A Second Lease on Life
“It’s amazing what love can do. We’ll take in a dog that looks completely defeated, but when he realizes he can trust again, his whole demeanor changes.” Aimee Dearsley, Director of Development for Stray Rescue of St. Louis, has the privilege of seeing spirits restored on a regular basis, she says. “I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.” Stray Rescue is a YouthBridge endowment client.
The largest no-kill animal organization in the St. Louis area, Stray Rescue saves about 3,000 dogs and cats each year from abuse, neglect, abandonment and euthanasia. Most animals are rescued from city streets, but the shelter on Pine Street, which houses numbers between 150 and 160, will also receive animals from rural counties, other shelters, even from as far away as the U.S. Virgin Islands after they’ve been hit by devastating hurricanes. With full veterinary services on site, the team goes to great lengths to restore each rescued animal to health – both mentally and physically – before helping them find a forever home or placing them with one of currently 400 foster families.
Now in its third location, Stray Rescue of St. Louis was started in 1998 out of necessity, as the story is told. Founder Randy Grim, who at the time owned a pet grooming business in the city, spent years rescuing homeless and abused dogs off the street, bringing them home and adopting them out to friends. There simply were no other resources available. He used his life savings to purchase the first shelter in Lafayette Square. Stray Rescue moved into its current facility, at least 15 times larger than the first, in 2010, where it houses a veterinary trauma clinic and provides pet adoption services and other resources. The shelter now operates under the leadership of Executive Director Cassady Caldwell.
During the COVID-19 crisis, Dearsley says the shelter has seen more abandoned animals – some left at the entrance to the building – most likely by people struggling financially and having to make tough decisions. It’s why Stray Rescue also accelerated the opening of a Pet Food Pantry, so that “no family has to decide between feeding their pet and giving them up,” she says. The organization has offered a Shelter in Place program for more than a decade, which provides medical care and resources to pet owners who need help caring for their animals.
There are these cases of good intentioned owners, but unfortunately, nearly all of the pets saved by Stray Rescue have been abused or neglected, says Dearsley. Dumped on the side of the road, locked inside abandoned houses, sick with disease, emaciated, open wounds…“we see the worst of it,” she says, “and sadly it’s very hard to get justice for them, but we can give them a second lease on life.”
There’s the rescue part – searching the streets, responding to reports – but that’s not where it ends. There’s much work that comes after, in nurturing them back to medical and emotional health and matching them with a loving family. As a no-kill shelter, every rescued animal will stay with Stray Rescue as long as it takes. “They find a home here with us,” says Dearsley, adding that volunteers and the Stray Rescue Enrichment Team regularly take the dogs out on runs, walks and other activities that provide positive stimulation.
“I’m originally from Virginia and didn’t know anything about the animal rescue world when I moved here,” she says. Working across the street from the shelter, she began volunteering until deciding to make it a career in 2013. “I can’t think of any job more rewarding.”
If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.