Any natural disaster is a call to action to help afflicted communities, and once again Middleburg stepped up to the plate when Florence, the most recent hurricane, left a huge swath of devastation, and many small animal survivors found themselves homeless. France Bognon and Geraldine Peace, two local PetConnect Rescue volunteers, leaped into action as soon as they heard the SOS sent out by North Carolina’s animal shelters affected by the storm. Already bursting at the seams, the shelters had to make room somehow for the influx of cats and dogs being rounded up by animal control. The response from within the Middleburg community was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.

“I can’t tell you how amazing people have been,” said France Bognon. “We had a huge contingent of rescue dogs arriving the next day and nowhere to keep them. Geraldine and I had already taken in several Florence rescues each, but many more were coming. Geraldine suggested Huntland’s kennels, so I reached out to Steve Putnam, the farm manager, who contacted Dr. Betsee Parker, who was out of the country, and voilà!”

Coming up with shelter for rescue dogs because there’s no room at their shelter, which is about to get a whole bunch of newly homeless animals, is not a laughing matter. Once again Dr. Parker stepped up and delivered the best help – shelter from the storm – by welcoming the Florence rescues to stay at her magnificently restored and historic Huntland kennels.

What a peaceful setting in which to watch the dogs, tossed by a storm into totally strange circumstances, happily interacting with Geraldine in the grass yard for a good romp, especially when socializing with another dog or two, in what’s really a fun training session. Maybe you get to feel that frisson of joy while watching a rescue being sweet with prospective adopters, fosters, or PetConnect Rescue’s loyal volunteers. 

Being experienced in animal rescue, France and Geraldine liaised with the NC shelters. They thought of everything necessary to transport the animals to Virginia and evaluated dogs suitable for the move. Some had been at rescues for longer than usual and were at risk of not finding their forever homes. Some were puppies and too young for spaying and neutering, but many regardless of age needed vaccinations and heartworm testing, etc.

“When it came down to it, a mixed group arrived,” France recalled. “Because it was an emergency transport, many of the dogs were not vetted, which normally we make sure is done before the animals travel. In a rush to figure out what to do with all these animals that would be arriving that day, I called Dr. Bowman of Piedmont Equine to ask Dr. Bowman if he knew a vet who might be available to come to help us on such short notice. Within 30 minutes he responded that not only would they be sending over their vet on call, Dr. Christy Moore, but also that Piedmont Equine would be donating all the vaccines and microchips for both the cats and dogs.”

This was an amazing show of support on such short notice was extremely generous of the Piedmont Equine Practice, Inc, located in The Plains. It gets better. As status updates appeared on Facebook about the Florence rescues arriving shortly in Middleburg, things really started happening. On September 21, the Middleburg Community Center honored PetConnect Rescue by holding a fundraiser at the last concert in their series, raising $1300, thanks in large part to the generous donation by Dr. Parker. Michelle Truffant contributed the proceeds of her yoga class at the Unison Store to PetConnect Rescue. Purcellville Pet Value supplied dog food and other goods — the Florence rescues each had a comfy bed and a couple toys in their Huntland kennels.

France is no stranger to the ongoing issue of unwanted pets. She grew up in Connecticut, crazy about riding and horses. She started rescuing small animals at a very young age and admits that big dogs hold a special place in her heart, having been raised with huskies, rottweilers, shepherds, and mixed large breeds. She thinks rescue is a family thing, probably in their genes — “My parents, especially my mother, are just as much softies as I am!” — but it’s France who has connected parents, brother, both sisters, many friends, and scores of new acquaintances with dogs. The goal is a forever home, but fosters are vital as they reinforce the socialization and training skills acquired as part of their rehab and training with Geraldine and volunteers.

A lawyer and former law professor, France earned her Law degree at George Washington University and followed it up with a Master’s in International Human Rights Law, specializing in gender and women’s rights. For the past six years, she has worked at ICAN on women, peace, and security mostly in conflict countries, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

France was just completing her LL.M degree in 2012 when she got involved with PetConnect Rescue, founded by Lizette Chanock after Hurricane Katrina. After a couple years as a volunteer wearing many hats, including adoption coordinator, which means working closely with shelters as in the Florence aftermath, finding fosters for all the dogs, managing their vetting, reviewing applications and screening families to find the dogs their forever homes, France was asked to join the board. It’s often heartwrenching, but very worthwhile when you get to see these previously scared and homeless animals find loving families.   

“I can only do all this because my incredible husband, Tobin McGregor, supports me in my work which requires travel to some crazy places and in rescue, which requires bringing home lots of different dogs, all unknown variables, and takes a lot of my time,” said France. “But I also couldn’t do what I do for PetConnect Rescue without my partner Geraldine and some of the incredible fosters we have in the Middleburg community. Kristin Noggle is never without a foster dog, and she takes on some of the more challenging dogs that no one else wants. Katie Hasse is on her fourth litter of puppies this summer. Katie’s a machine! Geraldine is my rock. We worked out a great division of responsibility. I do most of the paperwork, emails, and organization. Geraldine’s on the ground, working with the dogs, helping to figure out who should go where, and guiding fosters and adopters when they have issues. Plus, she does a lot of training and boarding for PetConnect and other rescues.”

       So far, PetConnect Rescue has taken in more than 90 animals. Some have been adopted, but many are still waiting for someone to claim them. PetConnect Rescue offers several forms of support via France and Geraldine, be it training tips for various challenging cases or guidance through the early stages of welcoming a rescue into one’s life. If you’re new to dogs, you’re in great hands with PetConnect Rescue’s people. If you can’t consider adopting or fostering at the moment, there are many ways to help: donations can be money, items on the wish list, and your time as a volunteer. It’s a win-win solution for dog enthusiasts who can’t have a pet at home for whatever the reason.

The last words belong to Dr. Parker: “Our great community is founded on animal lovers going a step further to help all sorts of animals and wildlife. I hope everyone out there will find it in their hearts and homes to welcome one more desperate pet after the ravages of Hurricane Florence.”

A wonderful dog is waiting for you.

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