An accountant by trade, Brigitte Thompson had been volunteering for local rescue organizations with her family when she decided to help improve the system.
In March 2015 she started Vermont Dog Rescue in Hinesburg and has been saving roughly 300 dogs a year from kill shelters in the South every year since.
Thompson started by transporting dogs out of one shelter in Darlington, S.C., but she has expanded to work with a total of 12 facilities and tries to bring a new one into the fold every year.
“The South has an overpopulation of pets and people who don’t value the lives of their pets,” she said. “They also don’t believe in spaying and neutering.”
Vermont Dog Rescue has volunteers at southern shelters who send Thompson photos and videos of dogs they think she can help. If the dog is family friendly, Thompson will have the volunteer contact a veterinarian for a check-up and vaccines. The dogs stay with a local foster family for 30 days to make sure their vaccines kick in and to give them exposure to a home environment.
The 51-year-old Thompson contracts with a Mississippi woman who drives north every two weeks, stopping at rescues along the way until she gets to her final destination in Maine. The Vermont dogs are brought to the Hinesburg Police Department which has a heated garage. Some of the dogs stay with Vermont Dog Rescue while others go to rescues in Essex and Waitsfield.
Volunteers greet the dogs on their arrival since many are stressed from the three-day trip. “Some people just come for some puppy love,” Thompson said, “while others will take the older dogs for a walk.”
From there, the dogs go to their Vermont foster homes. The foster families are given bags with everything they need including carriers, food, toys and dog beds which are made by local seniors. While they are fostered, they get some basic training so that they are ready to be adopted.
“They’ll never go to another shelter,” Thompson said.
When Thompson moved to Hinesburg in 2012 the family already had two pups. They soon acquired horses, which had been a dream of hers, and then started fostering dogs for other local rescues.
Two of them kept getting returned. One had only three legs and the other was a senior with diminished sight and hearing. The family adopted both. At this point they have six dogs, many of which are seniors.
Vermont Rescue Dogs works with all breeds and ages. To prevent impulse adoptions, Thompson requires potential adopters to make two separate visits, 24 hours apart.
Although the organization has no paid staff, adoption fees do not cover the full cost of bringing the dogs to Vermont, so Thompson accepts donations from other animal lovers. This year, the organization received its first grant from the Loconti Family Charitable Trust. When there are shortfalls, Thompson digs into her own pocket to cover the costs.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the conditions these dogs are living in and what is done to them,” Thompson said, “but the good outweighs the bad when you realize you are making it possible for them to have a life here with someone who wants to rub their bellies and take them for a walk. It means the world as a rescuer when you see these dogs go to a good home.”