Lily Tomlin once said, “I always thought someone should do something about that. Then I realized I was that someone.” That is exactly how Southern Paws was born. This is our story.
Southern Paws Inc. was founded by Ashley Gardenier, the heart and soul of this organization. In 2013, she was working with another rescue that had ties to the Humane Society of Louisiana from Hurricane Katrina. That same year she attended one of their events in Louisiana and while there, got to see firsthand the challenges that Southern Rescues face.
There were dogs lined up in runs; dogs that weeks before had no idea that they would be there, with no home in sight. The rescue workers poured their heart and soul into saving these animals. But, finances were a huge hurdle; they were so overwhelmed with the never ending overpopulation of animals, there was no way to financially keep up. The amount of heartworm positive dogs alone, coming in was unbelievable. It was a culture shock for Ashley. After seeing so many helpless animals, Ashley knew that she needed to make a change, to help.
Days later Ashley, with help from a team of rescuers from HSL, began the Heartworm Sponsorship Program. Within 3 months they had raised enough money to treat all of the dogs on the property; their financial load was finally lightened enough to breathe a little.
Right after the Heartworm Sponsorship Program ended, Ashley was invited out to Louisiana by Johnna Harris, one of the head officers of Humane Society of Louisiana. Johanna was in the midst of a massive cruelty investigation and needed help running a transport up north. Ashley jumped at the chance. While on the trip she spent hours talking to Johnna about the struggles of southern animal rescues.
One of the biggest issues they faced was financial difficulty due to travel costs. They had willing rescues in the north that could take the dogs, but no way to fund their transport. The sending rescues spend every penny they had, putting together a lifesaving transport, just to end up broke for months afterwards.
It was a vicious cycle that never seemed to end!
Johnna approached Ashley, with an idea. What if we adopted a few dogs off each transport? Then we could put that money into the transport and eventually run transports more often with the financial assistance from those adoptions. Just like that, the Humane Society of Louisiana Trans-pup-tation program was born! She partnered her up with Jessica Cameron, and Ashley quickly became the HSL Northeastern Liaison and began adopting dogs on every transport. Transports started running every month and hundreds of lives were being saved!
After a year of volunteering for HSL it began to take over Ashley’s life. This was a full-time job, and her finances started to dwindle. She eventually went to Johnna (her mentor at this point) and said that she either had to start getting paid or she would have to get a full-time job. Johnna laughed at her and said “I wondered when this was coming! Girl you’ve earned it.” The day she got her first paycheck, she went to the bank and opened Southern Paws.
The year that Southern Paws opened we saved the lives of 100 dogs. It’s five years later, and we now save the lives of more than 500 dogs per year. We have sister rescues throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. We provide them with funding, transport, vetting, supplies and anything else they need that we can afford to give them. We have built strong bonds with all of them and they are family! We collaborate on projects and visit at least once a year. Every year we run the Heal Our Hearts (Heartworm Sponsorship Program) and we have treated over 100 dogs to date.
This year was a hard one for our team. In April of 2019 Johnna Harris, who had become such a huge part of our organization and a mentor to Ashley, passed away from cancer. She is pictured in the photo below with partners Ashley and Jessica. Although Johnna’s passing has left us with a hole in our hearts, we were left with one of the greatest gifts of all. She was the spark to start this whole crazy adventure! For that we are so grateful. We get to hold the place and continue her work in everything that we do. She may not be here with us today but her love and her mission shines in every life we save.
2,000 Lives Saved, and counting.
All it takes is one spark.