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Feb 10, 2015 4:37 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

ARF Volunteer Patsy Topping Finds Passion In Rescuing Dogs From High-Kill Shelters Down South

Feb 11, 2015 9:57 AM

For Patsy Topping, rescuing dogs from high-kill shelters in the South is more than just an act of volunteerism—it’s a passion.Since moving to the Dixie Hall Plantation in Sumter County, South Carolina, in 2005, Ms. Topping has been taking as many dogs as she can from overpopulated shelters—where canines have only five days to be claimed or adopted out before they are met with a fatal fate—and working to ensure that she finds them loving homes. Since 2009, she has been working remotely with the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, sending the rescued dogs north to be adopted here.

Originally from Sagaponack, Ms. Topping moved to South Carolina with her husband, Alvin, after they passed down Swan Creek Farms in Bridgehampton, which they founded in 1970, to their son Jagger and his wife, Mandy, who manage the property with Ms. Topping’s other two children, Gretchen and Christian. The move, though, proved to be a culture shock for Ms. Topping, as she quickly learned that the area had an overpopulation of dogs due to a lack of spaying and neutering policies. New York is one of many states that requires all cats and dogs to be spayed or neutered before being adopted from a pound or shelter.

“You have, constantly, dogs producing more dogs. Two or three of the puppies will be kept by the neighbors, three of the dogs go to the shelter. And the two [neighbors’] puppies will eventually become breeding dogs in nine months,” Ms. Topping said in a telephone interview from her South Carolina home over the weekend. “There’s constant litters, and there’s a constant dumping of dogs. It’s like a continuous cycle of lack of respect for a living creature.”

Stray dogs wander the streets, sometimes in packs, she said. Puppies are sold at flea markets for $5 each and are sent to a shelter if not purchased. The cycle of overbreeding also results in many illnesses for puppies, including parvovirus, upper respiratory diseases, and worm infections. “The cultural difference … is really dramatic. An animal down here, his whole purpose is to make a human happy,” she said.

But that’s where she comes in. Ms. Topping visits shelters in search of dogs that fit ARF’s criteria: no larger than 40 pounds, engaging, and healthy, as it is a huge expense for the non-profit organization to treat an infected dog. Once she finds those dogs, she takes them in and fosters them until ARF sends a van to pick them up and transport them to its headquarters in Wainscott. This week, Ms. Topping cared for a handful of puppies she found on the street that were picked up by ARF on Tuesday.

Ms. Topping will still rescue with dogs that are healthy but on the shy side, only she sends them to a shelter in New Jersey instead, or adopts them out on her own.

Michele Forrester, director of operations for ARF, estimated that Ms. Topping has rescued more than 1,000 dogs for the organization. “We’re saving 40 to 50 a month now—it’s all due to Patsy,” Ms. Forrester said. “We thank her and applaud her. Last year, we saved almost 400 dogs. She’s a crusader down there.”

While Ms. Topping said she couldn’t imagine herself doing anything else at the moment—she worked with horses for years at Swan Creek and has 16 retired horses on the plantation in South Carolina now—rescuing dogs is no easy feat. Ms. Topping recalled a rescue effort last summer where she obtained 9-week-old puppies from a shelter that she was transporting to ARF on her own. Because of the heat, the move had to take place at night, but it still managed to be 100 degrees out all the way to the Virginia border. Fearing for the pups’ lives, she would check on them once in a while, only to find that they were overheating. “It was like touching a hot stove,” she said.

Ms. Topping ended up purchasing cold bottles of water at a gas station stops and pouring water on the dogs. The puppies made it safely to ARF—and one eventually became the family member of Sag Harbor Veterinary Clinic founder Dr. Barry Browning. Dr. Browning, who knew Ms. Topping from visits to his office with her rescued pups, said he was grateful that her work brought him Buoy, his now 9-month-old terrier.

“He’s an awesome little dog,” he said. “It’s just so sad that he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. She is just unbelievable. Just her sheer dedication in the face of such sadness.”

As Ms. Topping does her regular rescue work, she also occasionally pushes for legislation to regulate overpopulation, although that has been difficult, she said, because government officials in South Carolina often don’t want to get involved. “They inherently believe in freedom, be in charge of yourself, government stay out of the way. They won’t connect the dots,” she said. “I really just have to shut my eyes to the problem and say, ‘I know I can save dogs.’ But what should be done is enforceable legislation.”

Ms. Topping did say, though, that she’s happy to make the biggest difference she can: “I’m happy being a liaison for ARF and the shelter down here.”

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Awesome story! We adopted our dog from Arf in March 2012, she came via Ms Topping. She is an amazing dog and we are very grateful to have her in our family!
By saggirl73 (3), sag harbor on Feb 12, 15 10:43 AM
Thank you
By bigblue84 (89), Hampton Bays on Feb 12, 15 6:43 PM
We have adopted dogs twice from a shelter here in SC just a 20 minute drive from Sumter. Both times we were asked to pay an adoption fee which paid for the spaying of our dogs. This is not law because it is not needed here in SC. The author of this article needs to do a better job of researching their topic. I also love the NYer moves to SC to fix whats wrong angle of the article too.
By Baymen87 (133), Lugoff, SC on Feb 12, 15 11:08 PM