By Charles Petty
For Mary Ashburn, Helping rescue animals is her life’s calling. She started the nonprofit “Lending Paws a Hand” over a decade ago to save the lives of unwanted, at-risk animals in need throughout Lee County.
“While driving to work one morning in November 2012, I noticed a young lady pulled over on an exit ramp, tossing something out her window. I then spotted a large white dog and pulled over to see if I could help, having some chicken handy for my lunch that day,” she said. “We kept this boy from getting into the road until the Animal Control officer arrived. He was loaded up and taken to the Lee County Animal Shelter. I monitored his activity to see if anyone would adopt or rescue him. After about a week and a half, a rescue came through. However, being an intact male, while leaving the shelter he had another intact male and in-heat female go past him and he snapped at the male. The rescue denied him, saying he had to be ‘bomb proof.’ Two days later, I went to the shelter and adopted him, as I would not let him die. His name is now Luke and that young lady, Kelly, helped to save his life. Luke was the start of a journey that went from transporting animals for other rescues to the creation of the nonprofit organization.”
Since then, Ashburn has found homes for 480 cats and dogs, and at some point, every single one of them has ridden in her vehicle. She and her husband Ed help shelter the dogs and cats at their home in Sanford, and she also helps coordinate with other volunteers around Lee County. Lending Paws also fosters education and awareness on various pet-related issues.
Now, something as simple as transportation is threatening to throw a wrench into the entire operation. Ashburn’s car, a 2006 Suzuki, gave out recently due to the constant travel and transportation of the animals. The rescue is now short a vehicle.
“Mary has used her home as a sanctuary to take care of these animals,” said Sean Whittaker, a volunteer with Lending Paws. “We want to help out as much as possible.”
Whittaker and his wife Heather, as well as other volunteers, are trying to help ensure Ashburn has reliable transportation in order to carry out her service. They’ve set up a gofundme page to help her raise funds for a new vehicle.
The Whittakers got involved with Lending Paws last year. Since then, they’ve become regulars with the Lending Paws family.
“We took on four kittens that were abandoned at the start, now we currently have a dog named Gizmo that we have been fostering for about a month,” Whittaker said.
Further information on how to help out with the fostering process can be found on the Lending Paws a Hand website.