Before the sun rises, when the birds are just starting to chirp, Courtney Bryson and Renee Ussery have started their morning, attending to the myriad of special needs Boston Terriers and rescues they’ve welcomed into their Rescue Ranch.
The country ranch, based in Rutledge, Georgia, includes a 3-acre dog park and shelter able to accommodate a large number of rescues. Renee and Courtney have identified needs in the community, and work to offer solutions for local animals, including low-cost spay and neutering and free microchipping. Starting just with a dream of helping animals in need, Renee and Courtney are serving as a positive force in their community and in animal rescue, and are today’s Daily Point of Light award honorees. Points of Light spoke with them to learn more about their work with Rescue Ranch.
What inspires you to volunteer?
(Courtney) When we adopted our first special needs dog, we didn’t know that there were rescues closer to us. We ended up driving to Nashville, almost six hours away. We wanted to help bring awareness so that people in our area knew that there were nearby special needs dogs that needed their help. The idea just snowballed from there. The more we knew about the needs of animals were in our area, the bigger it got, and the greater our efforts became.
Describe your volunteer role with Rescue Ranch.
(Courtney) We both have daytime jobs – but our morning usually starts with the dogs at 5:30 a.m. Renee takes care of the inside dogs, the ones that live with us full-time and are most medically fragile. Renee leaves for work at 7 a.m., and then I jump in for the cleaning, feeding, medications. There are usually vet appointments that start at 8 a.m. During the day, we do a lot of enrichment and training. At 8 p.m., we start our evening routine: evening meds, final let outs, getting everyone situated. We’re taking care of anywhere between 20 – 25 dogs on any given day. About 100 dogs pass through our home each year, and we’ve reached thousands of dog through our outreach.
You both have busy lives. What drives you to continue to take care of so many animals?
(Courtney) Recently we took in a dog from another rescue, his name is Pop. Pop had 2 birth defects in brain development. When we picked him up, the only movement he could make was to lay on his side and flop like a fish. We worked with him for months, we were doing physical therapy at the University of Georgia weekly, home therapy, we even got him a 4-wheel cart. He was just adopted in late May. So I think, when you see this process, when we brought Pop in, people said to us, you should euthanize this dog, he doesn’t have a quality of life. But to really give him this chance, and watch him blossom and bloom, that keeps you in it.
(Renee) All the successes drive me. To see how other people’s lives are changed by having a companion animal that fulfills a lot of their needs. You create this huge community just through these dogs and these people. To see the positive impact the dogs have on them and their quality of life – it makes it a full circle.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
(Courtney) It’s really watching the transformation of the dog. A lot of times when we get them, they’re not in the best place in their life. But for dogs, if they can’t walk, or if they have something wrong with them, it’s just the way it is for them. They just kind of move on and figure out what’s the next thing to do. To watch people see these dogs overcome these big odds – it’s a really overwhelming sense of community, and that we’re all in it together, and all rooting for same success stories.
(Renee) On a personal level, just between Courtney and I, it’s incredibly fulfilling to know there aren’t many things we can’t tackle together, we’re an incredible team. We came up with one little dream, and now our farm is the size of most county and health shelters. People know they can turn to either one of us and there’s not a whole lot we can’t tackle or figure out.
You take care of very sick dogs, old and young. Tell me about your “senior sweethearts”.
(Courtney) We created a senior sweethearts program, as we take care of a lot of dogs that are special needs and medically very fragile and a number of them are seniors. The “senior sweethearts” are not easily adoptable because they usually are more expensive, they require frequent veterinary care. Our neighbors help to do the rescue with us. They are our miniature facility for our “forever fosters”, taking care of them without the financial responsibility.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
(Courtney) We’ve learned there are limitations to what we can do. That’s been a hard lesson to learn. If it was sheer love or determination to save a dog, we’d save them all. It makes you realistic, and it makes you value those success stories even more. That’s what keeps us in it. Some of our rescues don’t end well, but then it makes you celebrate stories like when we got a Pop. People know we’re not a big rescue, but we’ll do anything we can.
(Renee) Volunteering has taught me a lot about connections. Not just with the dogs, but with people we’ve gotten to know. Anywhere we go now, we have some kind of connection with people here. We adopted a dog, Lira, her mom was surrendered to us pregnant. When she was born, we went through really long journey, and we ended up adopting her. Lira become one of our most famous rescue within our rescue community – we’ve gone on trips to different states and people recognize her. People celebrate with us, mourn with us. Volunteering makes you feel not alone, and connected with other people.
Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about?
We have 3 big events in the fall. On September 22 we have our annual golf tournament. In October, we have our biggest event at the ranch, it’s called Boston’s Barbeque Blues & Booze festival, we welcome the public to the ranch and it’s dog friendly. And then in November, we go camping with our dogs. Check our website for more information about our events.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
(Renee) In general, we’re much more community minded. There’s a saying, “saving one dog will not change the world but it will change that dog’s world.” But it goes for people as well. If all of us become more involved in our communities, and look at the impact that one simple action has — it creates a positive, almost a domino effect.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
(Renee) One of the key words we bring up and talk about, we’re trying to be a positive force. That’s what we do is all geared towards being a positive force in the community. It doesn’t matter what form your help takes, just try to put something out in the world that is positive, and it will be returned.
(Courtney) Everyone can do something. Wherever you are locally, there is an organization, there is a person, there is an animal, a group that needs help and you can offer something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-consuming life passion that you spend 24 hours a day on. There are a lot of things people can do even from their own homes, their computers, helping make phone calls, writing letters with local organizations.
If a book was being written about your volunteerism, what would the title be?
(Courtney) The crazy dog ladies (Both laugh). Changing the world one dog at a time.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Renee and Courtney? Visit All For Good for local volunteer opportunities.
Post written by Marlena Militana.