BENTON COUNTY • “All these nice people thank me all the time. ‘Oh you do a great job.’ This is not just me. I could not do this by myself. Everyone you see here has helped significantly and repeatedly,” said Yellow Rabbit Rescue founder Sheila Clifton. Clifton, along with her husband Jerry, and many of her benefactors and foster parents, met at the Cottage Cafe in Ashland last week to discuss the mission of the rescue group.
The Yellow Rabbit name, which comes from a creek that runs by Clifton’s home, leads some to ask her if she takes in rabbits. The answer is no. The rescue group takes in unwanted and abandoned dogs and provides for their healthcare before sending them to Northern states to be adopted.
“Yellow Rabbit Animal Rescue started eight or nine years ago,” said Clifton. “My daughter and I were in Tippah County on a side road and found five little puppies in the middle of the road that had no hair. One of them literally had three hairs on his body. The others had a tiny bit, but not much. They had severe mange, were full of parasites, and they smelled to high heaven. But they were very happy other than that. At least they were not sick.”
Clifton said she and her daughter gathered the puppies up and took them home. That night she sat down and posted on Facebook conveying how angry she was about the situation.
“Three things could have happened: (1) They would be hit by a car. If they were lucky it would kill them. If it didn’t, they would suffer; (2) They would be attacked by a larger animal, and if they were lucky it would kill them; or (3) They would slowly but surely starve to death. No food and water.”
Clifton said a friend of her daughter’s was in veterinarian school at the time and sent her a message on Facebook asking her if she needed help.
“I did not have a clue what I was going to do with these puppies. We had bunches at our house already. I knew it would be expensive to feed them and I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I said, ‘Yes, I do need some help.’”
Her daughter’s friend told her about the Homeward Bound Project at Mississippi State. Homeward Bound is run entirely by volunteers, most of whom are attending or working at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. They work with shelters in Mississippi to transport adoptable dogs (and sometimes cats) to adoption guaranteed rescues in the Northeast.
“Courtney was able to connect me with them and they told me they would take those puppies if I would bring them down there for vetting and foster them. I said, ‘Yes.’”
For a while Clifton had to go to MSU every two weeks to get shots and worming until they were confident that she was able to take care of the animals herself. “They basically trained me.”
As time went on, Yellow Rabbit got more puppies than Homeward Bound could take.
“Homeward Bound does not take from just one place,” continued Clifton. “By then we had learned a little bit on how this worked. Until then I did not know there were places that did not have puppies dumped all over. When Terry (Snead, of Homeward Bound) was explaining to me that they send their puppies north, it took a while to understand that there were some places up there that had waiting lists for puppies, sometimes for months. It was hard to imagine.
“I gradually made contact with some really good rescue partners. I started with one and worked my way up to two. I actually have four or five now in Connecticut, New York and New Hampshire. The main ones I work with are in New York and New Hampshire.”
When Yellow Rabbit rescues a puppy, they get them healthy before sending North for adoption. The animals are spayed or neutered before they leave and they have to have heart worm tests if they are six months or older.
“You can’t go North if you are heart worm positive. That means if you have an eight-month-old puppy that is heart worm positive it has to be treated first. That costs money.”
Clifton estimates that it costs about $125 per puppy to vet. Each animal gets their shots, are treated for intestinal parasites, and they get flea, tick and heart worm prevention every moth. They have to be spayed or neutered and have to have a health certificate and be microchipped before they leave.
Yellow Rabbit was able to get on a shelter medicine program that allows them to get microchips much cheaper than the vets can buy them. They have also been able to get on the Zoetis Shelter Immunization program, allowing them to buy immunizations much cheaper than vets can buy them. Clifton says she’s paying about $4 a shot now.
“A big plus is that I can get my heart worm medication. We have three that we are treating now. Amy’s (Cole) has got one, Daisy (a German Shepard). We have a Lab we are treating and a Pyrenees.”
Clifton said the Pyrenees is one of their success stories.
“When we took him in, his bones were showing through his skin. He was so hungry. He was in horrible shape. He got his first shots at the vet last week and is well over 100 pounds now. He is gorgeous. He will be going to New York when he is completely healthy. He is going to a rescue that is particularly fond of Pyrenees.”
Clifton said her rescue partners make sure the adopters are suited to the animal they are adopting. The adopters have to undergo a complete legal background check and the dogs only go to indoor homes.
“They don’t have yard dogs. These dogs are members of the family and some of these people can attest to it by the pictures they have seen. Kathy’s Husky went to an experienced home. We have gotten pictures back of her playing in the snow and sitting by the fireplace.
“In Kathy’s case, she did it right. When she called me, she didn’t just say, ‘Can you come get this dog?’ When I picked the dog up, she and her husband gave me the money to cover all of that dogs expenses.”
Clifton says besides the $125 for vetting the animals, there are other expenses involved in getting them to the shelters up North. The rescues pay for the transport. The transport costs $150. When the animal gets to New York or New Hampshire, they have to have another health certificate, which costs the rescues another $100.
“I sometimes have people ask me if I know how much they charge or adoption up there. I do know, and I also know how much it costs to get them there. It is not a money making proposition,” said Clifton.
Clifton is thankful for all the help she has received for Yellow Rabbit. They recently received a grant from the Tortorella Foundation to put in concrete.
“We had four litters of puppies with Parvo last summer. That resulted in thousands of dollars in vet bills. I thought I was going to have to shut down.”
Luckily Yellow Rabbit did not have to shut down due to a website called We Rate Dogs. The page puts cute pictures of dogs on their site and rates them, but they occasionally promote Go Fund Me pages.
“Terry Snead, who is over Homeward Bound, sent me a message. ‘I have an appointment to talk to someone today to see if we can’t get some help with those vet bills.’ I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. And after she talked to (We Rate Dogs), he told her ‘Yes, I want to do this.’”
Clifton got a Go Fund Me account set up and decided to ask for $7,500 to cover the vet expenses.
“We assumed it would be a couple of weeks. As soon as he got the information, he put it on his page … I was on my way home from Memphis when it was posted and Terry called and told me it’s up. In 32 minutes, it was completely funded. It went from $7,500 to $11,000.”
Yellow Rabbit was able to pay all their vet bills at two clinics, Willowbend and Animal Clinic of Tippah County. Clifton said both clinics are good to them.
“Dr. Smith is incredibly good to me. She does discounted spays and neuters and other things. Willowbend is also incredibly good to me. They did a giving tree program for me at Christmas. You would not believe the amount of dog food and supplies, and she just told me $273 is waiting for me that was donated.
“The vets at both clinics are amazing. David Childers and Mike Thompson are longtime friends of ours. They are family members. We could not do what we do without the help of the vets in this area. Dr. Smith’s vet techs go out of their way. When we were out of town Dr. Smith’s vet techs came to the house and took care of things for us because they did not want me to worry about being gone.”
Clifton is thankful for all the donations and support she has received. At the end of this month, they are going to have their first private transport up North, which will help save money. She recently acquired a van at a reasonable price to help her in transporting the dogs to the vets and Mississippi State.
She said people have had birthday fundraisers and t-shirt fundraisers for them. Walmart Distribution Center is now donating palettes of dog food with damaged bags to them.
Cottage Cafe recently did a Fish Friday.
“Amy gave 10 percent of her gross and a lot of customers gave money. It will be enough to cover Daisy’s heart worm treatment. Lisa’s company, Strategic Research, sent us a $500 check.”
For a long time, we tried to do this anonymously. We don’t take from just this county. We take from Marshall, Benton, Alcorn, Lee, all over North Mississippi. We did not want to be public. It became cost prohibited.”
Clifton said for the concrete grant she had to count up how many dogs she placed in the previous year. It was 291.
“We decided we needed help.”
The concrete was needed to help keep the dogs disease free. “Parvo is in the ground. Once you seal it, it can be sterilized. With concrete, you can clean it up and put dogs back in there.
“Don (Jeanes) put in a bigger slab than quoted and put up a roof and north wall and red tin to match the barn. We sent the pictures to the Tortorella Foundation and they were thrilled. They liked that they put up the seed money and the rest happened. I got much more than I paid for.”
Yellow Rabbit Rescue is always accepting donations. They have a PayPal account (email@example.com) and an Amazon wish list. They really need gravel right now and can always use cedar shavings.
Yellow Rabbit Rescue is a 501c3 nonprofit organization and all donations are tax deductible. If you would like to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org or message them on Facebook.