LAST October, Cody Shelley came across a Facebook post that’d change her life.
“There was chatter about rescue pages that animal control was super full, and rescues across the board were pulling as many dogs as possible, and they needed foster homes,” remembers Shelley.
With three dogs already, Shelley agreed to take in Twyla, a copper-colored girl that was in the care of Renegade Paws Rescue.
On Halloween night, as Shelly and her wife Chela Gutierrez were giving out candy, Renegade’s director Jennifer Taylor came by the house with Twyla.
Taylor gave Shelley some supplies and offered her a T-shirt.
“I was like, ‘I’m not really a T-shirt person,’” confides Shelley, “but they had Pride shirts from when they had gone to Savannah Pride, and that was a ‘ding ding ding!’ for me that I liked these people.”
Since October, Shelley has fostered 11 dogs and finds the experience gratifying.
Remarkably, Shelley has been with Renegade since nearly the beginning: the rescue recently celebrated their first year in operation.
In Renegade Paws Rescue’s first year, they saved over 400 dogs from local shelters, an impressive output from the all-volunteer team.
There’s a big need for rescues in Savannah, and founders Taylor and Shelby Westberry recognize and appreciate the work their peers do.
“There’s a lot of rescues around here, and we’re well aware of that, but the idea came to us because we just wanted something that was more inclusive. We wanted to make sure we were giving the best care and full care,” says Westberry, the media and PR director. “We cover heartworm treatments for our dogs, and we make sure every single one of our dogs has everything that they need, from healthcare to behavior care, before and after they’re adopted.”
A motivating factor for Westberry was a previous fostering experience that wasn’t quite as inclusive.
“I had a really hard time fostering out one of my dogs that was a heartworm-positive dog, and having to tell the adopter that we as an organization were not going to cover that and they’d be on the hook for thousands of dollars’ worth of treatment,” remembers Westberry. “It often, because of that, becomes a death sentence for a lot of dogs in this area, because it is such a financial burden.”
Taylor, the director of Renegade, is just as passionate about inclusivity in the rescue.
“I think we need to include people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, of different races,” adds Taylor. “We want to be the rescue that includes everyone in what we do, as well as reach out to our community. That was a big thing for us. We wanted to be able to go into the communities and provide education and support for some of our communities that love their pets, but can’t afford to keep them. We wanted to be able to do those things as well as care for the dogs we were pulling from these shelters.”
Part of Renegade’s services include a community program that provides spays and neuters for people that may not be able to afford it, as well as a homeless outreach program that helps them prepare for the hurricane season—a big problem.
“When they have to get on a bus and they want to take their beloved pet with them, they have to have shots,” explains Taylor. “So right before hurricane season, we make sure that the homeless people who we currently serve, their pets are up to date.”
Taylor herself is in the homeless camps making sure that every pet’s needs are being met, whether it’s food or flea treatment.
For Shelley, that attitude of helping the less fortunate was a definite plus.
“I got matched up with Renegade very randomly and coincidentally, and it’s a really good fit for me because they focus really hard on inclusion and equipping people to succeed with their new pets,” says Shelley. “It really takes a patchwork of agencies to address the overall need, and for me, the vibe and fit of Renegade in that picture is really aligned with my own personal [values]. Not that any of the others are opposed to my personal beliefs, but Renegade has education, community support, outreach to the homeless—all those are things that are important to me regardless of animals, so doing it in an animal context is a very gratifying way to be involved.”
While Renegade is already working hard on reaching a broad swath of the community, they have plans to expand that care.
“One of our major long-term goals is to really expand our community care program,” says Westberry. “We want to get out into the less fortunate communities and set up shot clinics and hand out spay/neuter vouchers and be able to provide education. A lot of what we see as a lack of pet care is actually just a lack of education. Everybody wants to take good care of their pets and be part of something, but not everybody knows how.”
Westberry and Taylor acknowledge how intimidating it can be to ask for help in taking care of your pets. They strive to keep shame out of that interaction by helping people learn about proper pet care.
Renegade is run by volunteers and financially relies on fundraisers and donations, which are not as easy to come by in the middle of a pandemic.
“People are not as touched to donate online,” says Westberry.
Taylor points out that Renegade pays for the veterinary care that they provide, which is not always affordable or easy to predict.
“We’ve had all kinds of weird stuff,” she says. “We’ve had amputations, we’ve had eye removals. We just had a puppy with a huge abscess from some kind of bite and they had to go in and remove half of her neck, and then we had to send her to wound care rehab for that.”
Even still, everyone at Renegade Paws Rescue is passionate about their work and takes pride in helping dogs find their right match.
“It’s a big deal for us that our dogs are in homes,” says Westberry. “We need them to be in a home and learn manners and crate training and housebreaking before we send them off to live in their forever homes.”