By AUBREY GULICK, The News & Observer

CHAPEL HILL, NC (AP) – Tamara Lackey has always had a soft spot for the vulnerable and voiceless in the world, and she’s made it her mission to do what she can to help those in need.

This means raising money to renovate bathrooms in an Ethiopian orphanage, taking photos to document the stories of homeless boys, or saving sick animals from shelters.

Now she’s taking those efforts a step further with an ambitious plan to tackle North Carolina’s high rate of animal euthanasia.

Tamara and her husband Steve Lackey are building Beautiful Together Animal Rescue and Sanctuary on 83 acres in Chapel Hill to house animals – those who would otherwise die in shelters – until they can find foster or permanent homes. .

Political cartoons

They also hope to offer equine therapy in a new barn as well as volunteer programs and programs for foster children.

“Our goal is simple: it’s about connecting vulnerable and voiceless people in a way that benefits us all,” Tamara Lackey said in an interview with The News & Observer.

The company removes animals from shelters where they would be euthanized, provides care, tells their stories and finds volunteers ready to provide love and care until they can be placed with an adoptive family. They also provide foster families with free supplies to take good care of the animals.

They rescued their first animal from a shelter on January 14. Since then, they have released nearly 450 animals.

On the massive Ford Road site, several miles west of the city limits of Chapel Hill, a small blue shed currently marks the end of a long gravel driveway renamed Sanctuary Lane. Tamara Lackey looks at a field and sees a stable and an arena. With a rough patch of young pines, she imagines what will become a reception center for volunteers and animals.

“The very first building, we’re going to set up a sort of meet and greet facility and a gatehouse structure with two smaller animal structures,” Lackey said. “That way we can start having animals on the property right away and someone here to look after them.”

Ultimately, she sees the sanctuary as a way to eliminate the need to euthanize abandoned animals.

North Carolina euthanized 27,031 animals in 2020, ranking it third among states with the highest euthanasia rates, according to data released by Best Friends, a national animal welfare organization.

“And that’s after California and Texas, which are much bigger states, and we’ve hovered between number one and number three for years,” Lackey said.

The way Lackey sees it, if just 2% of the 85 million pet-owning households in North Carolina would agree to foster an animal for a year, preventable animal euthanasia could end, causing Carolina to end. of the North a state of no slaughter.

“Most people don’t know how bad it is; not that we want to spread a terrible word, but we want to talk about empowerment, about how people can make a difference, ”Lackey said.

A PASSION FOR VULNERABLES

The mission to save animals, while not new, is a variation of the original goal of the Beautiful Together organization. When the Lackeys founded it in 2014, they initially focused on supporting children awaiting adoption.

“A lot of the project work took place in Ethiopia, and we’ve been back and forth, my God, like nine times. And we’ve done a few projects here in the United States, ”Lackey said.

The majority of the projects were participatory funded. Lackey photographed the children and conducted interviews to share in the hopes of encouraging people to support programs and projects aimed at improving the lives of others.

“What I’ve found over and over again is that if you can bring a story to people so they can connect with it, they care and they give,” she said. “It’s such an amazing statement of how good people can be.”

Early in the business, Lackey noticed a striking connection between homeless children and animals. While in Ethiopia, she helped Make Your Mark, a program that gets homeless children off the streets, and saw boys huddle together to warm themselves near overpass roads.

“So they’re huddled together to warm up, and there are all these street dogs and stray puppies that are curled up with them,” she said. “So you’ll see like 12 boys and eight puppies. These puppies follow the boys everywhere because they will find food for themselves and the dogs, and they will snuggle them up at night.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Lackey turned his attention to what could be done in the Triangle. She noticed a connection between foster children and animals and decided to establish a reception base to strengthen these bonds. With its myriad of possibilities, she said creating a shrine was the obvious answer.

“It started with me saying, ‘How about we open an animal sanctuary? “And my husband being very supportive and passionate about it,” Lackey said. “We moved forward with securing the land and sort of started from there.”

Not only will the sanctuary include a mobile sterilization and sterilization facility and intensive care unit, but they plan to build a stable and arena that will enable equine therapy. Lackey is committed to providing opportunities for children and adults to experience the emotional therapy that animals can offer.

“If you bring a lot of stress and energy, you can see it physically in the horse, so you have to calm down to calm the horse,” Lackey said. “It’s a way to bring awareness and mindfulness to the way you feel. The same is true with a four week old kitten.

The Lackeys, who have lived in Chapel Hill since 2003, have three children, two of whom were adopted from Ethiopia and Ecuador. They also currently house 15 animals with foster families.

Tamara Lackey has noticed that bonds have developed between her own children and the animals she has raised.

“My daughter just turned 16 and we had a dog with us for a few days between foster homes, and she had a sleepover with him,” Lackey said. “Just him and her.”

Patty Caffrey, who is Beautiful Together’s director of communications, networks and partnerships, has welcomed children and has also noticed this level of comfort that quickly develops between them and the animals.

“We have some great pictures of them watching TV, with the big dog huddled in their lap and, you know, it makes them feel loved and safe. The animals really, really helped, ”Caffrey said.

THE TEAM BEHIND A GREAT TOGETHER

The fact that the sanctuary team was made up primarily of women opened up opportunities for several grants, including a matching grant of $ 500,000. It was presented by an anonymous donor whose only requirement was that the business remain run by women.

“So a half-million dollar grant is pretty amazing, and the goal of the grant was just to build the space,” said Tamara Lackey. “The only caveat was that it continues to be run by women.”

The company also recently qualified for Google nonprofit status, which will give it free advertising and access to Google platforms.

In addition to leading Beautiful Together, Lackey is a Professional Photographer, Nikon Ambassador and the host of PBS NC’s Chasing Frames, which focuses on the people who transform lives, protect the planet and save people. in need.

She and her husband also own several other businesses, including Coco Bean, an herbal cafe in Chapel Hill.

“You know Tamara is super inspiring and very motivating,” Caffrey said. “She’s such an inspiration, and that obviously means so much to her. You can’t say no to him.

Lackey attributes her success to her husband and his team, who she says are overqualified and immensely dedicated.

“We have a really smart team, which I appreciate. These are not just animal loving people, they are very accomplished and intelligent people who are good at problem solving and brainstorming and have a bigger idea of ​​how we can all achieve it. is an awesome team, ”she said.

The core team includes people like Farrell Carpenter, who was the Lackeys’ real estate agent, and now works as director of care support and client relations, as well as Caffrey and Jane-Howard Crutchfield. Caffrey left his 20-year career in US business to join the team in March.

“My husband and I saw all of the evolution of the earth on Facebook and knew we wanted to be involved in some way or another,” Caffrey said. “Then I retired in March and decided to do it full time. “

Crutchfield is a longtime rescue advocate and helped Lackey in January when they first released a pregnant dog and seven 5 week old puppies from a shelter. Crutchfield is a Certified Trainer and Animal Behavior Specialist and is the Director of Dog Rescue Operations at Beautiful Together.

Although the Lackeys recently purchased the property, Beautiful Together has been placing animals in homes for several months. They hope the first building will be built within a year and launched the project in May.

“We want to get the word out about this as much as possible because we need people who support us in various ways, we want more people to open their homes to accommodate animals, we would like more animals to adopt.” , Lackey said. .

Tamara Lackey has saved hundreds of animals over the years, each with a story. She remembers Gracie, a shepherd puppy rescued by Beautiful Together. A woman found the puppy in a dumpster and brought it to the organization, hoping to save it.

“She couldn’t use her hind legs, so someone just dumped her there,” Lackey said.

The company was able to pay for the rehab and shared Gracie’s story.

“Now she uses a wheelchair and runs around,” Caffrey said. “We found a woman who had a dog who couldn’t use her hind legs when she was growing up, so she was very impressed with Gracie. And so they take him in for a month to see if they can adopt him.

Gracie is one of the success stories that helped Beautiful Together make North Carolina a deathless state, one animal at a time.

“It’s not just about how to save them,” Lackey said. “This is how they get away and what the impact is on all of us,” Lackey said. “Because when they do, it’s pretty amazing.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.