Susan Lee spends a lot of time on the side of the road. Any time she sees a hurt or abandoned animal, she pulls her truck over to help.
Over the years, she has taken in dogs, cats, horses, turtles and rabbits – even some injured squirrels.
As an independent animal rescuer since 1978, Lee has kept countless animals out of the local shelters and matched many families with their new best friends. She has helped abused dogs learn to trust humans again and spent hours hand-feeding horses with health issues.
Once area residents learned of her mission, Lee awoke many mornings to a litter of kittens on her Wake Forest porch or stray dogs dropped off at the barn where she kept horses. She brought each of the animals into her home and her heart even as she worked to run her home-building company.
Now Lee, 55, is in a fight for her life against cancer. But her biggest worry is what will happen to her beloved pets.
She is turning to the community that she has served for more than 35 years for help, asking for loving homes for her rescued dogs and cats.
“My rescues mean everything to me,” Lee said. “Since I never had any kids, my animals are my best friends and my fur-kids.
“I always joked that if I had children, I would have to name them Spot, Rover and Fido since I had given all my animals human names because they meant so much to me.”
Lee was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in March 2011, despite never having smoked a day in her life. During the holidays this year, she learned that the cancer had returned to her brain. The doctors told her there are limited treatment options left.
Even while sick from cancer treatment, Lee can be found at the barn caring for the horses each morning and throwing sticks for the dogs to fetch in the afternoon.
Friends band together
Friends and fellow rescuers are working together to find loving homes for the animals Lee is caring for, including dogs, cats and several horses fostered through the U.S. Equine Rescue League.
Kim Croom, who is coordinating the animals’ placement, said all of them are highly adoptable and will do best in family homes. Croom, who is from Raleigh, is the former director of Pet Foster Network, a group that helps animal shelters and rescue groups recruit foster homes.
“By adopting one of these animals, you are helping a loving animal, saving community resources and helping Susan, who has devoted her life to caring for animals,” Croom said.
Several of the animals have specific needs.
DeeDee and Emmy are two of Lee’s dogs who were abused and should go to homes with experienced dog owners. Lee found DeeDee in a ditch and lovingly called her “Ditch Dog,” which turned into DeeDee. When Lee found Emmy, a Lab and basset hound mix, she had severe mange, and Lee nursed her back to health.
Lee is also looking for a special home for 13-year-old Bentley, a black-and-white mix that she found standing in the road in Franklinton.
Croom said anyone interested in adopting one of the animals will be required to complete an application and go through a screening process to ensure that the family and animal are a good match. Lee will not charge adoption fees.
‘Most selfless person’
Elizabeth Melvin, a fellow rescuer and lifelong friend from Wake Forest, said Lee has set an example as a rescuer that no one can surpass.
“She is the most selfless person that I have ever known about animals. She puts every animal over herself,” Melvin said. “She has given the most wonderful foster homes to all of these cats, dogs and horses. I have never known anyone like her.”
While Lee isn’t giving up on her battle with cancer, she said it would give her peace to find forever homes for the animals so she can devote her energy to fighting her disease.
“I want to know that my rescue animals are cared for and don’t want to worry what is going to happen to them.
“I didn’t rescue them to not have them end up in good homes,” Lee said. “I need to know that the work I have done all of my life is not in vain.”