By Dana Delgado
BERTRAM — It is said every person has a story.
For Crystal and Steve Mitchell, their story is about the fate of homeless animals. Whether the animal be abandoned, lost or surrendered, the animal’s plight is the story behind the couple — founders of Stray Acres Sanctuary and Animal Rescue in Bertram.
Together, along with a growing number of like-interested people, they have built a community of support on a seemingly impossible mission. It really does take a village to sustain and place an animal in the right home for a lasting relationship.
“Our mission is to provide a safe haven for stray animals, animals in high kill shelters and animals on death row, regardless of breed, sex or species,” said Steve Mitchell.
The Mitchells talked about the ache over the plight of many of their animals when they were first found. Like the ones found in an abandoned rental home in Cottonwood Shores near Marble Falls. Or the canine surrendered by his elderly owner because of the onset of Alzheimer’s. Then there is Opie, found at the Llano Water Treatment Center, who suffers from “black dog syndrome” because black dogs are regularly overlooked.
A weak, distressed Celia was recovered wandering the streets in Burnet. Three are rescues from the West fertilizer plant explosion. Joppa, a “sweetheart” was found near the town with the same name during a rainstorm.
“In a broad sense we are saving animals,” said Mrs. Mitchell, “but we’ve always been rescuing animals.”
Presently they are sheltering 42 dogs and 17 cats, most of which are available for adoption. Some because of their age or an ailment will likely always remain in the sanctuary.
“Animals are always coming to us,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “We find them along the road, our families come across them, or people surrender them to us. We get about 300 emails daily from all over the country from Kansas to Houston, to Montana, to New Hampshire. Most of them want us to take their animals. Only about a third want to adopt.”
Because so many animals are put down every year, the couple is a big proponent of spaying and neutering pets. In addition, the ever-growing list of animals awaiting shelter in the Stray Acres is alarming.
“There are just too many animals out there,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “In Texas alone, there are three million dogs euthanized every year. All we want for each of them is to have a good home. I go through a range of emotions, but you can see it in their eyes when they are loved.”
According to The Humane Society of the United States, six to eight million companion animals are admitted to shelters each year. Half of these are lucky enough to be adopted into new homes while the remaining three to four million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). The American Pet Products Association estimates that about 62 percent of all households in the United States have pets totaling 78.2 million dogs and about 86.4 million cats.
Crystal and Steve grew up alongside each other in rural Bertram. Their families went to the same church and their fathers even worked at the same place — Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC). Both had shown in stock shows, one through FFA and the other through 4-H. They knew each other well but for whatever reason, ended up marrying other people. He went on to earn a degree in wildlife management and she became interested in paralegal studies.
The couple says it took them 30 years to find each other again, but agree it was worth the wait.
“We’ve given up our house, our vacations, and our social life for our cause,” said Steve Mitchell. “But we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Besides sheltering and matching animals with new owners, the co-founders of Stray Acres Sanctuary and Animal Rescue want to raise awareness about the state and welfare of all animals with a particular focus on a few less desirable and misunderstood breeds.
“We want to educate the public on the proper care for animals,” he said. “We also educate the public against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) to promote equality for all breeds, and to help fight the prejudice toward aggressive breeds like pit bulls which are the highest killed dogs in shelters.”
In April 2012, Mrs. Mitchell was diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer. She had a double mastectomy and avoided any major radical treatment. Having had a second chance in life, the couple formed the non-profit animal rescue and sanctuary in December 2012 to give others, especially those without a voice, a second chance.
Animals from Stray Acres Sanctuary and Animal Rescue will be joining animals from other shelters in the Dr. Seuss Birthday Celebration & Carnival from 1-3 p.m. March 8 at the Liberty Hill Library, 335 Loop 332.
Anyone interested in adopting an animal or supporting Stray Acres Sanctuary and Animal Rescue with monetary or material donations may contact Crystal or Steve Mitchell at (512) 525-4710 or (830) 613-7723. The couple indicated that a donation of $25 would help support one of their elderly or ailing animals for a month.
You can also reach them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information is available on their website, www.strayacressanctuary.org and on their Facebook page.
Stray Acres Sanctuary and Animal Rescue is located at 309 Misty Woods in Bertram.