Rescuing animals has been a passion for Tara Holmes Stebbins since childhood, but it wasn’t until she volunteered three times taking care of lost pets during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that she began her journey in large animal emergency rescue.
The clients of Michael Feilds Gift Shop, Salon, and Day Spa, which is owned by Stebbins and her husband, John, may remember meeting a Pekinese mix named Beau. He was her first Hurricane Katrina rescue dog, followed by 20 other dogs, cats, and even a rabbit; all were relocated here and placed with foster families, thanks to Stebbins and a dedicated group of volunteers.
“[Hurricane] Katrina and Beau really changed me and sent me on a ‘disaster’ path. I became passionate about disaster recovery and rescue services,” she says. “People would ask me, ‘Why do you go down to New Orleans?’ And my answer was ‘Beau. If somebody had not found him, he would have died.’”
She joined the Mineral Springs Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department and began working on becoming a certified EMT. Quickly, Stebbins realized a way to combine her love of animals with her rescue training.
In April 2014, she and a group of friends started the nonprofit N.C. Animal Response Team (NC ART), which handles large farm animals in technical rescue situations. Imagine a “cow mired in a swamp” or “horse trapped in a frozen pond”-type emergency that requires specialized equipment and training. NC ART provides its services at no cost, and the nonprofit also collaborates with other groups to offer emergency animal rescue training around the state.
“We do what we can to get the animals from emergency to safety, and we always have a vet present to provide medical care,” she says.
Sadly, Stebbins has her own personal experience with a large animal emergency. In the fall of 2014, a horse had been hit by a car in Rural Hall, resulting in a fatal accident. The mare’s owner abandoned the injured horse with the veterinarian, and she needed a place to heal. After two weeks at Davie County Large Animal Hospital, Maggie the mare came to live with Stebbins on her Germanton farm, where she would continue to heal for the next seven months.
She’s been there ever since and is now a big part of the Stebbins rescue clan.
“Beau’s my hero. Maggie’s my hero,” she says. “They both fought, and it was never about giving up. It was about going on.”
Maggie and Beau motivate Stebbins to do more, and today, a consistent focus remains on helping local animal groups, such as Humane Solution and Fur-Ever Friends of NC, increase Forsyth County’s animal shelter save rate to 90 percent by 2023.
“Spay or neuter is the answer to stop euthanasia because there are just not enough homes for animals,” she says. “It’s vital to help these groups raise money and awareness, as well as provide education to the community on the health benefits of spaying and neutering pets.”