Stray dogs in St. Helena Parish are getting a second chance at life thanks to volunteer Debra Bridges.

The St. Helena Parish resident rescues homeless dogs and other animals in need of a human helping hand.

Bridges, who has always loved animals, started her rescue mission several years ago after she met Peggy Stafford through horse training. Stafford was a great mentor, Bridges said, and taught her the importance of spaying and neutering.

“I met Debra 20 years ago; she would break my horses in. She was an accomplished barrel racer and a fearless rider. I have watched her grow as a horse trainer over these past 20 years, and she is a great friend,” Stafford said.

Stafford said Bridges has worked wonders with problem horses.

“She is totally committed to rescuing animals, primarily dogs, and she restores your faith in humanity, ” Stafford said.

Bridges attributes her love for animals to her mother, Judy Bridges.

“My mom used to take in strays and nurture them back to health. She would even take in people down on their luck and help them back on their feet,” Bridges said.

She said some irresponsible pet owners in St. Helena Parish would rather breed and dump the animals rather than spay or neuter.

“And let’s not leave out the tons of backyard breeders all over the parish,” she said.

Bridges said she rescued nearly 60 stray animals at the beginning of 2015 and was getting overwhelmed, so she put a plea for help on Facebook.

She said her prayers were answered when St. Helena native Kathy Hanks Labat contacted her and introduced her to Karen Anderson, who runs the NOLA Freedom Transport.

Anderson transports dogs from all over Louisiana to four different humane societies where they have spay and neuter laws in place and require permits for breeders.

Bridges said she hopes to educate residents on the importance of spaying and neutering and adopting or rescuing instead of buying.

But rescuing stray animals, Bridges said, comes with a price.

Young puppies require two vaccines and, if they are over 12 weeks old, they require additional rabies and bordetella vaccines. 

If they have extreme shyness, aggression, skin issues or are positive for heartworms, they are not eligible for transport.

Bridges also pays for health certificates, crate fees, travel expenses and gas.

She hopes that once she acquires a nonprofit status she can apply for a grant to help her mission.

“I pay for all of this out of pocket and sacrifice almost everything, but when I see them go from scared, starving and their spirit broken, to happy and healthy and full of love and a rekindled spirit, it makes it all worthwhile,” she said.

She said she feeds the animals 50 pounds of dog food per day.

Veterinarian Katie Meadows provides discounts on everything but it’s still costly, she said.

Anyone wishing to help with vet bills can call (225) 222-6714.

She is located between Easleyville and Chipola and can be reached at (985) 514-2114.