By Tia Lynn Ivey, Managing Editor
The plush green pastures of Ellen Warren’s Madison Farm have become an animal version of the Island of Misfit Toys. Once neglected and abandoned, a motley crew of unlikely pen pals roam contently amidst the 165-acre land—dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys, emus, llamas, horses, mules, donkeys, and cows.
Opal the Cow struts across the fields in a quest for shade, tossing a curious side-glance to Larry the Llama, who is lying on his back, peacefully basking in the harsh sunlight at high noon. Oreo the Horse, a nervous and timid creature, can be seen nuzzling the good-natured, but bossy, miniature horse duo, Neon and Goody Two Shoes. RePete the Goat hops off an outdoor staircase to vie for food against Llarry the Llama as Warren distributes feed and affection. Hamilton the Pig waddles between them all, playfully grunting and always searching for new purses and ankles, upon which to lovingly sniff and slobber. Ferris Mueller, a skittish miniature mule that was recently rescued, frolics in a distant field as he feels out his new donkey neighbors.
As dogs bark, donkeys bray, and chickens squawk behind nearby fencing, Big Bertha the Emu (a large flightless running bird) can be heard emitting a soft drumbeat from her long throat to beckon a mate or a little grub. This quirky animal family has only been made possible because of the efforts of Companion Animal Rescue, Inc. (CARI), a non-profit organization founded by Ellen Warren and Donna Prior, which aims to provide safe foster care and adoptions for abused and abandoned animals in Morgan County, as well as to fund low-cost sterilization programs to dramatically reduce animal over-population. CARI works in conjunction with the Morgan County Animal Control, of which Donna Prior is now the director. “It’s sad what people throw away,” lamented Warren. “It’s just heart breaking to see these animals so abused and neglected…It is not easy to see it—to hear have to hear horror stories of what happens to these animals, but when you see the love and adoption that comes, it’s all worth it. Those are the things that make you happy when you see an animal that has come from such a sad situation and is going to be loved so much and taken care of,” said Ellen, who grew up around animals and developed a compassionate ethos toward animals at an early age.
Prior has always been an animal-lover, too, but it was not until she began working with Warren and volunteering at the animal control department that she decided to adopt animal rescue as her life’s work. “I feel the need to help the unwanted animals—the animals who have not been given a fair chance in life…we are there for them,” said Prior. Warren and Prior partnered a little more than 10 years ago to establish CARI, with a vision to not only rescue cats and dogs, but larger animals in need as well. Prior, at that time, only volunteered with the Morgan County Animal Control. CARI, a completely volunteer-based outfit, works almost exclusively with the Morgan County Animal Control, only making seldom exceptions to take in out-of-county animals. According to Warren and Prior, “since our primary donation base is from Morgan County, we believe CARI should focus on saving the lives of the animals in this county.”
“Although, we do primarily focus on Morgan County animals, that doesn’t mean we turn our backs on other animals…if we have space we will do everything we can to help those animals, too,” added Prior. Local donations make it possible for CARI to spay, neuter, vaccinate and de-worm all incoming rescued animals. On average, CARI rescues 150 to 200 animals a year from the county’s animal control. In addition to that, CARI often accepts animal surrenders from individuals and accepts a few out-of-county animals when special circumstances arise. All rescue animals are placed in vetted foster care homes’ of volunteers until a suitable adoptive family is found and approved. CARI has taken in over 1,000 animals throughout its 10-year history. CARI currently has about 12 foster sites, but Warren’s farm is the only foster care site that houses multiple large animals—both traditional livestock and exotic animals. In addition to taking in large animals, Ellen also houses 15 dogs on average for CARI. “Ellen is my hero,” said Prior. “Her love of animals and dedication to caring for them is an inspiration.” Ellen raved about the excellent job the Morgan County Animal Control does, especially since Donna took over as director. “We have the best animal control in the state of Georgia,” said Warren, praising Donna for ensuring every animal is provided with a bed and outside play dates.
However, even with all the work CARI and the animal control department have accomplished over the years, Warren and Prior are often disheartened by the undiminished rate of animals in need of rescue. “It’s discouraging when the numbers don’t change, year after year,” said Prior. “Even with all the information out there, the numbers don’t really go down.” According to Warren, about 60 percent of the animals rescued or surrendered to animal control are dogs and about 40 percent are cats. On average, between 1000 and 1500 animals come through animal control each year in Morgan County. “You know, people start out with good intentions, but don’t realize what it takes to take care of an animal—what really goes into it. It is a commitment—an expensive one and sometimes can be a 15-year commitment,” said Warren. CARI usually provides long-term foster care for its rescued animals, because the adoption process is very selective.
There is a $200 adoption fee, which is sometimes negotiable, and an adoption applicant must be at least 25 years of age. “If you are serious about an animal, we want to work with you. But we don’t believe in just adopting out our dogs or other animals to just anyone,” said Prior. “We want to ensure these animals go to good homes because they have already been through enough.” CARI also always takes back adopted animals if the adoption does not work out. “It’s rare, but we always want our animals to have a safe place to come back to,” said Prior. Warren and Prior are hoping to broaden CARI’s future even further. “We have plans to expand and grow, and we will be making an announcement before the end of the year about it. We are excited about it. It will be a big, big step for our group,” said Warren. To find out more information about CARI—how to donate, volunteer, or how to adopt—visit: www.CARI.petfinder.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org