By CPT Darrin Haas For NationalGuard.com
When Mandy Bellemore joined the Tennessee Army National Guard as a Military Policeman, she swore to “serve and protect” those in her care. It’s an oath she took seriously and takes seriously, but her concern for those in need extends w-a-y beyond the ordinary.
When Bellemore first moved to Tennessee, she was saddened when she saw how some animals were being treated. “I saw dogs and cats simply left along the highway,” she said. “Some were tossed out of moving cars to fend for themselves. These poor things were just thrown away like trash, and I was afraid they’d eventually starve or get killed.”
“I love them all, but I especially love dogs,” she explained, as she gently petted Milo, a sad-eyed Chihuahua mix she recently rescued. “I’ve always wanted to do something to help the ones who’ve been abandoned, neglected and abused, and I became determined to make a difference in their lives.”
And make a difference is exactly what she’s done … in a big way.
“In the beginning, I started to take in stray animals and care for them; now I have 10 dogs and nine cats of my own,” she said with a hint of a grin. “Then I decided, ‘Something has to be done for all the others.’ ”
Back in 2009, ideas were whirling around in her head on how she could start some sort of shelter for dogs. It didn’t take her long, though, to realize that she was thinking about something that might be bigger than she could handle.
Then everything was suddenly interrupted when she was alerted and a short while later deployed to Iraq with Cleveland, Tennessee’s 252nd MP Company.
“To me it was just temporarily putting things on hold while I served my country,” she explained. “I never stopped dreaming about easing the suffering of those unwanted, uncared-for animals.”
But then it hit me: my deployment would be a great opportunity to earn the money I needed to start the shelter! So I decided to save all my military pay and use it for exactly that.”
“Before I went to Iraq, my stepfather, Walter Foster, drove all the way from Tennessee to Fort Dix, NJ, to visit me where I was training before heading overseas. I had a four-day pass before we left for Kuwait, and in that time we put our heads together and came up with a final plan and even drafted some blueprints to build kennels.”
A short while later, using the money she was earning as a specialist, her stepfather started construction. Building the kennels from scratch, he laid the foundation and began erecting the structure in a hayfield near their home.
“The whole time I was gone, he kept me updated on how the project was going. I couldn’t wait to get home and help,” she recalled.