When it is a nail clinic day at Essex Pet Valu, some people come by just to say hi to Lisa Taylor. Lisa trims cat and dog nails once or twice a month in Essex Pet Valu,and when she is not there, she is busy with operating Max’s Dog Sanctuary for abused, disabled, and medically challenged dogs. The nail clinic is a fundraising event that helps the local sanctuary to cover vet bills. For many regular customers of Pet Valu, those days provide the perfect opportunity to talk to a person who–and this is not an exaggeration—has devoted her life to animal welfare and now generously shares her knowledge about fur companions with others. We at Pawz Club picked Max’s Dog Sanctuary as Rescue of the Month in October and asked to tell our readers about the sanctuary.
PC: Lisa, when did you decide that you wanted to run a rescue, and then a sanctuary?
Lisa Taylor: I always wanted to be a vet, from the time when I was a little girl. My dad says when I was five, I would bring an injured bird or bunny home, and they would let me bring them in our home. And all those kitties that I would find – they let me bring them in. I would nurse them. I would have bunnies and rabbits and so on. This is how it started. I still wanted to be a vet when I was in high school. When I was eighteen I started fostering for a rescue. I sensed that it was what I have to do. I learned from that rescue. I saw how it was run. I saw what they did. I started working with veterinarians and met many people who couldn’t deal with medical issues or behavioral issues, and they wanted to put their pets down because of that. And the vets who knew me, who worked with me, they would say to those people, “I know a lady in a rescue. I could talk to her rather than putting an animal down.” This is how my rescue started. Now I run a sanctuary. The difference is that I take in debilitated, sick, medically challenged dogs and cats that need permanent homes and I give them a permanent home with medical care. I did rescue for over 20 years as well and have received provincial and federal rewards from the government for rescuing dogs at Lakeshore Dog Pound for over 10 years exclusively.
PC: You work with animals who have been through a lot in their lives. Is that hard emotionally?
I used to be agitated initially because people were lazy. Ninety-nine percent of the time the problem is not with an animal, it’s humans. I’ve been through divorce. I’ve been through serious health issues, but I’ve never ever given up on my rescue. I still have my animals and I still have my rescue. But exactly because I have been through a lot in my life, and I learned how to heal myself, I wanted to help the most segregated group of animals. Many of my rescued dogs and cats have special needs, but they are usually manageable issues. People often don’t realize that pets may have those special needs. I once got a dog that was hairless. His whole body, his skin was a mess. And you know why? His people didn’t listen to the vet. The dog was allergic to chicken and needed a special diet, but they kept feeding him with chicken. It was awful.
PC: How many animals are at the Max’s Dog Sanctuary now?
Twenty animals–9 dogs, 10 cats, and a rabbit. In thirty years that I’ve been running the sanctuary, I happened to have had even bigger numbers of animals – if we count litters. I rescued dogs with puppies and cats with kittens. It was when people brought pregnant animals to a clinic to euthanize them. I couldn’t stand that, and of course, I rescued pregnant cats and dogs. This is what I think is right.
PC: Do you accept new animals?
Not anymore. Life taught me that I can’t rescue everybody, so I’m trying to do my job as well as I can and keep my animals happy. But I often help people over the phone and teach them how to deal with animals that need special attention. I have been working with many vets and rescue groups, and they give my phone number to people who need some guidance, but I simply can’t take in more animals.
PC: How do animals end up in shelters, in very poor condition?
Sometimes people take a pet because, say, their child wants a puppy. And they didn’t realise how much work puppies are. And those animals end up in a rescue. This is why rescue organizations try to collect as much information about potential adopters as possible. If a couple wants to adopt a dog, they would ask, do you have time to play with a dog? Do you both work the same shift? What if you decide to have a baby in a couple of years? Are you prepared to keep this animal? Or the family has small children – are they matured enough to have a puppy? We ask all these question for a reason. When people bring an animal to a humane society or to a rescue organisation, we always ask why. We want to know all the background. Oftentimes it is that people didn’t realize that dogs are a lot of work. Dogs need to be trained properly. What was cute for a small puppy is no longer cute when a puppy has grown up into a 150-pound mastiff. As I said, people are the source of most of the problems.
PC: What running a sanctuary is like?
You have to have a certain lifestyle. I don’t go on vacation, for example. Cleaning is a part of my daily routine. I do floors every day. My priority is to keep the animals who have been through so much pain and stress in their lives – safe and comfortable.
PC: Other than a pile of medical bills, what are some of the urgent matters that require more funding?
We need funds to cover vet bills, that’s right. But there are also a lot of everyday things that we need. Feeding animals, cleaning up after them – you can imagine how many cleaning supplies it takes to clean up after 20 animals. And cat litter, because it’s a lot of scooping. And dishes, and blankets, all that everyday stuff.
PC: What is the biggest challenge that you are facing now? And what is the biggest reward that keeps you carrying on with the sanctuary?
My biggest challenge now is time management. And the biggest reward is to have all these animals happy, to see their eyes. I have dealt with so many animals that were debilitated physically and emotionally, and seeing them recovered, recuperated – this is the most rewarding part of my job.