After a dog breeder in Iowa racked up nearly 200 code violations of the Animal Welfare Act, the Lebanon, Tenn.-based Animal Rescue Corps (ARC) answered the call for help. Approximately 100 rescued dogs were recently brought to the Middle Tennessee facility for examination, documentation and relocation.

With such a high volume of animals, the organization had a high demand for volunteers to help sort through chaos. When word went out, volunteers from around the country began making their way to Lebanon to offer a hand.

One duo of volunteers, a mother and daughter from New England, decided that the opportunity lined up perfectly with the mother's birthday wish. Jessica Guerette of Maine, and her mother Cathy Sterns of New Hampshire, wanted to do something unique for the latter's 60th birthday.

Reversing the conventional flow of gifts, the two instead explored ways to lend a hand to their fellow man. After organizing fundraising for a Northeast organization that aids homeless and displaced people, they still had approximately $750 left to donate elsewhere.

After the call went out for volunteers, instead of just sending the ARC a check, Guerette and her mother decided to travel down to Lebanon.

Guerette said that the entire trip almost didn't happen.

"It was so last minute," Guerette said. "My mother was supposed to work, but she got cleared the same day she got an email from (ARC) about their need for volunteers."

For Guerette and her mother, the trip provided a chance to continue their streak of making positive impacts while also reuniting two people who had not spent a lot of time together over the last 18 months.

"Especially with COVID, we haven't been able to see each other quite as much," said Guerette. "And, with my child, I just wasn't traveling much."

She'd even recently turned down a trip to Hawaii with her mother. So this time, she would make it work, and they did.

"Not only were we able to help out physically, but our donation also went to further fund the ARC's operation," Guerette said.

It was not Stearns' first foray with the ARC. Guerette said that her mom travels for work and was close to Lebanon when she saw a story about one of the cases ARC was handling. Therefore, she changed her flight home to go volunteer.

Guerette describes herself as a cat person but said that her volunteer time with ARC really reinforced an appreciation for dogs.

"I really appreciate them more now having been with dogs in such a desperate need," Guerette said.

Guerette said that when she and her mother had left after their volunteer day, that "we both left feeling like we had done something important."

She urges anyone with the ability to travel and the desire to volunteer to just do it.

"When they put out a call for help, it's urgent, so if you can just pack up and go, you can really help in a meaningful way," Guerette said.

Stearns added, "We're so glad we got the opportunity to come down and help. We met a lot of great people. It's a wonderful organization, and we are leaving here feeling like we made a difference."

This collaborative effort — which included the Animal Rescue Corps, Animal Rescue League of Iowa, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals — began when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) requested assistance with the removal, transport and sheltering of more than 500 dogs and puppies belonging to Daniel Gingerich, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensed breeder.

The complaint against Gingerich, filed by the DOJ, detailed horrific conditions at multiple locations in Iowa where Gingerich kept dogs. The complaints included dead dogs, dogs with untreated injuries and illnesses (such as parvo and distemper), dogs with painful fur matting, dogs in cages that were too small, and moldy food.

ARC's assistance for the planning and the rescue was requested. Animal Rescue Corps Field and Transport Teams deployed to Iowa and assisted with the removal of animals from the scene, managed the animal inventory and tracking process and supported transport efforts for the multi-day and multi-agency rescue.

ARC's network of more than 6,000 volunteers spans across North America and includes more than 3,000 registered volunteers in Tennessee. Over the past two weeks, other volunteers have come from Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, California, and even from as far away as Ontario, Canada.

Brenda Bunn, an ARC volunteer for the past eight years, trekked down from Ontario and reunited with Patty Shenker from California at the facility this week. The two had volunteered on other ARC rescues in Canada years ago and have been friends ever since.

"Animals don't come with passports," said Bunn. "If I hear of any animals in need and I have the capabilities of helping, I will regardless of where they are. If it's down the street, another city or another country, I'll always try to help."

The friendships that emerge from joint volunteerism is one of the more remarkable parts of what the ARC does according to the organization's public information officer, Michael Cunningham.

"It's magic when it happens," said Cunningham. "People make life-long friends here by coming together and volunteering at the same place. We may change the lives of animals, but we change the lives of people too."

Cunningham is grateful for the volunteers.

"Generally, these issues start with one or two individuals who create this massive problem," Cunningham said. "In order to resolve these problems in a humane way, it takes a lot of people working together.

"It's very meaningful work though, and that's why people don't mind traveling great distances."

Each of these rescued animals will receive a thorough veterinary exam, appropriate vaccinations, and any necessary medical treatments until they are matched and transported to trusted shelter and rescue partner organizations, which will ultimately adopt them into homes.

For people wishing to foster or adopt, ARC will publish its list of shelter and rescue placement partners on its Facebook page once the animals are transferred to those groups. To donate or volunteer to help the dogs and puppies and other animals in need, visit animalrescuecorps.org.

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