Judanna Dawn helped save a badly injured dog 13 years ago — little did she know, she was beginning her life’s work
by Tracy Howard
Since opening Angel’s Animal Rescue 13 years ago, Judanna Dawn has rescued, rehabilitated and found new homes for nearly 10,000 dogs and hundreds of other animals who’ve faced abuse and neglect. But running a rescue hadn’t been on her radar until a fatal car accident intervened.
In 2008, shortly after Dawn and her then husband had married and moved onto a 27-acre property near Merritt in B.C.’s Nicola Valley, he witnessed two people go through a van windshield after the vehicle hit a rock wall. Tragically, those people died, but an unconscious woman still in the van survived as did a dog whom Dawn’s husband later noticed drag himself up from an embankment. After an ambulance team arrived and administered care, Dawn’s husband asked about the dog and was told he wasn’t their responsibility. Not knowing whom the dog belonged to, he took it to a veterinarian and found out the animal needed a leg amputated.
Returning home, Dawn’s husband informed her he’d volunteered them to fundraise to pay for the dog’s care. “I don’t know how to fundraise,” Dawn recalls saying. “I’m the one who donates.”
But the couple collected money outside a local grocery store, and were shocked to see people lining up around the block to donate. “And everybody that came up to us said: I know a dog chained to a tree or I know a dog being beaten or I know a dog that’s starving,” advises Dawn.
So they decided to start a non-profit for animals in need. (It’s now a registered charity.) The woman who survived the collision later contacted them asking if they had her dog, “Angel” — and the organization had found its name. (Once both the woman and Angel had recovered, Dawn reunited them.)
In their first two weeks, Dawn says they had 16 dogs “on their death bed” and they didn’t yet have fencing. When Dawn took them for walks, she says: “The dogs didn’t want to leave my side, they knew they’d found safety.”
They started fencing off areas and eventually constructed a large building for the dogs. The workload became heavier in 2014 when Dawn divorced and began running Angel’s on her own, with the support of about a dozen core volunteers and a board of directors. “People think I’d love to run an animal rescue,” she says. “Well, you wouldn’t — it’s a lot of picking up poop, scrubbing floors and cleaning the animals.”
Dawn also works about four days a week as a paramedic. She started her career as a social worker helping abused children — training that comes in handy when going into sometimes hostile environments to pick up animals in danger. While she’ll occasionally have an RCMP officer accompanying her, she often goes alone. “You can’t go in with judgment. I think it’s natural for me to be able to see all the different aspects and dynamics that caused the situation.”
Dawn stresses she guarantees confidentiality to anyone reporting abuse or neglect, and people are never forced to give up their animals, but asked to sign a surrender form.
Beyond rescuing, Dawn wants the animals to have good lives when they’re with her and when they get adopted after a strict screening process. “We have a huge yard for them to play in, and they’re always together. But they also get walked daily because it’s important for them to get out and use their nose, which encourages them to use their brain.”
As for the toughest part of the work?
“When you finally get them into your care and they die in your arms four days later, that’s the worst thing ever,” Dawn says.
Fortunately that didn’t happen to Keeper, a hound who came to Angel’s after his owner shot off the top of his head. After overseeing Keeper’s recuperation, Dawn adopted him. She also adopted Memphis, a female husky, and has several “lifers” who are difficult to place, including a wolf hybrid and a huge pig named Charlotte.
“What Charlotte wants, Charlotte gets because she’s almost 1,000 pounds and nobody wants to argue with her,” quips Dawn. Angel’s has cared for a range of other animals, including donkeys, goats, boars and an owl that had been kept in a cage for several years.
Dawn relies on and is thankful for both personal and corporate donations. When necessary, she’s dipped into her own money, as have some volunteers. Earlier this year, 100 Women Who Care Kamloops donated $8,000, which Dawn hopes to use to fund a program for foster children at the rescue.
Angel’s charges a $450 adoption fee for dogs six months and older, but Dawn advises it costs them at least $500 in vet expenses per dog, and more if injured. Each dog is treated for parasites, vaccinated, receives a permanent ID, and most also need spaying or neutering.
Despite the challenges, Dawn recognizes the rescue’s impact. In the first eight years, they averaged between 26 and 42 dogs in their care, but she says currently there are only six in rehabilitation that need to be adopted.
“It would be nice to live in a world where we never had to rescue another animal,” says Dawn. “But in the meantime, we want to be there to do that.”
For more information, visit angelsanimalrescue.ca . Donations are accepted via Interac eTransfer, the “donate” button on their website or by cheque.