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Animal Activists' Start-Ups Help Pets, Inspire People

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By Sharon L. Peters for USA TODAY

Jennifer Smith founded Noah's Arks Rescue, a South Carolina-based nonprofit that saves abused animals.

Thousands of people have been moved to launch animal-assistance efforts — often more or less single-handedly, usually more or less accidentally — simply because they saw an unmet need. Their projects aren’t the biggest, and they may struggle for money, but they are determined. Reporter Sharon L. Peters profiles three of them.


Animals in need of sterilization get a lift in Indiana

MARTINSVILLE, Ind. — It all started a few years back when Tonja Robertson ferried the occasional cat to be neutered when the shelter where she volunteered needed transportation help.

Now the former gift-shop owner is a one-woman show responsible for hundreds of southern Indiana pets getting sterilized every year — preventing the births of thousands of unwanted kittens and puppies.

As founder (and organizer/orchestrator/driver) for the non-profit Spay Neuter Indiana Pets (SNIP), Robertson has distributed hundreds of discounted sterilization vouchers to mostly rural folks who had never spayed or neutered their dogs or cats. Moreover, twice a month she launches her military-precision pickup of animals at pre-arranged spots in three towns for people unwilling or unable to make a vet trip, traveling 205 miles between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., returning with sterilized animals.

“Often, the call comes from a person who started feeding one cat outside and then there’s a litter, and it quickly turns to 10, and the person is desperate,” Robertson says.

Last year more than 400 cats and dogs were sterilized because she made it happen (about 75% were cats); this year she anticipates 600.

Her efforts are supported by some small grants, donations and little fundraisers, and an annual winter sale of chocolates. But she and her husband, Julian, purchased the transport van with their own money (“it’s much less stressful for the animals to have more space, and we can take more”), they pay for the gas and cellphone required to make it all happen, just as they do when she attends conferences to expand her knowledge of sterilization issues.

Some may regard the results as small, considering the energy and personal funds required. Robertson shrugs that off. “When you look at the number of births you’re preventing — animals that would have wound up dumped or starving or deposited at the shelters — it’s all worthwhile.”

And not every effort must be huge to be important. “It only takes one person putting together something to impact animal suffering.”

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