It starts with a simple act. That basic truth is often overlooked, but all the great “world changing” success stories we talk about around here start with a small step – a step that no one would expect would set the course toward greatness.
And so it began for the winner of Care2’s first “America’s Favorite Animal Shelter” contest. Independent Animal Rescue (IAR) was the popular choice among over 10,000 shelters – which, was no small feat considering the adoring comments nearly all the shelters received from their supporters. So how did IAR come to be? I was fascinated to learn the story when I spoke to the founder, Leslie Mann.
What follows is a series of inspiring stories from Leslie showing how small steps, and a drive to make a difference, can lead to wonderful outcomes.
RP: What motivated you to start rescuing animals?
LM: While on a motorcycle at Union Station in Washington DC in 1983, I saw a dog running loose in traffic. I caught him and called the local 'shelter' to pick him up. They did and I kept in contact with the shelter to see if his people found him. Nobody came to claim him so I asked the manager if I could have a few days to find him a home. I was told yes. So I ran an ad in the Washington Post to find a new home for the dog. A lovely couple responded, and I told them to go and meet the dog. They went in late that day and were told that the dog was euthanized. I was shocked. The idea that I was responsible for ending the life of a beautiful creature and the lack of caring and apathy at the shelter were my motivations. If this could happen to one dog, then I knew it was happening to other animals. That dog's path put me on my path and all of my animal rescue work after that came seamlessly.
RP: Why did you decide to start Independent Animal Rescue?
LM: In 1992, I had just moved to NC and one of my cats got out the door accidently. I could not find her. I was frantic. The next day I put ads in all the papers and I drove past the building of The Independent Weekly and went in. I met a nice woman and we put a “missing” ad in the paper. A few days later a dog wandered down my driveway so I called the woman and we put a “found” ad in the paper. I then found more lost pets and placed more ads. Then I asked about running photos with the ads. We worked out a deal that if I could get sponsors at $25 each for the ad, then I could have the space. Done! I found an animal lover who agreed to sponsor ads for the first couple of months. From there the sponsorships took off. People could sponsor 'in memory of' .. "in honor of" .. "happy birthday/anniversary, etc." It got to the point where people had a few weeks wait time to run their ad due to popularity.
In my column, I wrote about animal topics, tips and animals that needed homes, of course. I asked for volunteers to foster the animals. In the fall of ’93, I committed to doing a farm cat rescue. I invited readers to sponsor a cat and I'd then send them a photo of their cat. Their sponsorship would pay for the vaccinations/sterilizations, etc. Since I was now openly soliciting for money, I opened a separate bank account in my name solely for the purpose of rescue. As money started pouring in, I began to get uncomfortable asking people to make checks payable to me. If you know me, you'd understand my feelings about integrity - and taking money in my name left me too vulnerable for misperception. So as much as I fought it, I knew that I needed to start an official nonprofit organization. Due to the calls that I received from potential adopters and getting the same question over and over "What animal rescue are you with?" and giving the same answer "No shelter, I'm an independent animal rescuer", the name seemed clear: Independent Animal Rescue. Plus, the column was in The Independent Weekly so it all fit like a puzzle. I went to the people closest to me and asked/begged in some cases, to be on my Board. I got a CPA firm to do the IRS paperwork, got a doctor to pay for the filing, called Senator Jesse Helms office (which was known for their constituent service) to expedite my filing and voila, we were a 501(c)(3)!
RP: Since you first got involved rescuing animals, you’ve initiated a number of animal rescue efforts – can you share some of those?
LM: After I left DC, I went to work for the Governor in NY. One night I had finished dinner with a legislator and we were in his car talking and I was telling him of my love of animals. In fact, I had just given him a “Friends of Animals” pin for his lapel. He stopped me in mid sentence and was peering out his rearview mirror and exclaimed "I think a woman just left a cat in some bushes". So I turned around and saw a woman crossing the street with an empty cat carrier in her hand. I jumped out of the car and yelled, "Hey you, did you just let a cat out in the bushes?" She came to me and said no, that in fact, she was trying to catch the cat. The woman's name was Joan Duer and together we caught that cat. She had a small (very smelly from unneutered male cats) thrift shop called Whiskers. She would rescue cats, bring them to the store and find them home from there. Long story short, she was diagnosed with cancer and asked me to take over in 1988. I did. But with me nothing ever happens on a small scale.
I later closed the shop, moved things to my detached garage in Albany, and held rummage sales every Saturday to fund our efforts. We opened a 'shelter' in a basement apartment and changed our name to Whiskers Animal Benevolent League. I began an annual ritual of holding a fundraiser called "Gala for Animals" and I believe they still hold it.
On another occasion, I was driving on a highway and as I approached an overpass, something made me glance to my left. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a movement on the opposite side of the highway beneath the overpass. I thought it was probably a black plastic bag, but something made me get off at the next exit to go back and check. As I drove back by, I moved to the shoulder and drove by slowly realizing that it was a puppy. Not wanting to scare the dog, I pulled off a little way's up and started to walk towards him. Two cars pulled up behind me. Both were women who stopped to make sure that I was okay. One drove off and the other stayed. I asked her to stay by her car as I walked towards the dog. What I found was a puppy with a chain embedded around his belly caught on one of the rocks on the incline under the overpass. He looked like a little bear cub and was too frightened to let me get close to him.
I got some canned dog food out of my car and I threw it up to him gently. Starving, he ate it. I did the same thing for almost 1/2 hour, each time, I inched closer and closer to him until I could almost touch him. He was, however, too fearful to be touched. I kept my head turned away from him as I put out a big lump of food and distracted him so that I could dislodge the chain from the rock.
Thankfully one woman stayed behind. She kept following my instructions to retrieve food, a leash and whatever else I need from the car. Her final act was to back my truck up to the underpass and open the passenger door. When there were no cars coming our way, I picked up the puppy by the scruff of his neck and held him out as we scurried to the car as he tried to bite me.
Once safely inside, I closed the door and thanked the woman for staying. I told her that God must have sent her. She told me that she was a pastor and that I was blessed. We both then went on our way.
With the pup under a blanket in the car, I called the closest vet and told them to be ready for him. I left him there and got a call a few hours later. They removed the chain from his belly and told me that he was upset and frightened and all he wanted to do was bite. They said that he would not be good with other dogs and did not like people. They said that nobody could get close to him in his cage.
Within the hour, I had my best two volunteers on site to pick up the pup. They had a few dogs of their own and fostered a number of dogs for IAR. I instructed them to bring Bachs Rescue Remedy and some milk. When they arrived, they put out a bowl of milk with a few drops of rescue remedy and within 10 minutes the dog let them pet him and be picked up.
Two weeks later, I was holding an adoption day at a local kennel and a car drove up with two people in front and our new dog looking out the back window. I did a double take and could not figure out why they had him. Actually, they didn't. They had his twin.
They came to adopt a brother or sister for their dog and when I told them about our look-a-like bear cub, they immediately drove up to our volunteers' home to meet the pup and the rest is history. The little highway black bear cub was adopted and no matter how many times I saw the two dogs together, I was never able to tell them apart.
RP: In addition, Leslie has initiated numerous other animal rescue efforts including starting an animal abuse hotline, a “Laps and Love” program for Seniors and a feeding program for feral cats. She’s also rallied support for animal victims of hurricanes, helped to get a spay/neuter license plate in Florida and arranged for celebrities to do Public Service Announcements.
Wow. Who would have thought all of this possible when she first saw the dog running through traffic back in 1983? It all starts with a simple step...
As Leslie told me, “The things I have seen and learned would make most people sick...they affect me. But my personal motto is that I'd rather cry and ache over a situation then turn away from it.”
And look at the difference she’s made. Thank you Leslie!