I will be doing a series of profiles covering rescuers, foster parents and rescue organizations. I’m very excited to start this series with The Zoo Rescue. This team of rescuers, Jennifer and her husband Tony in Southern Alabama, are amazing animal advocates who live their lives doing what they can to make a difference in each furry life they touch. I don’t know Jennifer or Tony personally and only happened upon their story by chance, but it makes me very happy to know there are people in the world like them – just trying to help out one animal at a time. They are truly inspiring people!
A Conversation With Jennifer
Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?
I’m a cat person. I love our dogs dearly, but it’s just different with cats.
Did you have pets growing up?
We had several dogs and cats, but also had rabbits for a couple of years and two hamsters.
What is your “9 to 5” job?
I’m in my 15th year of teaching Special Education.
How did The Zoo Rescue come about?
We are not an “official” rescue – it just sort of happened. I’ve always called my babies “The Zoo” because I’ve always had an assortment of pets (I’m a teacher, so I’ve had lots of classroom pets – most of them being rescues of some sort). Several years ago we just added the name “Rescue” in conversation because that’s what we were doing.
What year did you start rescuing animals?
It all started in 1992 when I began feeding a very hungry stray cat – against my parents’ wishes – who turned up that night with three kittens. I knew then that I’d always do whatever I could to help animals in need.
How do you find the rescues that you take in now?
We don’t look for babies, but we feel those who find us are just meant to be here (our parents say that we have a sign out in front of our home advertising that we take in animals). We have found injured dogs on the side of the road, had cats turn up on our porch or neighborhood, had friends contact us about animals they/their friends have found or seen, found them in the parking lot at work, and been contacted through Facebook by people who know we take in animals. We just take them in with the understanding that they’ll stay here forever unless we find them a good home.
Do you work with any shelters or rescues?
We don’t work with any rescues or shelters – there really aren’t many in our area (the closest cat rescue is 90 miles away) and most are dog-only or are kill shelters. Our local shelter doesn’t have the resources to take in feral/semi-feral, injured or bottle babies. They also don’t adopt out many dogs and even less cats, so we just bring them home because we want them to have the opportunity to live.
What types of animals do you rescue?
Dogs and cats – but we have taken in many different animals in the past.
How many pets/rescues do you have right now?
5 dogs (131 lb and 93 lb German Shepherd mixes, 17 lb Spitz mix, 13 lb Chihuahua mix, 11 lb Terrier mix puppy), 25 cats (ages 4 months to about 12 years), and 18 hermit crabs (the oldest has been with me 12 years).
Is there a rescued animal that stands out in your mind? A favorite perhaps?
If I had to choose, I’d choose Pudge. Remember the stray cat I began feeding who had three kittens? One of her kittens grew up to be a beautiful tabby who allowed me to pet her. When I went to college she only came around to eat if I was home. One weekend she clearly wanted my attention so I sat down and waited for her to return from the bushes at the edge of our yard. She went back and forth five times, bringing me each of her one-week-old kittens. Their eyes were still closed and they all hissed/spit except one. He lay in my lap on his back, snoring. I immediately knew he was special and ended up taking him to college with me. I had him for 18 ½ wonderful years.
Is it only you rescuing or are there others in your household who help out?
I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help of my husband, Tony. When we met, he had a rescue dog and didn’t consider himself a “cat person.” At the time, I had two rescued cats and four rescued rats. He has come a long way and is very much a “cat person” now.
What is the hardest part about taking in so many animals?
By far the most stressful part is making the money stretch! Because we aren’t associated with any rescues/shelters, everything we have done comes from what we make working. Four months ago we realized our budget was stretched beyond its capacity and we created a You Caring page and an Amazon Wish List – the response has been more than we hoped for!
What is the best part about rescuing animals?
The best part is getting to live with so many wonderful babies and knowing they are safe, healthy, happy and dearly loved.
What does a typical day look like at The Zoo Rescue?
It begins with letting the dogs outside, opening the catio door flap, emptying the litter boxes (there are 21), breakfast for the dogs, morning medicine, checking food/water bowls for inside and feral cats, putting the dogs in their room, work for us both, letting dogs outside, checking the catio screens, litter boxes, checking food/water bowls for inside and feral cats again, supper for the dogs, nighttime meds, closing the catio and counting cats. In between all of that we vacuum/sweep/mop/clean, wash bedding/blankets and play with/love on the babies.
[Whew, aren’t you exhausted just reading that?]
Approximately how much money does it take to cover your day-to-day expenses?
It costs about $23.00 a day just for cat/dog food, litter and tee tee pads.
[That’s about $8,395 a year!]
How much food and litter do you go through in a month?
Per month we use about 130 cans of wet cat food, 200 lbs of dry cat food, 90 lbs of dry dog food, 470 lbs of litter and 100 tee tee pads. Through our Amazon Wish List, we receive many of these items, which helps our money stretch a lot farther.
What about unforeseen costs?
We only recently started asking for donations when we realized we’d spent almost $4,100 at the vet (not counting food/litter) in four months and we were looking at another $1,000 to spay five girls. We still had five boys to neuter, then another three boys came along (who were quite medically needy), a TNR, and a puppy to add to that.
We started a You Caring page and then received suggestions that we should start an Amazon Wish List for those who could/preferred to help that way. So until four months ago, we paid for everything however we could and miraculously we’ve always managed to feed everyone (ourselves included) and pay the bills.
There have been many tight months and our credit cards are always maxed out. We have a very understanding vet’s office that does what they can to make care affordable. We have taken in many critical babies who needed surgery or extensive care – heartworms, crushed pelvis, knee surgery, kidney surgery, eye surgery, hernia surgery, FIV/immune issues, many bottle babies who are very expensive to raise/care for, chronic upper respiratory infections, bacterial infections, ringworm, arthritis medications, separation and storm anxiety, etc.
We often choose to not eat out/go to the movies/have cable and carefully watch what we spend because we want to be able to continue doing what we do.
And just for fun…
What’s your favorite kind of cookie?
Butter Cookies – my mom makes them at Christmas and they are divine.
What would your spirit animal be?
The wolf – which is funny because I consider myself more of a cat person.
Do you have any hobbies or interests (other than saving animals of course)?
I love to read and listen to audio books while I drive to/from work, draw/paint, watch old movies and sing.
What’s the last movie you saw?
Interstellar on Hulu.
What would your cat superpower be (can only be a feature that cats currently possess)?
Agility – I’ve always been amazed at their ability to get so high up or out of sticky situations.
Do you have a favorite rescue organization or charity you’d like to give a shout out to?
The Gentle Barn – they do amazing things for many different kinds of animals and for changing the way people think about animals.
You have two weeks off from work (rescuing included). What’s your ideal way of spending those two weeks?
Sleeping late and napping, reading/watching old TV shows/movies, lounging at a pool or the beach.
A big thank you to Jennifer for taking the time to share her story with us! I hope it has inspired you. If you would like to support Jennifer and The Zoo Rescue, you can visit their Amazon Wish List. (UPDATE: Since posting this profile, The Zoo Animal Rescue has now become a 501(c)3 organization.)
Watch this slideshow and video to see more of the animals that they’ve saved!