EXCHANGE: Woman finds meaning in helping animals in need

RUMA, Ill. (AP) — Tammi Craig thinks she is “small beans” when it comes to her animal rescue work with Gunners Run Rescue.

Tucked away in Ruma, Craig said she places in a year as many dogs as some rescue organizations place in a month. Nevertheless, she said she has kept up with the exhausting and emotionally draining work out of a love of animals and to satisfy her need to do something, however small, to help make the world a bit brighter.

Craig started her rescue effort 13 years ago after tragedy struck her life twice. Raised by her grandmother, Craig said the loss of this parental figure was a huge blow, but to add to that, just two weeks before, her dog, Gunner — the namesake of her rescue and her “best friend” — died as well.

“I was lost and depressed,” she said.

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It was then that she began to look for ways to dig her way out of the emotional hole she found herself in.

“I was 40. I had pretty much worked and lived my life for my kids,” she said. So, she found a natural place as a caretaker for in-need animals and began working with several St. Louis-based organizations. She saw things she would do differently and decided to apply to be a certified animal rescuer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a year later, she applied for a 501(c)3 not-for-profit as Gunners Run.

Craig, an RN at Chester Mental Health, said Gunners Run is a lot like a second job for her. Currently all the dogs she rescues and looks to adopt out stay with her and her husband. She said though she does get money for vet bills from her not-for-profit — all dogs are given shots, microchips and are either spayed or neutered — the rest comes out of her pocket. This means the food, pee pads, cleaning supplies, toys and bedding all are funded from her personal account.

“I don’t even want to know what I spend in a year,” Craig admitted.

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Truly, money is secondary in some cases for Craig when it comes to the dogs she helps. She recalls spending $4,000 on one animal to have surgery. She later found a home for that animal. She said when this happens, she just settles in and finds money through donations to help offset this cost.

Medical needs are not a turnoff for Craig.

“I have a hard time saying no,” she admitted.

If she didn’t have this problem, then Monty possibly would not be a part of her life. The 3-year-old four-pound, purebred, long-haired Chihuahua came to Craig with serious issues. He had been injured and was not even guaranteed to live longer than a week. The damage he had received to his hind quarters was inflamed by a health condition that caused severe swelling and compression of the spine, paralyzing the pup’s back legs.

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When Craig picked up Monty, the neurologist told her that his condition could spread to his brain within the next five days and that if he showed signs of this, he would need to be euthanized immediately to prevent further suffering. Craig said he slept on her nightstand those nights — and to this day — so she could keep a close eye on him.

This was in early August.

Since she picked him up, Craig said she has done physical therapy, everything from walks down the driveway in a special walking cart, to hydrotherapy in a pool, to help him regain some mobility. Though he still needs help getting around, Craig said Monty has made huge strides. He is able to control his bladder and bowels now and acts just like a normal dog, just with a few special needs.

“He’s kind of the little dog that could,” she said of Monty.

Craig said being a rescuer means being on call, always waiting for the phone to ring — she said this can either be a vet or shelter looking to place an animal or a family wanting to return a dog.

Craig explained that with every adoption she has a contract signed that states if a family can no longer care for their pet, they will return it to Gunners Run.

She said in 13 years, this has only happened about 10 times. It is an important stipulation for Craig, though. She said in recent years the majority of dogs she cares for are from owner surrenders and that some of these animals have been shuffled from home to home. She said she wants to ensure they don’t fall through the cracks.

This is just one part of a multi-step adoption procedure Craig uses to ensure families are indeed the best fit for her furry wards. She has an application packet that needs to be filled out and a home visit is conducted by Craig to make sure where she is sending her dogs is conducive to a happy and healthy life.

“Those extra things for people to do really makes people think about the process,” she said, adding that like a marriage, adopting a pet is “for better or worse.” Some take issue with the process and Craig is fine with that. She said if this is the case, it’s just an easy sign that they are not the right fit.

There is a risk in taking a dog in, though.

“If I can’t place, they stay,” she said, adding that Monty might be hers for life.

“I don’t know if we can find the person for Monty,” she said. However, she remains hopeful that the right family will come along.

Craig was almost reluctant to talk about her work, feeling like she might have been detracting from a more deserving group. She said she loves her work so much that it almost seems selfish.

“It makes me feel good. It’s a total reward for me,” she said. “It almost makes me feel selfish.”

Despite her dedication and the self-given moniker of “crazy animal person,” she still sees herself as just a small fish when compared to bigger shelters. Still, she said if she can inspire other like-minded people to get involved in whatever way they can — she even offered her help to those wanting to help start rescues or foster systems — she sees that as a win.

“Anybody can do what I do if you just have that passion and commitment,” she said.

“If everybody just picked that one thing they are passionate about . and they just did one little thing it would make the world a much better place,” she said.


Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan,


Information from: Southern Illinoisan,