Audrey Woerter admits to not being a big fan of animals until 10 years ago. But that all changed when one of the three dogs she had inherited after marriage died.
"Molly drove us crazy. She shed everywhere. She barked constantly. She was such a hyper dog," Woerter remembered. But when the animal died, it was devastating. "We cried for days, just days. I had no idea how she really affected me until she was gone," the Greene woman said.
When Woerter has a change of heart, she really has a change of heart. The death led her to Petfinder, where she began her search for a new dog. Through Petfinder, she found how many dogs really needed homes. That, in turn, led to the founding of Every Dog's Dream Rescue Inc., a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, that works to find homes for animals that have been abused or neglected or can no longer by cared for by their owners.
Woerter even convinced her husband to convert their three-car garage to a private kennel to house dogs and cats.
"The best thing is that the animals need us just as much as we need them. A rescued dog shows so much love and compassion. They know they've been saved," she said.
Last year, Every Dog's Dream was successful in rescuing 600 abandoned animals and finding new owners for 505 of them. The adoptees included 84 cats and 161 kittens, as well as 67 dogs and 149 puppies. They also included 19 guinea pigs, four hamsters, 17 rabbits, two ferrets, one gerbil and, for good measure, one iguana.
The Petco store in Johnson City houses the organization's adoption center. The 53-year-old woman also provides care for dogs and cats in the kennel at her Greene home while they live out their lives or wait for new homes.
At the center, some 50 volunteers help her with the daily grind of walking dogs, washing walls and windows, mopping floors, doing laundry, and providing fresh water, blankets and toys for the animals.
In addition, Woerter has a network of 15 to 18 "foster homes" that care for and house animals until new owners come forward.
"We're all in it for the same reason, to save animals and find them good homes," she said.
The work has meant some sacrifices. While Petco donates food and kitty litter, and volunteer fundraisers cover part of the costs of vet bills, supplies and food, Woerter had to dig into her personal savings last year to cover higher-than-normal medical bills. And she's on the job 24/7.
"It's a love-hate thing," she said. "There are days you wake up and think, 'Oh My God, I just want to sleep in today,' but the reward is the way the animals appreciate us."
Some of the rescued animals come from out-of-state shelters. Others are turned in from elderly persons who have to move into assisted-care living or nursing homes and can't keep their pets. The center will receive calls from landlords when tenants leave behind pets. Others are surrendered because owners can't afford their care or medical bills.
Every animal that comes in is vaccinated and, if old enough, spayed and neutered, Woerter said. Volunteers, notably students from SUNY Broome Community College, socialize the puppies and lead them in basic training activities.
One thing Woerter stresses is that Every Dog's Dream euthanizes animals only when veterinarian states an animal is too sick to be saved, or an animal is extremely aggressive toward people and other animals. "We don't euthanize for space. We don't euthanize healthy, social animals," she said.
People apply to adopt animals by contacting the adoption center. Every Dog's Dream also advertises on a Facebook page and is known to local veterinarians who make referrals.
The adoption process involves checking references and, in the case of dogs, visiting a residence to make sure it best meets an animal's need. Every Dog's Dream has a return rate of only 1 percent.
Woerter is totally dedicated to her work, said Carla Simpson, a volunteer at the center. "I volunteered at another shelter locally and didn't feel welcome. Here I feel welcome. Everyone is working together," Simpson said.