EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is the fifth in our “Angels for the Animals” series spotlighting individuals in our community who care for stray, orphaned and abandoned cats and dogs.
BLUEFIELD — Kathy Tabor and Leisa Moten founded ALIVE Animals Services Group, Inc. in 2012. Spurred by an incident at the Mercer County Animal Shelter in 2011 and a Distemper outbreak a few months later, these women became a force of nature for the animals.
Tabor and her husband, Steve Tabor, have been rescuing and fostering animals privately since the 1990s.
“When ALIVE started, we were originally based around the animal shelter,” Tabor said. “Our purpose and our drive at that time was to stop the killing at the shelter. Eventually, we did. When we went in as a volunteer group, the kill rate at the shelter was in the high 80s. Now the ladies who run the shelter are doing a tremendous job. Michelle Cole was the director there in 2015 and 2016 and she implemented a lot of programs at that time that helped turn things around.”
Tabor, co-founder of ALIVE said that the 2019 kill rate was less than eight percent, and those were mandated due to the animal’s quality of life.
“We had to work hard to change the mindset,” Tabor said. “Once we changed the mindset, the adaptability was there and the learning curve changed, so the shelter no longer needs us as a volunteer group.”
While ALIVE still works with the Mercer County Animal Shelter as needed, the rescue also transports and fosters homeless animals. Tabor said that ALIVE is currently working with eight foster providers, which is not enough to take every animal. The 501c3 charity has a couple of sayings or mantras that they operate through. The first is, “Rescue done right has no room for attitudes and egos.”
“Rescue work is a matter of the heart,” Tabor said. “You go into that with your heart, but you have to bring your head with you, if you don’t, you get in over your head too quickly and then you are no longer effective or efficient. Rescue, you have to remember, is about the animal. The part about attitudes and egos means that if you are doing this for glory and attention, you are in the wrong field.”
Tabor said that one of her “lightbulb moments” in rescue work happened in the 1990s. She was in contact with someone who was looking for a particular type of dog. Tabor found a dog that fit that description and he was adopted. The problem was that the dog was part of a bonded pair. The dog that had been adopted was despondent in the new home because he was missing his partner.
“All this dog knows is that he wanted to go back into the shelter. I kept telling this dog, ‘you are number 213,’ because at that point, that was how many I had pulled and rescued,” Tabor recalled. “I got him in the car and all the way down the hill, he was looking back and it dawned on me...he did not care that he was number 213, all he knew is that I had left his buddy behind. I could not live with myself, so the next day I took the dog to the lady, she took him in, she was happy, the dog was miserable. They were afraid that they were going to have to return it. I told her what had happened and what I thought was wrong with the dog and she said, ‘go get the other dog.’ So I went right back the next morning and got the other dog, took him to the lady and it was a joyful reunion and they were blissfully happy. They stayed with the lady until both of them passed away and it was at that point in my life that I quit counting.”
Tabor said that after that experience, the numbers didn’t matter anymore. “At 213 rescues, 28 years ago, I quit counting because a dog showed me that it did not matter. That is probably one of my best learnt lessons.”
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ALIVE Animal Services Group, Inc. has struggled, but never stopped their tireless work. Armed with sanitizing kits on the dashboards of their vehicles, masks and gloves, they kept transporting animals to states where they could find homes. “If we didn’t transport them, they would have died. There was just no place for them to go,” she said.
“We work on donations and what fundraising we can do and COVID has kicked us in the teeth,” Tabor said. “One thing we did not stop during COVID was our transports. A lot of people stopped completely, we did not. The governor’s mandate during the stay at home order expressly allowed for animals to move. I took the governor’s stay at home directive, I highlighted the parts that applied to us and every one of our people who were on the road pertaining to an animal, they got a copy of that to keep in their vehicle.”
Kathy and her husband, Steve Tabor take in the most difficult fosters. They care for the sick and injured in their home. Her headcount for the day of her interview with The Bluefield Daily Telegraph showed the Tabor’s housing and caring for 27 cats and dogs.
“My husband is excellent with the infants that need care,” Tabor said. “We will take in mother dogs that are in very poor conditions where she may have trouble caring for her young and she needs care herself or her infants need supplements. We take the more difficult cases that I do not want to put off on someone else. We have four here who came in as fosters and ended up being permanent residence because they have behavioral issues that prohibit them from ever being adoptable so they ended up here by default in sanctuary care and they will live their lives here.”
When asked what the biggest need in the rescue community is, Tabor responded that they need understanding from the community.
“The quick answer is fosters, but the biggest need in the rescue community to me, is understanding,” Tabor said. “People outside of rescue, those who do not work it, those who do not live it do not comprehend the fact that people like myself, like Patti Owensby, or Courtney Prater get 20, 30, 40 calls a day. That one person has one animal and it is disturbing their world, okay, I have 14 people calling me in the last hour wanting me to fix something for them that involves the life of an animal but they refuse to understand anything except for their problem.”
Tabor said that the vast majority of people that she interacts with will work with her on a level of understanding, but it is the lack of understanding for some that, understandably, frustrates the rescuers who are working as hard as they can.
“If I had to beg for myself, it would never happen. I would go without. But if I have to beg for the animals, I have no shame whatsoever,” Tabor said.
Michelle Cole, W.Va. Third Congressional District Leader of the Humane Society of the United States praised the rescue efforts Kathy and Steve Tabor.
“If I were to describe my idea of an animal advocate and rescuer it would have to be Kathy Tabor,” Cole said. “She and her husband Steve have helped to relocate thousands of animals in need in the years I have know them. Just this year she has successfully placed over 400 animals, that did not have to enter the animal shelter, with rescue groups out of the area. She works tirelessly to help find proper placement for animals who have been abandoned, become lost, or born without a home. She opens up her home to sick kittens, nurses them back to health, and then helps to place them in loving homes. She and Steve founded A.L.I.V.E. Animal Services in 2008 and developed a group of volunteers who have made a huge difference in for animal in not only Mercer but McDowell and the surrounding area. I attribute the ability for the animal shelter to stop euthanizing animals due to lack of space directly to the work Kathy has done to help divert animals from going into the animal shelter.”
To contribute to the great work Kathy and A.L.I.V.E. Animals Services are doing to benefit homeless animals please consider making a tax deductible donation to ALIVE Animal Services PO Box 5464 Princeton, WV 24740.
— Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org