Good People Doing Good Things: Dara Ashby, Helping Homeless Pets

Dara Ashby

by Susan Hunt-Bradford; Healthy Planet Publisher

Dara Ashby recently retired from a 32-year career with UPS in occupational health. Like many retirees, she’s busier now than ever. Ambitious and organized. Dara has a compassion for animal welfare that is much needed in today’s world. She is a non-stop go-getter, supported by her husband Blake; they live in Ferguson.

SHB: What are your current volunteer activities?

DA: I’ve worked in rescue for about 30 years. The homeless pet situation has gotten much worse. Many people call me when they know of a dog or cat that needs rehoming or if they found a stray. I try to get the animals into rescue groups, but everyone is packed. When rescues can’t help, I pay for vetting, spay/neuters and rehome myself, making sure the new home is thoroughly screened.

A passion of mine is to help rescue-dogs that are sitting in boarding, for no fault of their own. It breaks my heart. Rescues are so buried; these dogs often are unintentionally forgotten. Several years ago, I started a “boarding dog walker” team of pretty amazing ladies. They take the dogs on field trips and outings to help keep them from going stir crazy. We have helped many boarding dogs find their forever homes. Often these are special-needs dogs, so I love that we’ve helped so many of these deserving dogs.

I recently started a nonprofit group called Ferguson Animal Coalition, focused on community education and assistance for Ferguson pet owners and strays. Educating about spaying and neutering, fixing fences, improving the lives of pets. We need to help the staggering situation of dogs running loose, backyard breeding, poor quality of life and not spaying/neutering. 

Dog fighting is also sadly still happening. It’s horrible that no one knows these dogs are stashed away. If somebody sees something suspicious like a chained-out dog 24/7, contact authorities, contact the Humane Society. It’s critical to be their voice. We need to increase awareness, make our laws stronger for spaying and neutering and penalties harsher for neglect and abuse.

SHB: What is your personal philosophy?

DA: My favorite saying is by Martin Luther King: “Never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.” My philosophy is to do as much as I can to help people and animals and give back to the community. I’m not good at turning a blind eye when I see something unjust happening. To do nothing is not an option.

SHB: Why help other people?

DA: Being a preacher’s kid, I watched my parents help complete strangers and open our home to anyone in need. I can’t imagine not helping others – it gives you fulfillment you can’t find any other way. It’s ingrained in me – I’m an empath so it’s hard not to help, especially those without a voice.

SHB: What’s your personal goal for the future?

DA: Update my pawsitivepooches.net website. I want it to be a resource for the younger generation of rescuers, sharing everything I’ve learned through the years. I’d also like to work on policy changes to strengthen our animal welfare laws.

SHB: Who inspires you?

DA: My grandmother has always been my hero. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis as a teen and was always in severe pain, but she always gritted through her pain, had a smile on her face and helped others. My husband is also a great inspiration, always supporting me and pushing me to be my best.

SHB: What does a typical day look like for you?

DA: A typical day is consumed with people asking for help with animal situations; they found a dog/cat or know a dog that needs to be rehomed, etc. I hit the ground running at about 6:00 am. I guess retirement hasn’t slowed me down.

SHB: How long have you been inspiring others?

DA: I’ve been doing rescue work for 30 years. I started as a disaster relief coordinator in 1993, during the Great Missouri Flood. I encourage people to volunteer, to help at events, to foster, to join a team of walkers for dogs in boarding, to adopt a homeless animal.

SHB: What have you learned about being a motivator?

DA: Positivity and kindness go a long way. I love inspiring people to make a difference in our world, especially the animal world.

SHB: Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out?

DA: 1994, when catastrophic flooding consumed southern parts of Georgia and Florida. I was called by United Animal Nations to assist as a disaster relief coordinator, so I packed my backpack, grabbed my sleeping bag and map and hopped on a plane. When the plane landed, I picked up my SUV rental and headed out alone. I had to drive from Pascagoula, Mississippi to Bainbridge, Georgia, in torrential rain, with flood water on both sides of the road most of the way. I was talking to God as I was driving, asking for his help. I was like, ok, God here we go! Looking back, I’m happy that I walked by faith and not by sight. 

In another disaster, I waded through alligator infested water to rescue dogs and cats and a National Guard team was thankfully assigned to keep us safe. 

SHB: Is there any achievement that you are most proud of?

DA: Co-organizing mega “adoptathon” events from 2001-2007, finding homes for over 3,000 dogs and cats. The largest was a 2-day event at Queeny Park, with almost 700 volunteers and 28+ groups including shelters, animal controls and rescue groups, all working together under one roof to find homes for dogs and cats. Those were very rewarding to help organize.

SHB: What is one message to leave with others?

DA: Be a voice for the animals. If you see something unjust, say something. Please spay and neuter your pets. There are not enough homes, so dogs and cats are dying. And let’s make laws stronger to protect our 4-footed companions.