By Matt Masters

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Lebanon’s Animal Rescue Corps shelter houses more than 100 rescued animals, and the organization’s volunteers spent Christmas caring and loving for their furry family members.

The animals, all of which were rescued in Carroll County as part of Operation Noah’s Ark, have called a warehouse in Lebanon home since April, as the criminal case against the animal owners continues.

The cats, dogs, rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets have received nutrition, shelter, medical treatment, exercise and most importantly love due to the work of the staff and volunteers of Animal Rescue Corps, a national animal rescue nonprofit that facilitates animal care in large-scale abuse cases.

Like any other day, the animals were in need of care on Christmas, a day where volunteers wanted to be with the animals to give the care that everyone – regardless of how many legs they stand on – deserves.

“We had over 20 people here on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” said Animal Rescue Corps public information officer Michael Cunningham. “We have two shifts a day. We have a 9 to 1 and a 1 to 5, and we had people who came and stayed all day. We cleared off all the desks and set up big tables and all sat down and had a meal together. We serve vegan meals or vegetarian meals here. We never serve meat in the building, and people brought food. We bought food; we made food; we barbequed and had a great time together.

“I was expecting that we would have a real light crew over the holidays, because people want to spend it with their families, but we were literally telling people that we were full, which is just amazing. This is a place that people want to be. We have fun.”

The ongoing rescue operation is done free of charge with the help of volunteers and donations. Everything from cat litter, dog food, toys and animal bedding comes in daily through donations on the rescue’s Amazon wish list.

“There are thousands of rescue groups that can take on five animals, seven animals, 10 animals. What there isn’t is a resource for law enforcement to address situations of large-scale animal cruelty,” Cunningham said

He said ARC actually collects the evidence for prosecution.

“We build the case. We collect all the evidence, all the forensics and everything – dead bodies, every nail we trim, every tick we pull off these animals, all of that is maintained as evidence and turned over to law enforcement for the criminal case,” Cunningham said.

“It’s not that the sheriff doesn’t know that something is going on in their town. It’s that they don’t have a really good option when it comes to it. They could euthanize all the animals in the shelter to make room for new animals if there’s enough room. They could euthanize all the animals on the property, because there is no place to put them, or they could do nothing, and that’s what they do. They do nothing, because the other two options are so terrible that they just don’t have that resource to address it. So that’s what we are.

“We are a free resource for law enforcement, and we will come in and handle all the animals. We will do all of the extractions. We will emergency house them. We will get them medically sound, and then we will move them onto our placement partners, and they will find the homes for them once they have full legal custody.”

Cunningham started ARC with his husband, Tim Woodward, who serves as ARC’s chief operations officer, eight years ago and completed their first rescue in McMinville. Cunningham and Woodward both have a Silicon Valley background where they founded and sold startups, a far cry from the large-scale animal rescue operations they do currently, but something they both wouldn’t have any other way.

Cunningham said while the job can be emotionally taxing, it’s worth it just to change the lives of even one animal, many of which have serious medical conditions due to abuse and neglect such as ammonia poisoning, eye ulcers and internal parasites.

“‘No more bad days’ – that’s what I say. When we show up, I say, ‘There’s no more bad days, guys,’ and they’re gone from that,” Cunningham said.

Mary Biggers, a volunteer with ARC said the connection made with the animals is special, something she and many of the volunteers think about each day when they go home.

“We just fall in love with them, because we’re their only family right now,” Biggers said.

Director of operations Amy Haverstick said the best thing the public can do to help animals is to know if they are capable of caring for an animal, something that is a long-term relationship with another living being.

“You have to be financially capable of owning an animal, of being that pet’s guardian, and if you don’t have that in your budget, you shouldn’t get an animal for that animal’s sake,” Haverstick said. “It’s a lifetime commitment.”

ARC is always in need of volunteers and donations. Volunteers may contact ARC by email at [email protected] Cases may be reported at [email protected], and general information may be found at [email protected] or at