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S.A.F.E. and sound: Correctional facility employees’ animal rescue touches heart of small community

Chantel Eaton’s work is never done.

Dogs and cats of seemingly every size and breed have, for the last several years, taken up at least temporary residence at her Greene County home, awaiting just the right human “parents” willing to roll out the red carpet and provide a permanent place for the animals to call their own. For cast-off pets, strays, and four-legged runaways, the S.A.F.E. (Saving Animals from Everywhere) Animal Rescue, Inc. is a happy haven where, even if that adoptive family never comes knocking, the canines and felines lodged there will never go hungry, never be left out in the cold, and will always have someone who cares for them.

But that’s the worst case scenario, and it’s not quite what Eaton and a crew of friends and family had in mind when they set out to find foster and permanent homes for rescued dogs and cats. On the contrary; they want each animal that crosses their path to find the perfect home, with a loving family.

“Potential adopters should know that we don’t allow our rescues to live on chains in backyards as they are not yard ornaments,” Chantel stated bluntly. “They can’t live their entire life outside in a kennel. If you aren’t looking for your next family member, we aren’t the rescue for you.”

animal rescue 1Family matters

Said most succinctly, animals ARE family for the Eatons.

Seven years ago, Chantel saw a disproportionately large number of shelter dogs being euthanized due to a lack of space and took it upon herself to do something about it. At the time, one of her rental homes had become a temporary living space for 18 abandoned cats, and in a short time Chantel’s Facebook page for rehoming those felines exploded from a 135-member group to a 6,700-plus community of animal activists.

Chantel, her husband Greg, son Blake, and niece Autumn Hall are all employees of Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF), a minimum and maximum security prison located in Carlisle, about 40 miles south of Terre Haute. Their resolve for making a difference is such that they’re willing to work full time and dedicate their off-hours to the endless task of finding homes for abandoned animals. Autumn, for example, is studying to be a doctor. Blake is a WVCF sergeant, and Greg was a captain prior to becoming WVCF physical plant director. Chantel is a quartermaster.

Thankfully, they’re far from alone and everyone involved is thoroughly committed to the mission.

Social media and common interests helped Chantel find likeminded individuals who decided to step up and volunteer with the animal rescue effort. They may have been wishing to locate a pet, or even surrender one, prior to becoming a S.A.F.E. Animal Rescue volunteer, but learning of the rescue’s goals led them to join the cause. Making such connections is vital, Chantel believes.

“With social media, networking is just as important as raising money or the actual hands-on of saving an animal,” she said.

Each member of Chantel’s crew contributes to the rescue process, though she surmises proximity plays at least a small role in some of her family’s contributions.

“Since a lot of it happens at our home, I don’t give them much choice,” Chantel said of her happily captive audience of assistants.

The Eatons are helped out in various ways by WVCF colleagues Sarah Chapman, Gary and Naomi Weinke, and Sherry Hall as well as Switz City registered vet tech Rebecca Carmichael (and her husband David, who works for the plumbing company contracted with WVCF). The animals’ health needs are handled by Worthington-based Royer Veterinary Services.

“No matter how big or small the issue, they are there for the animals,” complimented Chantel of the veterinary services S.A.F.E. receives.

Through the Eatons’ work and various friendships, they’ve created a loving support system for animals far and wide -- and they truly mean “far and wide.”

“We are different in the fact that we don’t recognize borders,” said Chantel. “Animals don’t know what county or state they’re in, so they don’t really care what county or state rescues them as long as someone is doing it.”

Since 2012, thousands of dogs have been helped through the Eatons’ efforts, and the family has been more than willing to help people and animals in need, regardless of location. For example, following the devastating wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee that killed more than a dozen people in 2016, Chantel and her friends took it upon themselves to help.

“I, along with three other WVCF staff, drove 500 quilts made by our P.L.U.S. (Purposeful Living Units Serve) program to the fire victims and to the animals in temporary shelter since their humane shelter burned,” explained Chantel.

For the S.A.F.E. Animal Rescue crew, the future pet’s location is only an indicator of the scope of the road trip necessary to bring it to Linton.

The love you save

Stays at Chantel’s rescue vary in length, though many animals end up spending a considerable amount of time – in some cases, an entire lifetime -- there. No animals are euthanized at S.A.F.E. Animal Rescue; they’ll live out their days in the care of the Eatons if they are never adopted. But that also means food and supplies are a constant need for the shelter.

“We are no-kill, so some animals end up staying with us forever if no one comes forward to adopt, thus the never ending need for food and supplies,” Chantel explained.

For better or worse, there are always plenty of mouths to feed. Chantel said that, on average, her three foster homes house about 20 dogs each, depending on the situation. Small breed dogs are very likely to be adopted in a short time, but the outlook for other pooches is less clear.

“We take in numerous unwanted litters and their mamas each year, often housing three to four litters at once in the spring,” said Chantel.

That fact, naturally, leads to a consistent need for puppy food. Scoopable cat litter, blankets, toys, collars and leashes, and puppy training pads are other evergreen items always in need by the animal rescue and its volunteers.

Fosters are another resource constantly in short supply, so committed volunteers with true hearts for helping are always welcome, though responsibility is a paramount quality for each. Foster families are expected to be able to provide food for the animals in their care, as one example, but they should also know that S.A.F.E. will continue to advise and support them.

S.A.F.E. and Royer Veterinary Services are also willing to help with animals’ health concerns, though that assistance is usually reserved for emergencies, Chantel explained. Fosters and adopters need to know they must bear the burden of the cost of an animal’s care as the rescue’s resources are needed to continue providing for the animals taken under the S.A.F.E. crew’s collective wing. In the end, responsible pet ownership is required –and expected – of fosters and adopters.

animal rescue 2Taking care of so many animals, each with different demeanors and personalities isn’t easy, but generally speaking, the work is as rewarding as it is unpredictable. It’s best to expect the unexpected and adapt to the issues at hand, because there is really no way of knowing how or when new animals will be rescued by S.A.F.E.

Last year, for example, saw the births of an inordinate number of coonhound puppies, most of which have found difficult routes to adoption. One of the litters was only three weeks old when rescued. Chantel said they were going to be euthanized by their owners in Kentucky prior to the Eatons taking the dogs. She didn’t want that to happen, so she stepped in to help.

Road work

It’s an ongoing process with no timetable and plenty of uncertainty.

There are no official operational hours of S.A.F.E., and there are certainly no paid employees. Everyone involved is a volunteer with a heart for helping dogs and cats in need. Expenses are paid out of the volunteers’ own pockets, and any money earned through fundraisers or other charitable donations all goes for supplies needed for the animals.

In spite of the constant challenges, two major success stories stand out in Chantel’s mind, both of which involved cross-country journeys.

“We had a Petfinder inquiry from Steamboat Springs, Colorado,” said Chantel. “A young lady who rescues dogs from the China meat industry volunteered to fly [a puppy] to Colorado for adoption. Stephanie met me at the Indianapolis airport and flew ‘Diggs’ to Colorado to his new family.”

The puppy was one of nine beagle/pit bull mix puppies S.A.F.E. rescued, sadly only four of which survived a parvovirus infection. Nonetheless, Diggs’ special relationship with his family is heartwarming for Chantel.

“He is now on Instagram as #diggsndee,” she said. “His growing-up story in photos has been so rewarding to watch.”

The second major success story saw Chantel and Chapman hit the road for Arkansas to pick up Labrador retriever puppies that were to be euthanized. After acquiring the dogs, the rescuers put color coded collars on them. “Purple” was the last to be adopted, winding up as the pet of an Indiana University student who flies the dog – in its own airline seat, mind you – back and forth to Pennsylvania to see the student’s parents.

Pet smart

That’s the appropriate level of love Chantel and company are looking for when adopters contact S.A.F.E. hoping to find the perfect pet. As rescue animals, however, Chantel is quick to caution that the cats and dogs she cares so deeply for are often perfectly imperfect -- they need love, patience, and perhaps a bit of extra care. Anything less is a disservice to the animal, but the love that’s given in return often comes back multiplied many times over, and that makes any challenge more than worthwhile.

Though she’s not one to talk of her own accomplishments any more than necessary, the Greene County community is taking notice of Chantel’s efforts. She was honored as a community “Difference Maker” by her local newspaper in 2018 “for taking so many unwanted animals off the streets and finding them homes and getting them needed healthcare,” Chantel said.

In order to bring as much awareness as possible to her nonprofit organization, Chantel regularly updates new arrivals to her rescue via photos and video on the S.A.F.E. Animal Rescue Facebook page, and the private S.A.F.E. Animal Rescue Facebook group. She uses Petfinder to detail the potential adoptee so that each future owner knows exactly into what he or she is getting.

The first step in acquiring a pet, which is spayed or neutered and given a complete health exam prior to adoption, is to email s.a.f.e.animalrescue@hotmail.com to receive an application.

Difference makers

As her organization’s paw print grows, Chantel is working to adapt.

“We have actually grown so big that I often don’t know how to grow with S.A.F.E. and need more people to step up and take on more responsibilities,” she said.

There are also basic food and shelter needs that must be met for each animal, so donations are nearly as sought-after a commodity as volunteers -- or, depending upon the present day’s needs, perhaps even more so.

“Dr. [Annette] Rice and Dr. [Scott] Royer are always available for any emergency we bring their way, and keeping the vet bill paid allows us to save more dumped, orphaned, and injured animals.” Chantel noted.

The S.A.F.E. volunteers must also be prepared for essentially anything. Barely two weeks before Christmas, S.A.F.E. took in two additional puppy litters as temperatures dipped and several inches of snow blanketed much of the Hoosier State. One litter alone contained 10 puppies.

“We need all the help we can get,” said Chantel.

Fortunately, there are many ways to assist.

Chewy, an online pet supply store, and Amazon Smile are two ways to purchase and send needed items to S.A.F.E., Chantel said. The Linton community holds fundraisers for the animal rescue from time-to-time as well, for which Chantel and co. are grateful, and her colleagues at WVCF sometimes lend a hand in unexpected ways. This season for instance saw the rescue set to receive hand-built doghouses.

“Our Oakland City [University] building trades instructor is currently building us doghouses for winter, so I feel like, even as small as we are, I do the best I can to help my co-workers with animal issues,” Chantel said. “And WVCF gives me back more than I often deserve with dog quilts and now winter houses. Sometimes great things happen in small communities.”

S.A.F.E. also occasionally receives donations during the Indiana State Employees’ Community Campaign (SECC). As a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit charity, S.A.F.E. can be donated to by state of Indiana employees through the SECC. The SECC book code is 786600.

Chantel said she hopes that sharing her story with fellow state employees can raise awareness of the rescue’s mission, and help them continue to meet the needs of homeless animals. She wants the world to know that the mission requires many hands –and paws – to make it work.

“I just feel like so many people are committed to helping us, and enough people at my work are involved that they deserve some recognition as well,” said Chantel. “Co-workers become family when you share a passion for something like we do. There is never enough money or resources to save everything that needs save, but by sharing our stories we hope to get more people involved and to join our mission.”

Story by Brent Brown, Indiana State Personnel Department