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A Duchess started Mount Airy animal shelter


THE MEMBERS OF one Mount Airy family are on a mission.

The Clarke family has operated a rescue and sanctuary for severely abused and neglected animals for eight years. It's an effort that started with one ailing dog.

When Donna Clarke and her family were looking for a pet, they decided they wanted to provide a good home to an animal that desperately needed one. They put out the word, and heard about Duchess, a female Great Dane that had been bought by its previous owner specifically to breed, and spent most of her day in a tiny crate in a dark basement.

On the day that Clarke heard of Duchess' plight, she drove to Harford County, where the owners gladly gave up the dog.

"It just seemed like it was meant to be," Clarke said. "Duchess had vision problems, scoliosis and digestive system problems, but she lived with us for eight years until she passed away this July."

After Donna and her husband, Coleman Clarke, took in Duchess, the calls about abused or neglected animals began.

In the years since, the Clarkes have taken in dozens of animals at their Mount Airy home and have formed a nonprofit organization, Heaven's Gift Animal Rescue and Sanctuary.

"We get calls from enforcement, vets or other people who know of animals that have no place to go," said Clarke. "They know we will not put them down and we will do everything we can to give them quality of life."

The Clarkes take in only the worst cases of abuse or neglect, the animals that shelters could not place. They call these needy animals their "guys."

"We do it because we know these guys would be put down if we weren't there for them," she said. "Shelters are just not able to offer 24/7 care, and we can."

Care of the animals is a family affair. The Clarkes' three children, Stuart, 14, Sabrina, 12, and Elaina, 9, have shared a lifelong love of animals.

"We believe one person can make a difference," Donna Clarke said. "It's like when you drop a pebble in a stream and the rings go out further and further. They [the children] believe they're that pebble."

The Clarkes have 30 to 35 "permanent residents" on what Donna describes as a "small farmette." Dogs, cats, chickens, guinea pigs, birds, fish, reptiles and a horse have become part of their family.

They have no specific background in veterinary care, but say they have learned much in their years of helping animals.

"Local vets have been absolutely wonderful in handling these cases of severe abuse or neglect," Donna Clarke said.

The Clarkes pay those vet bills, which many times have run into the thousands of dollars, with money from their nonprofit organization and their funds.

"Our friends lovingly tell us we work to pay for the animals," said Clarke, laughing.

Several times a year, the Clarkes hold what they call outreach sessions at a local pet store to educate the public about responsible pet ownership and make people aware of these cases of abuse and neglect.

The next outreach is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 6 at Dapper Pet Den, Twin Arch Shopping Center, Mount Airy.

Information: 301-829-5598.

Women in the Bible

A dramatization is planned at Calvary United Methodist Church in Mount Airy.

Showcasing women in the Bible, actress Anita Gutschick will bring the stories of these women to life.

The dramatic presentation is sponsored by United Methodist Women of Calvary and will take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the church, 403 S. Main St.

"We are primarily a mission group, and for us our mission is to make people aware of the Bible and what these women went through and how they lived their faith," said Carol Van Gosen, member of the planning committee.

Gutschick, who has appeared on stage, radio and in film in the Baltimore-Washington region, will portray women from the Old and New Testaments through monologues.

The event is open to the public. An offering will be collected.

Information: 301-829-0358.

Lesa Jansen's Southwest neighborhood column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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