When Meg Ellis sees a stray animal, she doesn’t assume the creature knows its way home, is on its way there. She doesn’t assume someone else will come along and take care of the situation. She doesn’t look the other way.
Instead, she stops.
“It’s exhausting,” the 40-year-old mother of two said, “but then you look at these pictures…”
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Meg was in the garage of her modest brick home in Forest Acres. She pointed to several poster boards, full of photos of dogs and cats that have made their way home due to what, in 2005, was a one-woman rescue mission and has since blossomed into Chasing Tails Pet Patrol, an online endeavor reuniting hundreds and hundreds of lost and found pets and their human peeps.
“Mullett was my first. He was walking down Devine Street in the rain. He was the inspiration of why I got started … I had both of my kids in the car and I pulled over to see if I could coerce him to come see me. Well, before I could get out of my car, he was at my window. He gently placed his paws on the car door and lifted himself up to see who I was.”
Making a long, sweet story short, Meg wound up adopting Mullett after initially leaving him at an animal shelter where, because of his advanced age, he was scheduled to be euthanized.
“Mullett remained loyal to me until the day he passed. I had him for four-and-a-half years. Good years that taught me a lot about myself.”
Maybe one of those lessons was about stopping. Doing something.
That something has turned into an animal rescue operation that includes a Facebook page sharing a constant stream of photos and information about lost and found pets throughout the Columbia area and beyond.
“Our focus is reuniting pets with their owners,” Meg said.
“We try to help as many people as we can. It’s just story after story on our page. I never fathomed it would get this big. But the fact that everybody is helping, watching the page, working as one big unit, as a community, well, that’s crucial.”
Rita Morris is also crucial. She spends hours every day managing the Facebook page.
“I spend anywhere from three to four hours a day on the page when it is a light day and up to 10 or 12 hours on the page some days,” Rita said.
“I do have a young lady who has started helping recently for two or three days a week, but we really, really need more people to help.”
So that people like Beverly Metcalfe can be reunited with their pets.
Beverly, who lives in Lexington, recently lost her “sweet Lucy,” a 5-year-old poodle mix named after Lucille Ball.
“My daughter had left for work and Lucy slipped out the door behind her and took off. We started looking for her all around the neighborhood. First on foot, calling her name, and then driving around in our car. It was starting to get dark and I was getting frantic thinking of her somewhere out there all alone or worse heading to Highway 6 near our house and getting hit. My son and I headed home, both crying, and I started calling animal shelters, vets, anywhere I could think of to see if someone had found her or worse, she’d gotten hurt.
“I thought about Chasing Tails and I got on Facebook to post her missing. The first thing I saw was my baby’s adorable face in someone else’s car! They said (in the post) that they were taking her to a vet near my neighborhood … so I got on the phone and called (the vet).”
Making another long, sweet story short, Lucy checked out at the vet and the two ladies who had found her, took her home – two neighborhoods over from Beverly’s.
“When I pulled up to their house, the two ladies came out and one was holding our sweet girl. Lucy leaped into my arms when she saw me …We were so lucky that she ended up in such good hands and nothing bad had happened to her and that the ladies also knew about Chasing Tails and posted that they had found her. I was so grateful to Chasing Tails … I think it’s great that there’s a whole community out there trying to help you find your lost pet.”
A whole community which began as one.
Prior to the official start of the Facebook page in 2011, she said, “I would find owners by putting up signs calling vets and that kind of thing.”
And then her mission went online.
“It was just me for the first few years. Staying up to four or five in the morning, on the computer, trying to match up lost and founds. I basically stayed glued to the page 24-7.”
Meg, who has a day job working with her family’s business, T&T Sports, eventually sought the help of other volunteers to monitor the Facebook page, coordinate lost and founds, and help rescue animals.
“I needed help.”
Nine women – all volunteers – now manage the Chasing Tails mission, which has turned into one successful reunification story after another.
Chasing Tails works closely with local animal shelters, vets and other rescue organizations.
“We all believe that it takes a network from all angles to make this work.”
And Chasing Tails does not discriminate.
“We’ve had turtles, birds, rabbits, pigs, emus, cows, horses. You name it, it’s more than likely been on our Facebook page. If it’s your beloved pet, then we are there to help you find it.”
And while there is joy in reuniting pets and their owners, or, in other cases, finding new homes for rescued animals, Chasing Tails often deals with more difficult issues.
“It can be hard,” Meg said. “We get a lot of private messages about abuse and we try to direct those people in the right way.”
Postings about deceased animals, found by the side of the road or elsewhere, also appear on the Facebook page.
And in the aftermath of fireworks on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, sending frightened creatures running for the hills, it’s nothing short of chaotic at Chasing Tails.
“Those nights and the next few days are just bonkers,” Meg said.
A small wooden sign situated in the bookcase of her den says, “DOGS WELCOME – PEOPLE TOLERATED.”
I asked Meg if she ever feels overwhelmed by it all.
“It’s hard to balance,” she said. “It consumes you because you want to help. But it’s the animals, you know? It’s something I love to do.”
And that something has likely saved the lives of many animals, including, recently, a black dog that had been wandering throughout Forest Acres for weeks.
The authorities – animal control and the police – could not catch the dog, which had a back leg broken in several places.
Enter Chasing Tails.
“We set our trap and caught him,” Meg said.
Talk about not looking the other way. Talk about doing something.
The dog, whose name is now Hobbs, had successful surgery to repair his leg so that it would not have to be amputated.
Chasing Tails (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a non-profit organization and operates by way of donations, and has been raising money to help pay for Hobbs’ medical expenses.
“Hobbs,” Meg said, “loves dogs. He actually loves everybody. Adults, kids, cats. He’s a sweet dog who, undoubtedly, appreciates being rescued and given the chance for a normal life of stability, compassion and love.”
Hobbs leg is healing well and he is “doing good,” Meg said, and staying with a foster family.
“Our hope for Hobbs is that he finds a loving home with at least one other dog.”
Undoubtedly, if Meg and her team have anything to do with it, Hobbs will find that home.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the 1960s. She may be reached by emailing email@example.com.