One would think having a total of nine dogs and cats in the house would be anyone’s limit. While that is the current population at Brenda Closser’s Sedalia home, it was up to 11 just a few months ago.
“The most I have ever had in my house is 38,” Closser said. “I held animals for rescues … (but) that was including my own animals. My husband got a little testy during that time.”
Closser has devoted her life to connecting stray and unwanted dogs and cats with homes. She has built a massive network across Missouri and beyond that includes animal shelters, rescue groups, foster families and transporters, each doing their part to turn those dogs and cats into companions. When shelters are full or if the animal comes from outside the shelter’s geographic boundaries, Closser uses her contacts to get the animal on a path toward a home.
“When people ask, ‘What kind of job do you do?’ I tell them rescue is a full-time job,” she said.
Closser started this work in 2009 in Bolivar, serving as a foster home for the local humane society which at the time didn’t have its own building. She then worked with a licensed rescue group in Mountain Grove, which pulled animals out of Springfield Animal Control.
“Of course, word gets around when you are in rescue. Everybody calls you,” she said.
Closser moved to Sedalia at the end of 2012 and found that no one here was networking with the shelter. She contacted then-shelter manager Jamie Ditzfeld, who was happy to have someone stepping up to help connect animals with new homes. If the shelter was full and a new animal was brought in, he would contact Closser; if someone from outside the city limits brought in a dog, Ditzfeld would tell them to contact her.
Today, along with her traditional networking, Closser operates the Sedalia Lost and Found Pets page on Facebook and is an administrator on two other pet sites. People send her photos and information about found or displaced animals; she posts it then works with rescue operations, foster homes and people willing to transport animals to other communities to get those dogs and cats moving toward new homes.
Closser’s connections stretch to Kansas City and St. Louis, but she also has networked with groups in Kansas, Iowa and Illinois.
“I’ve sent dogs as far as Maine. … I’ve sent animals to Virginia,” she said.
Closser works with licensed rescue operations to ensure the animals will be well cared for. Some rescue groups help arrange transportation if an animal is being moved, but others leave that up to volunteers like Closser. For example, a transporter will take an animal from Sedalia to Columbia to hand it off to someone who then takes it to St. Louis.
Frequently, animals end up in foster homes until there is space at a rescue facility or animal shelter. Because of the lack of foster options locally, Closser will offer pet food and crates to people who find displaced dogs if they will hold the animals until she can place them in a rescue.
“About eight out of 10 times, people will do that,” she said. “Sometimes I have to beg and plead with them to keep (the dogs) for a few days.”
Since she started networking, Closser has saved about 200 animals a year, but last year she helped almost 300 and is on pace to be in that ballpark again this year. She sees that upward trend continuing, as more animals are dumped in rural areas and some are left with family members and never retrieved. There are seniors who have to give up pets when they move into care facilities and renters who get caught breaking the “no pets” clause in their lease. Closser will step in and talk with a landlord to get them to allow the animal to stay for a couple of days until it can be placed.
On a recent Friday night, Closser and her family had plans but had to drop them because she got a call about a couple of dogs. This situation is repeated frequently; sometimes her husband, Donnie, and daughter, Alyssa, get in the car with her and don’t know where they are headed.
“If somebody tells me there is a dog that is going to get hit or has been hit on 65 Highway, I am going to pick it up,” she said. “These are situations that I have to prioritize and drop everything and go.”
Closser’s dedication to animal rescue is simple. She’s “saving lives that no one else will,” she said. “They can’t speak for themselves.”