By Julie Unger
Portraits by Kathy Russell
Eyes are known as the window to the soul, and if you’ve ever gazed into an animal’s eyes, you know this sentiment well. Eyes tell a story, but too often, no one is listening. What happens when you can’t talk, can’t share your story and can’t stand up for yourself? That’s a difficulty that many animals face. It is up to us, their humans, to advocate for them.
The ASPCA estimates that approximately 3.3 million dogs enter shelters in the U.S. each year. Although the frequency of euthanasia has decreased, approximately 670,000 dogs are put down every year. Those staggering numbers are precisely why competitive show jumper Paige Johnson was inspired to establish Their Voice Rescue, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focusing on saving dogs from kill shelters and advocating for animals through education.
“Rescuing animals is always something I wanted to do since I was a small child,” Paige said. “I’ve always been drawn to animals.”
Paige has always felt a special connection with animals and learned the importance of animal welfare from those around her, including her trainers. She was driven to make a difference, and through Their Voice Rescue (TVR), she is able to fulfill the mission, “Let’s Speak For Those Who Cannot Speak For Themselves.”
The timing was right in 2016 for Paige to follow a childhood dream and take action toward opening her own rescue, a place where dogs of all ages, backgrounds and breeds could be given a better life.
During fall 2016, she began looking for a property to turn into the home base for Their Voice Rescue. Once Paige found the perfect location — a 50-acre property in Delaplane, Virginia, with grassy rolling hills, plenty of shady trees and open fields — she focused on converting the property into a dream location for dogs.
Paddocks and fencing were already in place, so the kennels were the final step in preparing the property. The kennels, delivered from Amish builders in Pennsylvania, have water, plumbing, drains, heating, air conditioning, personal patios and everything a dog could need in their own indoor/outdoor space. Then the rescue earned zoning approval for up to 30 dogs.
“I want to give these dogs the best possible life in a kennel while they wait for their forever homes,” Paige said. “They have play dates, and we play soothing music in hopes that the dogs stay calm and relaxed.
“We opened our doors in March 2018,” Paige said, “and welcomed 12 dogs, saving them from an uncertain future.” Since then, Their Voice Rescue has taken in dozens of dogs, many coming from kill shelters, some as owner surrenders and others that were found homeless due to natural disasters.
“We don’t always know why animals are left at a kill shelter,” Paige said. She explained that often, former owners just aren’t aware that the kennel uses euthanasia as a means of controlling its dog population.
Most shelters that are no-kill, she said, will present themselves accordingly. Anyone considering surrendering their pet is strongly advised to do research — visit or call and specifically ask about the shelter’s policies — before making a decision on who will be in control of the animal’s life.
Often at TVR, the dogs come in without any information, not even a name. “We don’t discriminate based on breed, or if the dog is from a kill shelter or an owner surrender,” Paige said. “The only requirement is that they have to be friendly with people.”
The first order of business for new dogs at TVR is a health evaluation. Employees work off of an intake checklist that focuses on the animal’s ears and nose, heart and breathing, skin for irritations, stride and temperature. Calls are made to schedule veterinary appointments, where any medical issues are resolved. Then, the dog is introduced to the other dogs at the rescue, and employees take notes on its behavior and personality.
“We observe the dogs, learn what they like and don’t like and discover their personalities,” Paige said. “Then, we give them names. We want to take the time to get to know the dogs, show them patience and compassion, and convey to them that we understand they’ve probably gone through a lot. Here, they’re at a safe, caring and loving place.”
A major responsibility of TVR is to provide the dogs with access to high-quality veterinary care, which comes with a high price tag. For example, getting a dog spayed or neutered can cost upwards of $300. If a dog is heartworm positive or has bronchitis, those are both serious medical conditions that require immediate attention. Veterinary bills can vary, and as with any animal, unexpected situations often pop up.
Their Voice Rescue serves as a temporary home and sanctuary where dogs receive training, socialization, love, care and attention. Each dog is given a routine and plenty of space to explore on the beautiful Delaplane property. Ideally, the dogs’ time at TVR is short and transformational. Many of the dogs that arrive fearful, anxious and untrusting blossom in a loving environment and transition to confident, happy dogs that are ready to take on the world.
“Seeing the dogs become a part of a family and get the love they all deserve is the best part of helping dogs find a forever home,” Paige said.
When looking to add a four-legged friend to your family, Paige suggests considering the responsibility attached with adding a partner for life. For example, those looking to add a dog, or any animal, to their family should feel financially comfortable to do so. Medical care, good quality food and treats, insurance and accessories are all financial commitments that go hand-in-hand with owning a dog. Additionally, animals need time and attention — most frequently in the form of exercise and affection.
“Before you decide to adopt a dog, make sure you have the time a dog needs to give it the attention, love and care it deserves,” she said. “Make sure you’re willing to give the dog everything it needs. It’s a real commitment, but the reward and return of unconditional love is worth it and more.”
At Their Voice Rescue, everyone works diligently to help humans and dogs make the right match. For example, if you meet a dog at an adoption event or see a dog you like online, you will be invited to schedule a meeting to visit the rescue and spend more time with the dog.
“Taking the time to work with potential adopters and the dogs is incredibly important to us,” Paige said. “Because the dogs can’t speak for themselves, it’s up to us to make sure they get the respect and the treatment they deserve on their path to a forever home.”
To learn more about Their Voice Rescue, visit www.theirvoicerescue.org.
Portraits by Kathy Russell, www.kathyrussellphotography.com