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May 05. 2013 10:05PM

Labor of love

Pelham-based Animal Rescue Network links volunteer lifesavers


Cleo, a young yellow Labrador retriever mix rescued from a high-kill shelter in Georgia, gets some affection from Patrice Fotane of Animal Rescue Network of New England. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

PELHAM - Driving down Route 38 each day, Donna Clark would pass by a German shepherd dog that was tied to a car bumper and left outside each day, even in intense heat or heavy snow.

Wanting to help, the lifelong animal lover contacted the Pelham Police Department as well as the staff at the nearby Salem Animal Rescue League.

The dog was ultimately rescued and brought to safer surroundings, but Clark's dedication to animals in need was only beginning.

In 2001, the Pelham resident and local business owner founded Animal Rescue Network of New England (ARNNE), a Pelham-based nonprofit group that's placed hundreds of dogs and cats, as well as the occasional horse, rabbit and guinea pig, into loving new homes over the years.

Staffed entirely by volunteers, the charity relies on public donations and fundraising to stay afloat.

"They fill such a need, but they rely entirely on the public and word of mouth to fill that need," organization spokesman Patricia Mack said.

While ARNNE was originally founded to fill a void in her hometown, Clark said the organization's mission has since expanded to bring animals from high-kill shelters in the South to New England.

"Before ARNNE, people would sometimes have to travel to other shelters that were pretty far away if they didn't find what they were looking for in Salem," Clark said, noting that monthly adoption events held at the First Congregational Church in Pelham have proven a huge success.

Her efforts haven't made her rich, but it's truly a labor of love.

"It's a constant challenge, but once you've had the experience of an animal rescue you just can't turn away," Clark said. "There are never enough funds because there's always those unexpected expenses."

Clark's days are seldom long enough to devote to her two Pelham businesses, Pelham Saddlery and Beaver Valley Farm, along with her near-constant animal rescue efforts.

The mother of two teenagers, Clark also shares her home with a number of rescue animals, including two elderly horses, Dakota and Sweet Pea.

A network of devoted volunteers help Clark keep ARNNE afloat, though more help is desperately needed.

Since ARNNE doesn't have a facility of its own, the majority of the animals in its care are placed in foster homes. Those that haven't been matched with a foster home yet are kept at Pelham's animal control kennel.

Some wait longer than others, according to Patrice Fotino, who serves as the organization's adoption and intake coordinator when she's not at her daytime career as a Boston architect.

Hope, a gentle white pit bull, remains at the town kennel as she awaits a foster placement or permanent home.

"She's still here solely because of her breed," Fotino said.

According to Fotino, it costs around $250 to bring a dog to New Hampshire from the South. Complicated veterinary expenses are routine and can add up quickly.

Six weeks ago, ARNNE rescued Cleo, a young yellow Labrador mix, from a Georgia shelter. After being examined by a veterinarian, Fotino learned the friendly dog with piercing amber eyes had likely been thrown from a moving car and had a BB lodged in her chest.

Three weeks ago, Cleo underwent surgery to repair a torn knee tendon, and rescue staff are in the process of raising funds to repair her other damaged knee. Her foster mother, Sarah Hastings, has been with her every step of her recovery.

Surgery and rehabilitation costs for the first knee totaled over $2,200, much of which was raised through the organization's Facebook page. Cub Scouts from the Pelham Elementary School sold dog biscuits to raise $300 toward Cleo's care.

"Sometimes people don't understand why we charge $295 for our adoption fee," Fotino said. "But the truth is, nobody gets paid here except for our vets."

For more information on ARNNE, including volunteer, adoption and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.arnne.org.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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