In 2009, when former shelter volunteer Brandy Gergescz of Plainfield founded Annie’s Little Angels Humane Education & Small Breed Dog & Cat Rescue, she truly desired to make an impact in the lives of abused and abandoned pets.
Unfortunately, the volume of animals facing euthanasia was so great, it overwhelmed Gergescz’s physical and emotional reserves. Last year, after much deliberating on Gergescz’s part, Annie’s Little Angels shut its virtual doors.
“I don’t think people realize how hectic it is, how many animals come into shelters to potentially be euthanized. It’s a daily insanity,” Gergescz said. “The phone never stops ringing, the emails never stop coming.”
Gergescz learned about puppy mills after buying a dog from a pet store and was just 21 when she started volunteering at shelters. Small breeds did not fare well in shelters and were often labeled “unadoptable.”
Intimidated by their larger counterparts, these tiny animals would either emotionally retreat or lash out. Gergescz only saw their sorrow and fear. She grew determined to help them.
“People are less likely to pull a snapping Chihuahua when you can’t even get him out of the cage,” Gergescz, now 34, said. “With a little coaxing, you can get them out, and it doesn’t take long before they become the sweetest little dogs. We never had an aggression problem after we pulled a dog.”
Gergescz founded Annie’s Little Angels with huge doses of sensibility and practicality. For instance, once a veterinarian bill reached $4,000, Annie’s Little Angels would reduce that bill before accepting another pet. Gergescz was almost true to her word. Her highest vet bill was $5,000, she said.
“I’d see other rescues run up $30,000 in debt and I thought, ‘No way,’ ” Gergescz said. “When bills got to $3,000, I’d get nervous.”
However, focusing time and attention on needy animals meant putting her husband, David Gergescz, and her children, Jaden Gergescz, now 11, and Olivia Gergescz, now 8, in last place. The stress of addressing the never-ending avalanche of animals in need and scraping together the means to care for them aggravated Gergescz’s fibromyalgia.
From time to time, when vet bills hit the financial ceiling, Gergescz would refrain from accepting additional animals. She never intended to quit rescue altogether until Jaden developed an irregular heartbeat and began a whirlwind of diagnostic tests.
“At that point, we were unsure of its severity,” Gergescz said. “I thought at the time, ‘He’s going to be 10 and he’s spent his entire life in animal shelters, on transports and with me sitting with my face at the computer all day.’”
So Annie’s Little Angels stopped adding new animals to the fold and worked hard to place those already in its care. Most of its foster parents and dogs, already vetted, moved under the wings of other rescue organizations, Gergescz said.
Three dogs and two fosters stayed with Annie’s Little Angels until those dogs had permanent homes. A series of auctions paid all but $600 of the vet bill, which Gergescz herself wiped out. Cody, an 8-year-old miniature pinscher-Chihuahua mix, rescued in 2012, was adopted last month, to Gergescz’s enormous satisfaction.
“Every single dog we rescued got a home,” she said.
Her children, Gergescz said, initially felt sad but also happy at the prospect of spending more time with their mother. Despite Gergescz’s determination to do otherwise, David encouraged Gergescz not to completely shut down the business, she said.
“He said to ‘give it some time and see’ and I’m glad I did,” Gergescz said. “It had been a part of me for so long.”
For Gergescz, life after the animal rescue means, well, more rescue, albeit in a different form. Gergescz now consults, educates, advises and assists with 501(c)3 paperwork and listens when volunteers need to vent. Gergescz also has more time to spend with her own children.
Although Annie’s Little Angels no longer physically accepts animals, Gergescz still tries to place pets with other rescues and fosters. She posts photos of adoptable pets, as well as rescue event information, on Annie’s Little Angels Facebook page. She donates her time at pet shelters and she still gets wistful.
“Especially when I see someone comment on an old picture, get updates from an adopter or I look through albums,” Gergescz said. “But I don’t miss the stress of it.”
Gergescz also doesn’t regret overseeing a rescue.
“We saved too many lives,” Gergescz said. “Animals that were once mistrusting are now cared for in families.”