When storms are a-brewin’, we often panic over the status of our prized possessions, our valuables, and our family if we’re forced to evacuate. But what about our pets? When Mother Nature releases her fury on Earth, vulnerable pets are often left to fend for themselves at the peak of said fury.
As a massive storm blew towards the East Coast, Tennessee resident Tony Alsup couldn’t stand thinking about those abandoned pets. Unable to put the animals from his mind, he set out on a special mission that would either make him a hero or end his life altogether.
Tony Alsup from Greenback, Tennessee, is just another average Joe. At least, that’s what he’d say if you asked him. But the truth about this Joe’s life proves he’s anything but ordinary.
While Tony made a living as a truck driver, he put his career on hold more than once. There were more important things in life than hauling cargo, he knew — at least, certain kinds of cargo.
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See, when Hurricane Irma blasted the East Coast, costing over $77 billion in damages, Tony knew there were more lives at stake than just human ones. Animals abandoned in evacuations were as good as gone without help.
So, putting his career on hold, Tony used his truck to pick up helpless animals from the environmental mess associated with the hurricane, and, a month later, he stepped up in a different way to help animals affected by Hurricane Maria.
Although he didn’t technically rescue animals during the Category 5 Hurricane Maria, Tony assured startled horses were being fed well. But Mother Nature wasn’t done; she had another storm up her sleeve, and she threw the toughest challenge yet at Tony.
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Hurricane Florence caused tremendous damage in the Carolinas during September of 2018. Mostly due to freshwater flooding, South Carolina was a wreck, and, once again, there were plenty of animals left helpless.
When Tony heard about the storm, he took action and came to town to rescue the animals. After all, rescuing pets abandoned during evacuations is something he’d been doing for years. But this time, he quickly encountered a pretty serious problem…
He planned on transporting the animals out of harm’s way as he always had — with his truck. But he realized that to make a real difference, he needed to get a bigger vehicle. That’s where an old school bus came into the picture…
He removed the seats from the bus and filled it with crates, pet food, water bowls, leashes, and toys, to temporarily house as many animals who were abandoned in the wake of South Carolina’s Hurricane Florence as possible. Even this, though, wasn’t enough for him.
Tony aspired to open his own animal shelter in the future, but for the time being, his makeshift shelter appropriately went by the same name as his passion project, “The Emergency Animal Rescue Service,” or EARS.
While on the bus down South, he alerted his Facebook friends his bus had room for more animals, asking them to notify him of known locations where animals needed help. Tony wrote in his post “NO ONE LEFT BEHIND,” before ending with his signature: “Love y’all, mean it.”
And he did mean it! Tony Alsup loaded up his shelter-on-wheels with 53 dogs and 11 cats from four towns: North Myrtle Beach, Dillon, Georgetown and Orangeburg. Soon, he garnered national notoriety.
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The Saint Frances Animal Center had sweet words to say about Tony on Facebook, writing, “It’s all true. Tony swooped in at 4 am Wednesday morning to pick up our ‘leftovers.’” The post continued.
“The dogs with blocky heads, the ones with heartworm, the ones no one else will ever take,” the post went. “And he got them to safety. Not the most conventional evacuation, but surely the one with the most heart.”
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Tony, who quickly became known for his acts of kindness, told Greenville News “It’s so easy for people to adopt the small pets. We take on the ones that deserve a chance even though they are big and a little ugly. But I love big dogs, and we find places for them.” His journey wasn’t over, however.
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With the animals on his bus, Tony took the furballs to his friend Angela Eib-Maddux’s privately owned dog shelter in Foley, Alabama. For a change, the neglected animals were about to be in for a treat.
Angela cleaned up the “fur babies,” giving them a rightfully deserved “spa treatment,” and housing them there until the two could find additional shelters or foster homes for the animals.
Wonderfully, several people came to Angela’s shelter to adopt cats and dogs on the spot, while, after Tony’s planning, 40 others were brought to willing animal shelters and volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The remaining bunch, meanwhile, were sent to various shelters around the country that had room to hold more adoptable furry friends. He took his mission seriously.
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After a long, charitable trip, Tony Alsup took a break to devour a well-deserved meal of waffles and grits at a Waffle House near Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he chatted with The Washington Post.
Tony told reporters, “Animals — especially shelter pets — they always have to take the back seat of the bus. But I’ll give them their own bus. If I have to I’ll pay for all the fuel, or even a boat, to get these dogs out of there.”
As The Washington Post had joked, Tony is the modern version of Noah and his ark. But if he’s 2019’s Noah, then Paul Steklenski was a modern day Jim Phelps — you know, the guy from Mission Impossible — when it came to animals.
During the 1990s, Paul Steklenski of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, trained army officers at Fort Knox. The man knew war, and in 2013 — years after he finished his service — the dog lover knew he was missing something in his life.
Paul Steklenski / Facebook
That missing something was a dog of his own! A sweet canine to wag her tail and greet him each morning. So the army veteran went to a local animal shelter to look for the perfect pooch. There, he found the perfect companion — and something else.
First, he adopted a dog named Tessa, who’d been brought from a “kill shelter” in Tennessee by van. The idea fascinated him. A dog sentenced to die brought elsewhere by volunteers through a sort of underground railroad? Paul started thinking.
Paul Steklenski / Facebook
“I became so aware and more compassionate to all animals,” Paul said later. Cue the Mission: Impossible theme music because, thinking of all the animals in kill shelters, a mission presented itself to the combat veteran…
His mission, if he chose to accept it, was to liberate dogs imprisoned in kill shelters across state lines. As always, should he fail (or be captured by cats), the dog lovers of the world would be really disappointed in him.
The army veteran wasn’t one to turn down a mission — no matter how impossible. So he picked a team (Tessa the dog) and then visualized a plan of attack. First, he considered the mission’s challenges…
To succeed, Paul would have to sneak past the kill shelter’s defenses (okay, just get there); rescue the hostages, and transport them to safe places where they could make families happy. This would need supplies. Financing.
But Paul had been unknowingly preparing for the mission months before ever accepting it. See, in 2013, he started working at a company near his home. Every day on his new commute to work, he passed a small airfield…
“I don’t know why,” the veteran recalled, “but I just decided one day to go in and sign up for flying lessons.” He obtained his license weeks after adopting Tessa (and shortly after accepting his impossible mission). Somehow, he could use that to help dogs.
“I thought, this is a way I can use an ability I have to help move a large number of animals in a short amount of time,” Paul said. And to cut down on logistical nightmares, the veteran bought his own personal plane for $70,000.
Flying Fur Animal Rescue via NY Post
Later, in May 2015, Paul founded a non-profit called Flying Fur Animal Rescue. With an investment of a lot of his own cash, he had the supplies and financing. Now, it was mission time (cue that Mission Impossible theme again)!
Paul and Tessa took off from Pennsylvania and headed south, towards states where kill shelters were everywhere. Once he landed (we can only assume after avoiding detection from enemy radars) shelter operatives met him at the runway.
These operatives were employees waiting with about a dozen dogs. Working quickly — because lethargy is the enemy of impossible missions — Paul helped them load the dogs into the plane’s storage and the cockpit itself.
We like to imagine that, as Paul cruised down the runway with the rescued dogs, a crew of bad guys chased after the plane, shaking their fists and weapons as the combat veteran took off towards the sunset. But in truth?
It all went smoothly. Paul brought the dogs up north where he found new non-kill shelters, owners, or foster parents for the rescued hostages — uhh — canines. Freeze frame. Mission accomplished…Until Paul received another mission.
Over the next few years, Paul accepted hundreds of missions from self-destructing tape recorders (metaphorically, at least), each a little different from the last. On one mission, he transported 12 dogs; when he landed, 12 families waited to adopt one.
Later, another mission saw him rescue a dog named Henley, right, who’d been abused. The dog feared Paul, but the combat veteran brought him to safety nonetheless. Weeks later, he called Henley’s new owner.
“I just couldn’t let that go,” he said. He wanted to make sure the dog was happy — and in the new life Paul gave him, he was! By August 2017, Paul and Tessa rescued over 700 dogs from kill shelters all across the country. And he loved every minute of it.
“I’m part of them,” he said. “I see it, I experience it. I can remember each flight like it just happened.” But “it’s bittersweet in the sense that you’ve got to spend maybe two hours with them, and they start to bond with you a little bit, and now they’re moving on.”
Still, Paul never passed on a mission. “When it’s something you’re very passionate about,” he said. “I don’t think you really measure the amount of energy or time or sacrifice you put into it. You just do it.”