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NOTE from BOSTON TERRIER NETWORK: This is the first interview in a four part series of inspiring people in North Alabama, on the front-lines of animal rescue. Our first interview was with Debbie Rappuhn, the Founder and President of HEART OF ALABAMA SAVE RESCUE ADOPT (HASRA) And a former Shoals Woman of the Year. They are located at 4101 Highway 72 in Killen, Al 34545. You may contact her via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I decided to ask if I could come visit her new sanctuary. I was amazed. HASRA started their sanctuary less than a year ago on bare ground.  Interviewed dated July 2014. 



Q: What inspired you to get involved with rescuing animals?

Debbie: “Five years ago, my daughter had to have community service hours to be in the National Honor Society. She picked the Florence/Lauderdale Animal Shelter to volunteer. I told her she could, but then found out I would have to volunteer with her because of her age. I had been to the animal shelter to donate food over the years and tried to explain to her that I could not go in there and volunteer because it would hurt too much."  Debbie continued, “AND THEN IT HIT ME! I was being so very selfish and thinking only of myself. I could be strong through the hurt and still give the dogs and cats some love while pushing my hurt at seeing them there, aside. So we started volunteering two hours a week on Fridays.”


Q: What would you say was a turning point for you?

Debbie: “Within a year, I found that I was doing it all. I redid the puppy room, the kitchen, the laundry room and made a cat habitat. I then found myself working 7 days a week painting, building and designing.  However, I could not stop there. I started a rescue program, a foster program, and a volunteer program.“  Volunteers created and manage the shelter’s Facebook page, posting pictures of adoptable animals and sharing news about pets who need medical care, inviting followers to donate. Rappuhn and her parents,who are in their 70s, created large, fenced-in play areas for shelter dogs, and Rappuhn found someone to pour concrete, so the pens would be easier to clean.


One day she met a volunteer who came in occasionally to send dogs to rescues she’d connected with online. Rappuhn decided to try it: She started taking pictures of dogs at the shelter, and sending them out to rescues with brief descriptions. During this time, the shelter turned around the number of animals from being “put down”. She gained a following of friends and supporters that made what happened next possible. During this time, Debbie and her volunteers reached out to rescues, identifying and alerting them of the owner releases and strays that matched their type of dog or cat that was at the shelter.


The statistics tell the story of what the group had accomplished since Rappuhn came on board. In 2009, the shelter handled 6,209 animals, adopted 1,000, and euthanized 4,735. In 2011, with the advent of the group’s new programs, there were 5,067 animals handled, 1,300 adopted, and 3,288 pets euthanized. And in 2012, the final figures were 4,627 handled, 2,533 adopted, and 987 euthanized. “She has brought it all the way to where we’re hovering around 20 percent [euthanasia] for dogs and cats. And it’s basically because of social media,” Vinny Grosso, shelter manager at that time stated.  “It was a grim, dark, gloomy place, and now it’s a place of light. There’s new paint, there’s paintings on the wall.”


Rappuhn’s volunteer group, Heart of Alabama Save Rescue Adopt (HASRA) now transported dogs to groups as far away as New York City, using a may-jun-2013-step-by-step-480x326new, $17,000 van given by PetCo, and has built an extensive foster network. The group, which has a core of 15 volunteers, also transported cats to several Pet Depot and PetCo stores in the area that have agreed to give HASRA cage space. But Rappuhn’s was not done yet. Her latest focus had her pushing for a new shelter, with a goal of the city, the county, and private donors each paying a third of the total cost. “It’s not easy for me, because I am so passionate, and I want it done yesterday, and sometimes I say more than I should,” she says. “I’m just fighting.”

 According, to the local news coverage at the time:  " The decline  in numbers of animals euthanized raised many to believe that the shelter was on the way to becoming a no kill shelter. City leaders were admitting at the time that they were sill receiving the same number of animals. They credited the volunteers for the large decrease in the numbers of those being euthanized. "More animals are finding their ways to homes. And it's all because of volunteers. City leaders at the time were credited in saying.""It takes a lot of work a lot of work," said Debbie Rappuhn with the Florence-Lauderdale Animal Shelter. Rappuhn was the Director of volunteers at the shelter. Under her efforts, volunteers are working around the clock to find homes for the animals, whether they are adopted or fostered out.


"It's such a rewarding experience. They're saving lives," she said. "Not last week but the two weeks prior we did not have one animal put down for two weeks. That is astounding for a shelter." In fact during her last year as Director of volunteers, officials removed the gas chamber from the shelter and now euthanasia is done by injection, which is considered a more humane way of putting animals down.

An event happened in January of 2014  that caused a change in direction for her and her non-profit 501(c)3. You can read one side of the story from online news reports dated during this time. But that did not slow her down. Instead, according to Debbie, her group just started working on a long held dream and caused it to come into being a reality much sooner.  A No-Kill sanctuary built from the ground up. This new facility is where we interviewed her in July 2014. 


Q: Debbie, what does the president of HASRA do?

A: Debbie: “I clean the dog pens, give vaccines, take pictures, post the dogs on our Facebook page, Email pictures and other information to rescues all over the U.S.“ Debbie’s list was long. ”Answer questions on FaceBook, post lost/found pets, transport pets to their rescue’s meeting points, trim dog nails, remove ticks, give baths, and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the dogs we have taken in. I take long walks with the dogs and play with them and donated toys.“


Q: What does your organization do?

A:  Debbie went on to explain her mission and struggles to getting where she is now.  "We are a No-Kill, 100% Donor funded 501c3 non-profit organization. I used to think that I could save ALL the animals. However, the longer I have been doing this the more I came to realize that I can save just so many while ensuring that their lives will never be what it used to be. So now our goal is to save as many as I can. Our wonderful volunteers work tirelessly to prevent animal cruelty and exploitation. We actively work on spay/neuter and vaccination programs, adoption, foster and rescue programs as well as education and training..”


 Heart of Alabama Save Rescue Adopt (HASRA)

Part 4
Part 3
Part 2
Part 1



online: The ASPCA's Animal Sheltering magazine, May/Jun 2013

online: Florence animal shelter en route to becoming no kill shelter Posted: Feb 17, 2012  By Marie Waxel