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Community Builders: Rufus Refuge


Photos by Libby Rogers

Four wiggling noses, eight longing eyes, and four wagging tails tell the tale of an organization that has brought good fortune and happiness to a growing number of abandoned and abused animals and to the families who have adopted them. These four little puppies—Oreo, Ringo, Pepper, and Petie, who welcome visitors at the door of their kennel—are representative of the long hours and tireless efforts by a few compassionate and selfless people who have stepped forward to help make a positive difference in an ongoing crisis.

The story began early one morning when Dawn Knight of Madisonville, Texas, was shocked to see a dog wander aimlessly by, incoherent and totally oblivious to her presence. The dog was severely injured, with maggot-infested wounds across his head and neck, the apparent victim of a dogfight. With help from the local animal control officer, Dawn took the dog to Dr. Easterling, a local veterinarian, hoping the abused canine would survive the trip there. It was determined that his neck, face, and ears had been mutilated. His chances of survival were slim, but if he indeed survived through the night, then his chances of recovery would be greatly improved. The following morning found Dawn anxiously waiting as the clinic doors opened and, much to her relief, he was alive! Naming him Rufus, she welcomed him into her home as a new family pet, and he has since become the namesake and the motivating cause for which Rufus Refuge has come into existence.

Rufus Refuge is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt animal welfare organization based in Madisonville, Texas. Its mission is to build community partnerships, provide resources to help reunite lost pets with their owners, and to find suitable loving homes for abandoned and unwanted animals in Madison County and the surrounding areas. Since its inception in October 2015, Rufus Refuge has rescued over 1,243 animals and has placed more than 1,045 of these into loving homes that have been approved for adoptions. Averaging 400 rescues a year, and with a no-kill policy, Rufus Refuge requires an enormous number of manhours for the few people involved in its work. Guidance is provided through the board and steering committee consisting of Jill Vaughan, Mary Dorris, Mandy Lindsey, Karen Bond, Kathy Crouch, and Dawn Knight. Additional support is provided by several local fosters who take care of dogs until homes are found for them. Without this support and the help of local veterinarians and financial donors, the mission could not survive.

According to Dawn, the organization was formed a few weeks after Rufus was rescued and was still recovering. Four friends, all Madisonville natives, were discussing the rampant problem of abandoned and homeless animals around the city and made the decision to rescue and vet them, then split the veterinarian bills. As she noted, “We had no idea how vast the problem was. We thought we could clean the problem up in 6 months, and then after 32 rescues, we thought the problem was solved! Little did we realize that this was only the tip of the iceberg! And not only would it require an ongoing effort, but the number of rescues has continued to increase. It is an overwhelming crisis, and although we are so grateful for those involved, we definitely need more volunteers to address the task at hand.”

Dawn Knight (left) and Mary Dorris are part of the Rufus Refuge steering committee.

The Rufus Refuge organization has dreams of building a facility to provide for the needs of this ongoing mission, and land has been graciously donated by a local family for this purpose. But with the hours consumed in daily rescues and associated needs, and the diligent effort involved in networking for adoptions, the time needed to plan out a facility and arrange more funding is fleeting. As Dawn states, “Mary Dorris, Julie Carrell, and I are presently the ‘boots on the ground’ at the front lines of the rescues, answering calls to pick up animals, getting them to a veterinarian, and screening for adoptions.” The tasks involved with only one rescue require several vet visits for analyzing and providing initial care, vaccinations, spay or neutering, and possible surgeries. Once the animal is in recovery, the lengthy process of placement begins, which includes interviewing a family and ensuring they can provide a safe, secure, and loving environment for the dog or cat. This is accomplished by the completion of an application and questionnaire, as well as a home visit or photos of the environment in which the animal will live. Fencing and other safety issues will be reviewed to ensure the safety and well-being of the pet.

In addition to the hours involved with the rescue of each dog or cat, the expenses required to provide for the individual care can be great. Each animal is vaccinated, spayed or neutered, dewormed, and provided treatment for heartworms, mange, or broken bones as needed. With the welcomed discounts graciously offered by local veterinarians, these expenses are lessened, but still must be met. Additionally, an animal may need the care of an experienced foster or even specialized training for rehabilitation. The foster families provide places for animals to stay prior to adoption and can help guide them back into a pattern of loving companionship. “My husband and I have welcomed 14 dogs into our family and are fostering 3 others at present. It’s a busy life at our house, but we enjoy them thoroughly,” remarks Mary and then laughingly adds, “We used to have flowers in our yard!” Both Mary and Dawn are filled with satisfaction and joy as they watch the dramatic transformation of animals, once abused and neglected, who come to life again with vigor and confidence. They learn to trust people, and to love and be loved again.

Rufus Refuge is supported by numerous donors, and some of these financial “angels” have surfaced through unexpected circumstances. Once such situation occurred when Dawn rescued a German Shepherd mix. “Grace” was emaciated and had a severe case of mange. After initial care and treatment, and when the animal’s appearance improved, her photo was placed on the Rufus Refuge Facebook page. Upon seeing “Grace,” a lady from Nashville, Tennessee contacted the organization and started the adoption process immediately. This accomplished and travel arrangements made, Grace was transported as soon as she could travel, and dog and new owner were joyfully united. This woman has become a solid supporter and benefactor to the cause. Others have also become supporters through the Rufus Refuge Facebook page, which at present has over 5,000 followers from several states. And thanks to photographer Norann McDonnell, the Facebook page is brimming with pictures and videos of adoptable pets, pets with their new families, and lots of smiles and wagging tails. It also calendars upcoming events, including places where you can visit with a Rufus Refuge dog, up close and huggable! In addition to Facebook, Rufus networks though Petfinder and AdoptAPet to find suitable homes.

Pepper with members of his new family, Gavin and Amber!

Rufus Refuge enjoys the benefits of being a Petsmart-approved charity. Perks that this designation brings include food, beds, leashes, collars, and other needed and costly supplies. The Petsmart in College Station will regularly host a photobooth and a time for the general public to come by and get acquainted with one of the adorable Rufus residents.

As the volunteers for Rufus Refuge have become known for their active compassion, they are regularly approached to help in situations, some of them extremely grim. The sheriff’s department contacted them last October to help with an animal abuse scene where a considerable number of dogs were found in various stages of neglect, some dead and some nearing death. Out of 23 dogs, the volunteers were able to save 12 of them. Dawn is hoping that Senate Bill #295 and House Bill #940 will help to address some of these situations by enacting laws to help deter these atrocious acts, as well as to bring awareness to the general public of the problem at hand.

“Changing one life at a time,” is their motto being played out day by day in Madison County and surrounding areas. Through the tireless efforts and the gracious donations of many, Rufus Refuge is truly improving the lives of animals as well as the entire community. More volunteers as well as financial contributions are needed to continue to meet the demands of this ongoing effort. The challenges are huge, but the rewards are monumental as dogs and cats are given a chance for a happy future. For more information and to make a donation, go to the Rufus Refuge website at www.rufusrefuge.org or to their Facebook page. Checks may be sent to P.O. Box 1385, Madisonville, Texas 77864. Funding is based solely on donations, so every little bit helps. Oreo, Ringo, Pepper, and Petie wag their little tails in grateful thanks!

P.O. Box 1385
Madisonville, Texas 77864

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