TODAY We Celebrate 20 years of Saving Lives…Our Journey!

Today, Homeward Trails has been honored with a feature piece on @The Today Show With Hoda & Jenna. We could not be more honored to have our 20 plus years of lifesaving work recognized.
More than 43,000 animals have had a chance at life and love at Homeward Trails. And while the organization was founded by one person, Sue Bell, all along she has been surrounded by amazing people who make Homeward Trails what it is today. Sue, Founder and Executive Director, reflects on the years and the many, many people then and now who make Homeward Trails what it is.

As the Founder and Director of this organization, I am always acutely aware that it would not be what it is today with the wonderful people who have surrounded me since day one. When visiting the Fayette County Animal Control in Fayetteville, WV one cold December, while vacationing there with friends for New Years, I happened upon the facility. Dogs were tied to trees which surrounded a double wide trailer that was serving as the temporary animal shelter. The permanent shelter had been hit by a flash flood just months earlier, drowning 50 animals. I was informed that 9 of every 10 animals that entered the shelter were euthanized. This was information that hit me hard. I dreamt about the animals who died. I could not get them out of my mind. And when it came time to head back to DC that cold, snowy January 1st, 2002, I made a decision that would forever change my life. 

Today is surreal. To be featured on the Today Show is so beyond my imagination it’s hard to get my head around how grateful I am. 

Sue Bell, Executive Director

Thanks to the amazing and supportive people around me and the shelter staff who took a leap of faith, I took three dogs – Brown Dog, Black Dog and Lucy – and put them in my Subaru Outback. I was scared, not knowing what I would do with them, where I would put them, and how I would hide them in my rental home, located across the street from my landlord. But I was moved by something I could not ignore – that strong gut feeling that I had to do something. Anything. I was there at that place at that time, learning about that flood for a reason. If even one person with me had told me I was crazy for taking three random dogs from a shelter 6 hours away I wouldn’t have done it. No one said that. They cheered me on. 
Just a month later I was back in Fayette County, this time with a rented van, having made the drive starting at 5 am that morning. My mission? Pick out a handful of dogs that fit the descriptions of people who had called me to ask for help finding them a dog from the ad I placed in the Washington Post. I filled up the van with 6 dogs, mostly mixed breeds except for one purebred Collie we named Molly. And off to the DC to circle the beltway I went, stopping at each address and inviting them to “my van of dogs” to meet the dog I picked for them. And all those wonderful dogs (and a few cats) went on to have the lives they deserved. Without those people taking a chance on a crazy woman dropping a dog or cat at their home with virtually no information or history whatsoever, the effort would have stopped before it got started.

My plan was to stop at 50 animals – to pay homage to those who drowned.  But I was hooked. Hooked on giving these amazing animals what they deserved. I was conducting adoption interviews, booking vans, finding veterinarians under my desk at the office of my full-time job. And suddenly, 50 rescued lives came and went. The goal had been reached. But the animals were still there. I couldn’t stop.

Brown Dog, Black Dog and Lucy that started Homeward Trails the day they left Fayette County in my Subaru

Soon I could not keep every animal at my home. There were people who offered to foster them, donate to cover expenses, adopt them. We had veterinarians offering discounted services. My friends and family washed animals, fostered them, drove with me through snow storms to get them. And they put up with my new obsession. One person contacted me asking if she could come and work for me. Yes, an employee! WOW. Without these people, it would have never happened.

I was never alone. Every step of the way was someone making my dream, my obsession possible.  And soon, it was no longer “my dream”. It became “ours”. 

Today, we have dozens and dozens of partners. Shelters and rescues in our partner communities who work tirelessly to save the lives of the animals that are left with them. I never forget the hard jobs they have. We have a network of veterinarians who make our work possible with discounts. We have hundreds of fosters. Hundreds of volunteers. Hundreds of donors. And we have the most amazing staff ever.
It is an honor every time someone chooses Homeward Trails. It is an honor every time someone adopts an animal, fosters an animal, donates towards an animal. 

Homeward Trails may have been my idea, or more accurately, my accident. But never ever was I alone on this journey. From day one, there was a village of people making it happen. Our village now includes tens of thousands of people and more than 43,000 animals saved. One trip. One visit to a shelter. One risk taken. And 43,000 animals and 20 years later, here we are. ON THE TODAY SHOW!! 

I am truly honored and privileged to have made rescuing animals and working in animal welfare my job. And I owe this privilege to those around me then and now. It’s true when they say “it’s not work if you love it.” But only on the good days. 🙂 And it is during the rough times that our awesome village pulls together best to get through. As our theme song says: “There Ain’t No Mountain High Enough…to Keep Me From Gettin to You”!

Homeward Trails is a very large village of amazing people. Every single person contributes. And every single contribution matters and makes a difference. 

“If you love something, take the leap. If you want to bring change, take the leap. If you surround yourself with the right people, you will never be alone. The fear, the anxiety, the highs and the lows will be shared. And the journey will be that much more rewarding.  You will never be alone. And the world will change for the better. Our village is a shining example of that. And I will never not be grateful for it.”

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