The story of Smiles Forever Animal Rescue begins with Becky Andrews of Fincastle, Virginia. Becky’s dog-loving daughter would walk dogs from the local animal hospital, which often had overflow shelter dogs staying there.
Her daughter fell in love with a particular dog, and when she received a call that the dog was to be euthanized because he had been in the shelter too long, she asked Becky if they could take him in. Mr. Smiles came to live on the ranch, and made his way into Becky’s heart. “He traveled all over the United States with me,” Becky said, “my constant companion and guardian.” In June 2014, Mr. Smiles passed away at 17 years old. “I still cry when I think of him, but I made him a promise that I would help as many misunderstood death row dogs as I could, so I started Smiles Forever Animal Rescue in his honor.”
As a 501(c)(3) companion animal rescue, Smiles Forever aims to rescue animals that are most in need: those on the euthanasia list for space, medical issues or resource guarding. The rescue relies on donations and volunteers, such as Susan Benson, director of the Morriston, Florida, branch. Susan and Becky, longtime friends, share not only a passion for helping animals but believe that saving animals saves people, too. “Becky and I would often comment that we felt we were helping people as often as we were helping dogs when placing them,” Susan said.
With that in mind, Smiles Pets4Vets was created to make pet ownership a reality for military veterans who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a pet. “We all know how much a dog enriches all of our lives,” said Susan. “Smiles Pets4Vets is a program that provides a special opportunity for veterans to save the life of a pet in need, and places adoptable pets in homes with veterans to serve as companions. Based on the needs of the veteran owner, Smiles Forever Animal Rescue can arrange for food, routine vet care and transportation to veterinary appointments.”
Smiles Pets4Vets focuses on the positive relationship between humans and pets. “We want to clearly state that we are not providing a service animal, but aiming to work with veterans to care for a companion animal that may help fill a void in their life. There are great emotional benefits from owning a pet. These benefits directly correlate with symptoms of loneliness, depression, PTSD and anxiety. Pets can help bring out feelings of love, reduce stress and increase the likelihood of social interactions,” Becky explained.
The annual Party For The Pups event, held near the HITS Showgrounds in Ocala, benefits Smiles Forever and the Smiles Pets4Vets program. Since both Becky and Susan share connections to the horse world, Party For The Pups is a perfect fit to spread the word about the Smiles Pets4Vets mission. Susan has saved over 50 dogs from high-kill shelters in the past year, some of whom have been placed into the local Smiles Pets4Vets program while others have found loving homes with carefully selected adopters. Many Smiles Forever adopters are horse owners and attend horse shows across the country, including the Classic Company shows. During their 2016 Jacksonville Circuit, the Classic Company hosted a fundraising event for the Smiles Pets4Vets program: Tito’s Vodka sponsored a “Yappy Hour” and adoption event, and Classic Company CEO Bob Bell donated all the proceeds from the VIP tables during the shows as well.
As Smiles Forever and the Smiles Pets4Vets program expand throughout the United States, horse shows around the country will be an integral part of fundraising and awareness. With the help of generous donors, volunteers and simple word of mouth, Smiles Forever hopes to thank veterans everywhere for their service by paying the adoption fee and providing them with food and routine veterinary care. For more information including upcoming events, visit SmilesForeverAnimalRescue.org or check out their Facebook page, Smiles Pets4Vets.
Photos courtesy of Smiles Forever Animal Rescue