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Nelson County women committed to protecting animals

L to R: Sarah Oliva of Hope's Legacy, Lynn Nolan, Sarah Cooperman and possum pal, Nathou Attinger of the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary and Bette Grahame, founder of Almost Home.
L to R: Sarah Oliva of Hope's Legacy, Lynn Nolan, Sarah Cooperman and possum pal, Nathou Attinger of the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary and Bette Grahame, founder of Almost Home.

72-year-old Nathou Attinger is a landscaper who often crosses paths with wildlife – baby squirrels and rabbits, possums and deer. Attinger spent two years training to rehabilitate injured animals, caring for them in her home. Baby ducks, geese and beavers swam in her bathtub, and tiny birds of all kinds came with her to work.

“Baby birds have to eat every 20 minutes and so I had cages lined up in the back of my pick-up truck,” she recalls.

When she ran out of space at home, Attinger and other volunteers raised $350,000 to buy 30 acres of wooded land in Nelson County. They built several outdoor enclosures for critters and a house where volunteers could care for orphaned babies and injured animals. Last year the Rockfish Wildlife Sanctuary took in about a thousand and were able to release about 60%.

Animals too sick to be cared for onsite go over the mountain to the Wildlife Center of Virginia in Waynesboro, and those with special needs – like those baby beavers -- may be taken to other rehabbers in the Commonwealth.

“They are with their moms, non-stop, for 1.5 to 2 years," Attinger says. "Luckily there’s a lady in Virginia Beach who specializes in beavers.”

The Almost Home Pet Adoption Center in Lovingston was founded by 80-year-old Bette Grahame , who served as president of the Nelson County Humane Society for 35 years.

“I attended a couple of meetings, and then one meeting I missed, and they elected me president when I wasn’t there,” she says with a smile of resignation.

Grahame and other volunteers agreed to run the county’s animal shelter.

“Before that, stray animals were tied to trees and shot. That’s how they got rid of them,” Grahame says.

When the county decided not to be in the business of pet adoption, Grahame and her colleagues stepped up -- raising money for a bright new, no-kill shelter that’s found homes for more than 20,000 dogs and cats since opening in 2004.

“I didn’t want to have concrete and bars," she explains. "I wanted it to be homelike, and I had artists paint scenes in the rooms so that they didn’t look like kennels.”

A third enterprise – Hope’s Legacy Equine Rescue – is on a 172-acre farm in Afton.

“There’s a plethora of rescues for cats and dogs, but for horses there are only about 500 nationwide, so for our area it was definitely a necessity to have that place for horses, donkeys, mules, ponies to come in case their owner wasn’t able to take care of them anymore, or if they were being seized, ” says Sarah Oliva, program coordinator.

There is now a waiting list of 30, with equines of all ages and sizes already in residence.

“We have a miniature dwarf horse named Tuff, who is 45 pounds," says Oliva. "Then we’ve just had some Percheron-mule crosses that were probably about 1,500 pounds each, and that’s a lot of hay and feed that goes into all of those diets.”

The group depends on grants, donations and volunteers to serve horse country – rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing hundreds of animals. All three organizations will benefit from Saturday’s fundraiser – Ales for Animals – at the Blue Ridge Barrel House, 495 Cooperative Way in Arrington.

The event will run from noon until 5 p.m. with live music, a silent auction and the chance to mingle with several friendly animals.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief