turnover, it’s about when this dog finds its family and making it work. That’s why we need to fundraise. If you were dealing with 50 dogs a month, adoption fees would cover all of your costs, but we have an average of five to ten a month.”
When animals are fostered, Emmit’s supplies food, medical care, and any supplies like crates, kennels or leashes that the family may need. “There’s no money out of pocket for these families,” says Snow. Foster families who live out of the area are also reimbursed for their mileage.
Taking on dogs that have been traumatized involves work, but it’s worth it, says Gallagher, who adopted an 85-lb mastiff/lab named Hercules from Emmit’s, as well as Tina. “It’s a process to let them know that they’re loved, because they’re broken,” she says. “But once they’re shown love, they become a whole different animal. Their journey is over and now they have a home.”