By Susan Spisak
I had the opportunity to catch up with Heather Labbe, Founder and President of the Limerick, Maine based New England Lab Rescue aka NELR. DEDN covered this 501(c) (3) non-profit a few years back. At that time, Heather explained NELRs’ roots dated back to a long night at Maine Medical Center. Her husband Gary was a patient there, and while visiting him, she scrolled through Facebook.
She noted a link on her own page about a shelter Lab facing euthanasia. She was determined to save that Lab—countless hours and phone calls later, she had a foster home and transportation arranged. In the morning, she called the shelter to inform them that someone was coming to rescue the dog. He was pulled and successfully rehomed. NELR was off and running.
They’ve grown by leaps and bounds thanks to Heather, her board of directors, and countless dedicated volunteers. Driven by the love of the Lab breed, this almost 13-year-old organization has rescued over 3,000 Labs, largely from southern states and Puerto Rico. Even during the pandemic, they saved roughly 350 Labs. They all have a special place in her heart, “I think they really know [that they were rescued]. They’re so appreciative.”
NELR relies on social media for alerts on those facing an untimely demise, usually due to shelter overcrowding. They have volunteers willing to drive to a shelter at a moment’s notice. Once the dog in jeopardy is pulled, it is vetted and fostered in the state of origin. When deemed healthy and okay to travel, it is transported on its freedom ride north.
Dogs are fostered locally for at least a few days, so they can relax before being adopted—there’s great stress associated with that long drive. Because of this added component, Heather said there’s a huge need for foster homes across Maine and New England. (Visit their website link below for info.)
Heather doesn’t take her many volunteers and fosters (and their spouses/partners who pitch in) for granted. She recently hosted an appreciation event at a Kittery lobster house. “I love to treat them for their kindness.” Heather’s husband, Gary, addressed the group and emphasized fostering with a lighthearted tone: “[Heather and I] have had 300 fosters in the past 12 years, and we’re still married and happy.” (Heather explained that number included puppy litters.)
She shared that one of those foster dogs was a then 2-year-old high-kill shelter dog with behavioral problems. He had been chained in a shed for much of his young life and had neck injuries to prove it. Within hours of reading about his plight, she’d arranged for his rescue from South Carolina. The dog worked well with NELR’s trainer, and Heather and Gary now have the 4-year-old white English Lab named Rudder—he’s also the non-profit’s official ambassador.
Visit their website at newenglandlabrescue.com/ for info on donating, fostering, adopting, and the link to their Facebook page which highlights all their adoptables. Martingale collars and leashes are welcome, mail them to NELR, PO Box 58, Limerick, Maine 04048.