'Save the ones you can': Local animal rescue leader shows tough side of rescue

Washington Wilkes Dawgs took in 11 Hurricane Irma evacuees from Tampa in 2017.
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

(WRDW/WAGT) -- We often times come across a story that warms our hearts, like the rescue and recovery of dogs like AC/DC, Elsa and Taka. But not all rescue stories end up with happy endings, and the people on the front lines of the battle for these animals' lives can testify to that.

"Rescue is cutthroat," Washington Wilkes Dawgs President Bonnie Branch said.

Bonnie has been working with animals for 25 years, and it never gets easier.

It all started 20 years ago when she was a little girl and her dog ran away. She stopped at the Wilkes County shelter to look for her own pet and got to talking with the volunteers about their work and what they see each day. She's been hooked on the idea of helping these wayward souls since that day.

In 2015, she and a few others started Washington Wilkes Dawgs, a rescue group dedicated to rehabilitating animals in need and finding them new, loving homes.

We met Bonnie after hearing about a pup named Archie on the group's Facebook page. Archie had been tethered for so long that his collar had become embedded in his neck and he was malnourished. Archie's story didn't have a happy ending, but Bonnie says it's not just about those they can't save.

"I've seen things I wish I had never seen," she said, speaking through tears. "You can't save them all, but you save the ones you can."

That's turned into her group's motto, as well as her own personal mantra: Save the ones you can. The hardest part of her job is turning people and clinics down for help with special animals because they're out of space. It's the reason they, and other groups and shelters like them, always need more adoptions and more donations.

Part of the nonprofit's only funds to help these abused, neglected, and starving animals is finding their success stories through adoption fees.

Bonnie began to cry when she told us about her passion of finding animals' happy endings with a new home and a new, loving family. Her group has saved roughly 2,000 animals since they were founded in late 2015. That's why Bonnie does what she does, and she'll never stop.

"Once you get in [to rescuing], there's no getting out," Bonnie said. "I don't know if it's a mental thing, but I can't look at an animal who needs help and not try to do something about it."

She wants more people to get into the tough work, but she says you have to be strong enough, both emotionally and physically.

"It's 24/7," Bonnie and her team never get a day off. "I wake up, go to work, come home, and do it all over again."

All rescuers we've spoken to stress two things: The importance of spaying and neutering your pets, and the horrors of tethering dogs.

"If you have to tether your pet, maybe you shouldn't have a pet," Bonnie said.

Not only is it bad for the animal, but it's illegal to keep dogs tether in many cities, towns and counties across the CSRA. Neighbors and passers-by should always keep a lookout for animals bound to chains and contact the police or animal control.

It's no secret we need more people like Bonnie and her volunteers across the CSRA to help animals in need, and there are plenty of places to volunteer your time if you're interested. Just contact your county or town animal shelter and ask for advice.

"We try as hard as we can to do what we can," Bonnie said.

If you want to help Bonnie and her team, click here to donate or volunteer.

Here are a few other organizations across the CSRA doing important work for our four-legged friends:

CSRA Human Society


SPCA Albrecht Center


Aiken County Animal Shelter


Shelter Animal Advocates


Columbia County Animal Rescue


The Shelter Rescue Project / Team Stinkykiss 
Friends of the North Augusta Animals
Dog Networking Agents, Inc.

You can also Google your county and "nonprofit animal rescue" for more results.