I called her the rescue wizard of Tennessee in my book 100 Dogs & Counting, but it isn’t magic; it’s serious work that has saved over 7700 lives since she began this work in 2016.
The first time I visited the wizard, Laura Prechel, I shared the house with twenty-six dogs awaiting their lift out of Tennessee. The dogs and puppies were housed in crates in her finished basement and garage. I watched, astounded, as she fed, watered, and cleaned up after the dogs and then took them out to potty before tucking them back in their crates to rest before their journey. And then I slept through their 4:30am departure (best of intentions).
But that wasn’t the end of the work. Laura would then go on to put in a full day of work before coming home to clean and sanitize every crate. Within a day or two, her basement and garage started filling up again for the next transport. I’ve met a lot of rescue people, but I’m not sure I’ve met anyone as dedicated or anyone who saves as many dogs.
During our recent stay with Laura on our shelter tour (she graciously allows Nancy and I to use her house as our homebase when visiting shelters in TN, AL, KY, and MS), I snatched opportunities to interview her about her story (or more precisely how the heck she does all she does and WHY?).
Laura moved to Nashville for a career in the music business, and yet now she’s created a life that revolves completely around saving dogs. The home she bought, the job she took, the way she lives, even the fact that her new husband has yet to move in, all of this is dictated by her drive to save lives, as many as possible and as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It all began when she volunteered to foster four dogs for a small local rescue, but as those dogs lingered at her house, the rescue unable to move them out through adoptions, she grew frustrated.
As Laura explains, it started out innocently enough. With her foster dogs not going anywhere and time on her hands, she volunteered at a few local shelters. One of the shelters in Maury County regularly euthanized dogs for space. Instead of walking away upset or sticking to the no-kill shelters, she decided to do something about it. Laura knew from her volunteer work, that shelters sent dogs to rescues in other parts of the country to be adopted. She contacted one of those shelters and they generously shared their rescue list.
She starting calling rescues on that list and found one in Delaware willing to take some dogs. The next weekend, she loaded five dogs scheduled to be euthanized into a rented van and drove through the night to deliver them to safety, before turning around and driving directly back to Tennessee. Mission accomplished, she thought, happy that she’d been able to solve a problem.
Of course, it was only days before the shelter filled back up and lives hung in the balance. So she did it again, driving to Delaware, New Jersey, and Iowa, anywhere if it meant the dogs would be safe.
Soon enough, this was how she began spending every day off and every weekend. Sometimes on her own, sometimes with a friend in tow.
Five years after that first transport, it’s clear that she has found her calling. “Why you?” I asked her as we sat in her kitchen, the sound of dogs barking echoing up from the basement. For years, this had been an all-Laura operation. No shelter or rescue or government program was directing her to save dogs or paying her to do it.
“For whatever reason, I have the ability to do what’s needed for transport well. It comes easily.”
That’s the answer of a woman who never wants the focus to be on her. As if any of us would do what she does if it came easily. As if any of it is easy. Her modesty belies a woman who is driven to save lives, regularly performing miracles and quietly accomplishing more than most fully-funded rescue organizations with decades of experience; she has spun a life around it, sacrificing her income, her home, and her heart.
Finally, though, after years of rescuing and transporting dogs on her own, she has built a network of people who help her, and together with two other remarkable women, Ashley and Maily, has finally formalized that network into a 501c3 nonprofit, Charlie’s Angels Saving Animals (CASA).
Since its official start in April of 2021, CASA has already transported 1572 dogs out of Tennessee (that’s an average of 250 a month). CASA receives no adoption fees and covers the cost of transports, including the vetting for the animals.
Their namesake, Charlie, is a pilot who flies animals whenever called upon, even purchasing a larger plane to accommodate more animals. CASA moves most of their dogs via vans, utilizing volunteer drivers. Their twice weekly transports relieve the burden on local shelters and pounds, which in turn can prevent ‘euthanizing for space’, a common practice in crowded shelters and dog pounds in rural parts of Tennessee.
Laura fields pleas from rescues, shelters, dog pounds, and individuals all over middle and western Tennessee (and sometimes further afield). She gathers the information, pictures, medical stats on each dog and then works her northern contacts. After Laura secures rescue commitments for them, CASA volunteers and local rescues gather the dogs, many of who otherwise would be destroyed at a shelter or dog pound, and twice a week brings them to the small warehouse building CASA has rented ‘Health Cert Days.’
Veterinarians, two of whom donate their time, examine and vaccinate the dogs before issuing health certificates which will enable the dogs to cross state lines. CASA hopes to raise funds to eventually provide spay/neuter services in partnership with local vets. The lack of those services can become a bottleneck overwhelming shelters and preventing CASA from moving dogs more quickly.
From there they are transported to Laura’s house, where the dogs spend the night before being picked up for transport or driven to the airport to meet the plane. (Thankfully, CASA is about to get its own casa! Laura and her husband, Brent, are in the process of purchasing a property and building for CASA.)
From Tennessee, the dogs will travel all over the US, but primarily to the midwest, mid-atlantic, and northeast to rescue partners who will see them through to adoption into forever families. Before they land wherever they are going, Laura will be lining up the next bunch of dogs, finding them rescue, coordinating their vet work and transport. Again and again, twice a week…. For most of us, her level of commitment is mind-blowing.
What’s even more mind-blowing is that she continues to work a full-time job, and often that job is what pays the expenses for CASA. I asked her if she had funding, would she work CASA full-time? Before I’d even finished my question, she said, “Absolutely!”
I caught Laura early one morning as she prepared to leave for work and fed her foster dogs. I asked what is hardest about this work, and she shrugged, “Besides the hours?” (It was early, and she had already been up since before dawn caring for the dogs preparing for transport).
She cut her eyes away, possibly shoring up her emotions and said, “It’s the ones you can’t save, especially when you’re close,” and then she looked back at me and said, “and the ones you just know you can’t save, most of the pitties.” She reached down and rubbed the ears of Bane, her current foster, a beautiful blond pit bull. She had been fostering Bane for months, along with two other pit bulls, Mrs. Pete and Lady Bane. (All three were the best company on our visit.)
On another evening, when I interviewed Laura for our Youtube feature, I asked her again, “Why you?” What made her step up and do all that she did? I got that she had the unique skills to do it, but there had to be more. In a struggle that often feels like you’re just moving sand grain by grain on a vast expanse of beach, how was it that she remained committed to this backbreaking and heartsearing work?
“Why not me?” She asked. “It’s like that song – you know? Maybe I’m the somebody who can do something.”
She was referencing a song by Kenny Rogers–
Somebody should do somethin’ about it
How hard could it be?
Somebody should do somethin’ about it
Maybe that someone is me.
So often, that’s exactly what it takes – somebody deciding to do something about it. Not waiting for their government to act, or for it to be easy, or until they have time/energy/money. It’s one person doing something to help.
Which is the point, I think, about why we’re here on this earth. It can’t be simply to use up the planet and take care of ourselves. It’s true, not just of saving dogs and fixing the problem of so many homeless animals, but of pretty much every crisis facing the world today. If we all did something, we could fix this.
Too often, we think we aren’t qualified or capable or old enough or experienced or knowledgeable or whatever—aren’t there a million reasons? But when it comes down to it, those are simply excuses we hide behind. Laura is just one person. And look what she has done! I joke that I wish we could clone her, but maybe if we each let her example inspire us, we could bring change. All of us just doing something.
Maybe you can’t transport thousands of animals or fill your basement with fosters, but you can call your elected officials. You can ask questions about the sheltering practices in your area. You can gather like-minded individuals and lobby for change. You can choose to adopt and encourage others to rescue also. You can volunteer your time or foster or send donations to rescues and shelters who need it (we have a list on our site – adopt one for the holidays). Most importantly, you can follow and share and support the people like Laura who are on the front lines, fighting every day to save lives.
If you’d like to help CASA save more lives, consider donating to their incredible work. I don’t know any organization directly responsible for saving more lives every year than this one.
The pandemic has created a world-wide time-out of sorts and many of us are reevaluating how we want to spend the time we have here on this planet; consider spending some of your time doing something about whatever cause weighs on your heart. Maybe it’s time somebody did something about it, and maybe that somebody is you.
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 a 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 thirteen film festivals (to date) and thrice awarded best short documentary, it is a beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring story we hope will compel viewers to work for change.
The Calendar is ready! It features Great American Shelter Dogs and the photography of Nancy Slattery, plus includes all the national dog holidays, plus information on Who Will Let the Dogs Out. What’s best is that EVERY penny goes to help us raise awareness and resources for homeless dogs and the heroes who fight for them (like Laura and CASA!). We have a limited supply, so don’t wait – Click here to order yours! (And below is a sneak preview of a few of our featured dogs!)