Location: Baltimore, MD
Mary Snyder’s first family dog, Lovie, predated her birth by about 6 months and was a constant companion until Mary was twelve years old. Her parents then got another dog for Mary, a beagle mix named Mindy, who lived until Mary’s daughter was born 15 years later, when Mary was 28 years old. “My dogs live good, long lives,” Mary says. That fact is still true today, but what has changed is how Mary defines what constitutes herdogs. As the founder and director of MAS (Maryland Animal Sanctuary) Rescue, Mary has saved over 6500 animals over the last fifteen years. “It’s a special calling,” Mary says. “I believe we have a special compassion for animals and their plight. You just can’t walk by a dog in an alley that looks hungry and scared and not try to do something.”
As a child, Mary volunteered at the Humane Society and often brought home stray cats and dogs. She moved to Baltimore when she was nineteen years old and learned about a local rescue organization when a friend of hers wanted to adopt a cat. She began volunteering with the rescue, processing applications and overseeing adoptions, but she stopped when she got married and had children. She started up again when she was divorced and her kids were old enough to understand the time and commitment she made to the rescue and to the animals she was trying to save.
Mary also fostered dogs herself, something she describes as “a very personal decision.” As rewarding as fostering is, it is also a huge sacrifice and commitment. Mary has missed events with her children or rushed to the emergency vet in the middle of the night or given up family vacations to transport a dog. “It is a lot of work,” Mary says. “You are sacrificing your home, your yard, your savings… and your life.” But she wouldn’t have it any other way. “It is so heartfelt,” she adds. “Shelters are too crowded, so even if dogs are happy and safe there, they will die because of lack of space. That really pulls at my heartstrings.”
In 2005, Mary realized that she could have a larger impact if she stopped volunteering and begin a rescue of her own. “I kind of fell into it,” she says. She took in a litter of puppies because she was told that they would die if she did not take them in. She worked with her vet to get them the care they needed and found homes for them on Craigslist. Before she knew it, she had her own rescue operation up and running. She started out on a smaller scale, helping out her local county and the Maryland SPCA and limiting her rescues to dogs. She has since expanded to partnering with other agencies and states (the Harford County Humane Society and other local shelters as well as those in West Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia), and has added cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and even an iguana to the animals she has shepherded to new homes and lives. “That iguana got an amazing home,” Mary says. “They set up a waterfall in their living room for it!”
Mary works with a dedicated group of volunteers to take in animals that would otherwise be euthanized at a shelter. She then finds foster placements for them and provides all of the services and equipment needed to rehabilitate them. “We vet them, get them fixed, tested, treat them for worms, fleas, microchip them, then try to place them,” Mary says. The vet care is often the most daunting and expensive part of any rescue. It can include treating the animals for mange, dental work, heartworms and sometimes surgery or other types of interventions. At a shelter, an illness or injury will be handled differently because the foremost consideration will be the cost. At MAS Rescue, “we do everything we can to make their lives better and give them the opportunity they need to find their forever family,” Mary says.
Providing such extensive support to her foster families is also part of Mary’s philosophy about how MAS Rescue can have the greatest impact. “I can save more lives the more fosters I have,” Mary says. So she makes it clear to anyone who applies to be a foster that all they have to provide is a home and TLC. “We supply all of the materials, crates, food, and medical care,” Mary says, noting that she also makes it clear she is available at any time of day or night to them. “I know what they are going through as a foster,” she says, “and I always want to be there for them.”
The funding comes from adoptions, fundraisers, donors who come through in difficult times and when there is an emergency, and yearly donors. Mary says social media has been immensely helpful. “If you put out a call or plea, people respond.” She recalls an emergency trip to Texas to pull dogs out of a shelter. “In one afternoon, we raised $4000,” she says. Almost every penny raised goes towards vet bills. “At one point, I owed the vet $40,000,” Mary says. Such bills used to cause her tremendous stress, but now she knows the bills will get paid. “Now, almost fifteen years in, we have come a long way,” she says. “There is a lot of support and interest in what we do.”
That is partly due to the fact that MAS Rescue isn’t just making a difference in animals’ lives. Mary has also helped to transform the lives of many of the humans who have adopted the animals. Many people have benefitted greatly from some of the dogs they have adopted, and Mary takes particular pride in the placements she has made with autistic children and veterans with PTSD. “It is overwhelming the power that animals have to touch people’s lives,” she says. “It is a real honor to be a part of that.”
What weighs most heavily on Mary is the fact that she cannot help all of the animals in need. “Who gets picked for the limited spots we have is the hardest part of it,” she says. “My no may be their last no. It is a huge responsibility.” But she is comforted by all of the lives she has saved and transformed, knowing that the 400 animals she is able to place each year “add up to a pretty big number.” And that number is all the more satisfying and compelling when she reflects on the fact that it represents more than each individual animal. “When you consider the impact on everyone’s lives,” Mary says, “it is all worth it.”
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