What an inspiration it was to meet Candas of Paws Furever Home. It was tricky to find her kennels in this very rural part of south Georgia, so we called her and she talked us in. She greeted us with us a big smile and an open heart. And what a heart it is!
Candas rescues dogs from pretty much anywhere—dogs from any of the four surrounding counties who don’t have shelters, dogs dumped by police or residents at the local vet, and lately, she gets a lot of dogs left outside the Dollar General. Where she lives in Tift County, they do have a shelter. In fact, that’s where she started.
Seven years ago when she moved to Tifton, she offered to drive a few dogs for the local Tifton shelter. Those first runs, driving dogs from the crowded shelter to safety in the north, led to more, until she bought a van just for that purpose, driving professional transports north. After two years of nonstop transports, she was exhausted and turned to ‘fostering’ in the kennels her husband built her on their wooded property. She named her kennels, Simply Grace. An appropriate name, as that is what she bestows on every animal (and probably person) she encounters. Eventually, she joined with Paws Furever Home, a 501c3 nonprofit (that is also a cat sanctuary).
Candas rehabilitates the dogs—many with health problems, starving, pregnant, nursing puppies, heartworm positive, abused, or neglected—and sends them north on transports, often to Canada. Many are throwaway dogs, yard dogs, dogs that are discarded, abused, unwanted.
We talked about the familiar struggle of rural areas as three adorable puppies (headed to a rescue in New York a few days later) romped in a play yard beside us. Then Candas took us inside the kennels to meet some of her dogs.
As we walked through and Candas shared their stories, I was even more grateful for this woman who takes on the rescues that even the most well-meaning rescuer might avoid. Some were shy and some were protective of their space, others took the treats I offered happily. Each story was more heartbreaking than the last. There were three dogs recovering from starvation. After their owner passed away, the police had taken the body but left the dogs at the house even though no neighbor, friend, or relative planned to take care of them. The dogs did what was necessary to survive and several did not.
Another sweet blue pit bull coughed softly and took the treats I offered in his lips (he had no teeth). Aries had been living in a metal crate too small for him for no one knew how long, but long enough that his legs were deformed. At the time of his rescue, he weighed 27pounds. He now weighs nearly 70 and is a healthy weight. Twice animal control officers were sent to check on his welfare and both times they said he was fine. Fed up, Candas went to the home and offered the family $50 for the dog. Aries’ heartworm is so advanced he is basically in heart failure. Unless someone steps up to offer hospice, Aries will die at the shelter under the loving care of Candas.
Back outside in the sunshine, Candas told us about her efforts to lobby the Georgia legislature to change animal laws. She understands that things won’t change until the decision-makers understand the scope of the problem. She is working with Ann Marie, another rescue advocate who is a former accountant, and a lobbyist funded by the Georgia Pet Coalition, Inc.. Together they are collecting the numbers—how many dogs abandoned, how many dogs euthanized, how many feral cats, how many unwanted litters, and the cost of all of them to the citizens of Georgia—the taxpayers AND the rescues who are footing the bill because in so many places there are no shelters (or shelters willing to save them).
She wants the lawmakers to understand how disproportionate the number of animals is for such a small population in a rural area. For example, in Ben Hill County, there are over 100 abandoned animals for every 1000 citizens.
Candas wants to speak to the people in power in a language they will understand (numbers and money) so they will see that better laws, real shelter facilities, trained animal control officers, affordable/available vet care, will not only be better for the animals and help rescue advocates finally rein in the overabundance of unwanted animals, but it will impact their constituents, the very people who vote them into office. More than that, it will save lives, help the state become more humane, and ultimately save money.
Candas has contacted both men running to serve as head of the Department of Agriculture and asked them to meet her for coffee. She plans to ask questions of each regarding animal laws and services. She’ll then share those answers with voters so that they can make an informed decision about who has the best interests of the animals (and the people) in mind. “Georgia needs change but we need someone to stand up for animal welfare and be willing to talk to us, not at us.”
Like the Ripley Market we visited in Mississippi, there are flea markets where you can buy animals from backyard breeders and puppy mill liquidators.
As if that isn’t enough, Candas is also working on another project—a bus to bring spay/neuter services to the places where it is so desperately needed. She’s got a veterinarian on board, and a plan to help 12 counties a month.
This year, Paws Furever Home has saved over 340 dogs and 400 cats. Those are impressive stats and a testament to the determination, hard work, and resourcefulness of this impressive woman who is as kind as she is tough.
If you’d like to help support the work Candas is doing, you can send a donation to her via Paypal using her email firstname.lastname@example.org
Meeting people like Candas and hearing her story is why we continue to travel south. There are so many heroes working their hearts out all over these rural parts, down pine-tree-lined empty roads where the Dollar General is the defacto supermarket. It is our privilege to spend a few hours with them, hear their stories, and meet their animals. They are working hard to solve the problem of animals suffering in the south. Their stories are important and too often untold. Please help us raise awareness by using your own voice to share these stories.
Until each one has a home,
The mission of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (we call it Waldo for short) is to raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them.
You can learn more about what is happening in our southern shelters and rescues in the book, One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues (Pegasus Books, 2020). It’s the story of a challenging foster dog who inspired me to travel south to find out where all the dogs were coming from. It tells the story of how Who Will Let the Dogs Out began. Find it anywhere books are sold. A portion of the proceeds of every book sold go to help unwanted animals in the south.
Amber’s Halfway Home is our short documentary film we produced in partnership with Farnival Films. It follows the work of a remarkable woman and one day of rescue in western Tennessee. Selected for fifteen film festivals (to date), it’s won eight awards (including Best Short Doc, Best Soundtrack, Best of Fest, and Audience Choice), and was nominated for an Emmy! It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change. Please watch it and share it far and wide.