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100+ Arizona rescues band together to help save seriously hurt animals

Posted at 9:45 PM, Jun 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-25 01:35:13-04

PHOENIX — A network of organizations are on a mission to save some of the most critically ill, neglected, and abused pets in our community. Many of these animals are found surrendered by their owners, either roaming the streets or brought to a Valley animal shelter.

One rescue owner tells ABC15 you won't typicallly see the animals they focus on up front and center at a shelter. They're the hidden ones in the back because of their condition when found. They require so much specialized care that in some cases, and unless a rescue took them in and helped pay for their care, these are animals would not stand a chance to find another home, or family to love them.

But they are loved, and thanks to a Valley organization that has now partnered with more than 100 rescues throughout Arizona, these animals are getting treatment, and many of them are also getting re-homed.

"Those of us that are doing this, we do it from the heart. We realize how much we are needed," said Bari Mears, founder of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, known as PACC911 in the rescue circles.

Twenty years ago, Mears made it her mission to save lives but knew she could not do it alone, so she created a community. PACC911, which she describes as a grassroots organization, has grown from a group of about ten rescues to now more than 100. They have partnered with agencies like the Arizona Humane Society and the Arizona Animal Welfare League and forged a tight-knit bond with rescues throughout the state.

The result is a wait list of rescues who now want the PACC911 stamp of approval, which includes following a code of ethics it established. Anyone in the animal rescue industry will tell you it's not an easy task to bring more than 100 rescues together and get them to follow one set of rules.

Mears and her volunteers have done just that and helped change the face of "rescue" by uniting so many groups under one cause. Despite different personalities, different missions, and different ways of doing business, Mears says there is a common thread that binds them all.

"Putting our differences aside, let's work for the animals," said Mears.

Partner rescues have an incentive to participate. By being a PACC911 partner--or 'friend'--they have access to the lifeblood that helps animal advocates save lives: much-needed money.

Medical costs are the biggest challenge for any rescue organization. Mears spends every single day seeking funds, writing grants, and helping pair up rescues with sick, dying, and abused animals. In exchange, PACC911 will help cover medical costs to help treat the dog or cat.

"So far, I think it's about $2 million that we have paid out to rescues," said Mears.

Mary Ann Everett, founder of Tempe-based rescue Surrendered Souls, said as soon as she established her organization, her goal was to become a partner of PACC911.

"They are like the mothership to our rescue community," Everett said.

Mears said PACC911 counted on Surrendered Souls to take on many animals that many other rescues may not touch.

"She takes what we call the train wrecks, the most serious cases. She is an angel on earth," said Mears.

Everett willingly took in a dog, Lacey, who was brought in with a shattered face after some kids strapped fireworks to her jaw, thinking it would be fun to watch the fireworks explode.

After Lacey healed, Everett said she could not bear to part with her and kept her as a pet until her death a year later to liver disease.

"I feel at peace knowing Lacey lived her final year knowing she was loved," said Everett, who is now caring for a dog that just had mammary tumors removed and may have cancer.

"I mean, look at her, they need somebody," said Everett.

She is also caring for a 7-week-old puppy who was surrendered to the shelter because it was born with deformed knees. The dog will need several thousand dollars worth of surgery, and PACC911 will help her with the costs.

The PACC911 critical care gallery on their website showcases dozens of faces and stories of animals who got a second chance because of their partnership with so many rescue options.

The gallery includes stories of a dog named Captain Jack, who was found running in traffic with just one eye. It tells you the story of Kimmy the toy poodle, who was "covered with sores, neglected beyond belief," and you also meet Reggie the Chihuahua, who was only given two hours to live after being hit by a car. Reggie lived a lot longer than that and found a forever home within two weeks of healing.

Rescues like Surrendered Souls and Saving Paws can step up and help because of money provided by PACC911. Every animal advocate knows, no matter how much they care, passion alone cannot save lives.

Trisha Houlihan, founder of Saving Paws, said she would not have been able to afford surgeries and long term care for so many of the lives her rescue had saved if PACC911 had not stepped in to help. In order to keep the money coming, her and every other organization must follow PACC911's rules.

Included in the code of conduct is a requirement for in-person home visits, making sure all animals adopted have been spayed or neutered first, and good behavior on social media, where some rescues have earned a reputation for name-calling and hurling accusations.

"We care about that for many reasons, for one thing, once they a PACC partner they're not only carrying their rescue's name, but they're carrying our name as well now," said Mears.

PACC911 will also investigate complaints against their partner rescues made by adopters or other rescues. They have on occasion taken action against rescues they feel are not playing by their rules.

"The only thing we can really do is dismiss them from the organization," said Mears.

Dismissal means the end of thousands of dollars needed to save animal lives, because at the end of the day that really what 'rescue' is all about.

"Even if we give them one week of love so that before the animals pass they know that," said Mears.

ABC15 asked her why she had dedicated her whole life to this cause.

"Because I love them. It's my heart," said Mears, tearing up.

PACC911 relies on community donations as well as grants to help support Arizona rescues.

The organization also runs a charity boutique at the corner of 40th Street and Thunderbird called Rescued Treasures, where all the money made goes toward animal medical expenses. They also run a food bank called Chuck Waggin' pet food pantry to help low-income families and those on fixed incomes feed their pets.

Mear said those in the community can do their part by opening up their hearts and homes and fostering a pet, as fosters are desperately needed. They also remind everyone to spay and neuter their animals.