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Melissa Susko - Rescuing animals fulfills lifelong dream

April 23, 2006|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Melissa Susko walks through a field at the PIGS Animal Sanctuary, where all sorts of animals make their home, and calls out to a pig behind a fence.

"Hey Frankie," she says.

Frankie is a farm pig, and he was found along a highway in North Carolina.

"Some of them have some interesting stories on how we found them," Susko says of the animals at the 60-acre facility.

The sanctuary started as a place to rescue potbellied pigs, which come from places such as China and Vietnam, Susko said. It became popular to purchase them as pets, but often it did not work when the animals began rooting in homes and exhibiting other unwanted behavior.

Today, there are about 150 potbellied pigs at the sanctuary off Persimmon Lane west of Shepherdstown.

Now, the sanctuary accepts all kinds of animals, such as cats, dogs, cows, sheep, goats, turkeys and horses.

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The animals either were unwanted at one time or were rescued as a result of neglect, Susko said. There are all sorts of stories about how animals arrived severely diseased, malnourished and mangled.

Susko took over the sanctuary in 2002 and has implemented several public events to make people aware of the situations animals sometimes have to endure.

Susko regularly invites public school students to tour the sanctuary, and estimates that about 900 youngsters a year visit the property. She said she hopes the kids will learn to better care for animals than others have.

"Hopefully, the next generation won't be as bad," Susko said.

Among the public events Susko holds at the sanctuary are Fall Harvest Fest and an Easter egg hunt, which features activities such as animal visits, crafts, face painting, a puppet show and food.

In the past, Susko has worked as a veterinarian tech, which is a person who helps veterinarians. She also worked as a volunteer on animal rescue efforts in the Lancaster, Pa., area.

Two men who started the sanctuary resigned, and Susko said she found out about the executive director job through an animal rights job listing.

"It was like a dream come true," Susko said.

But it's a tough position, too, Susko said.

Susko said it's hard not to get burned out on the job after seeing numerous animals cast aside by their owners.

"You get mad at people easy," she said.

Susko said one of the worst situations she faced was when she took in a draft horse from Hagerstown.

The horse was 800 pounds underweight, and the animal's hooves had grown so long that they curled under her feet and made it impossible for her to walk, Susko said.

"She laid in the field for weeks," Susko said.

Although the horse gained some weight and sanctuary officials corrected her hooves the best they could, she died soon after, mostly due to her condition, Susko said.

"We know we gave her six months of peace and love before she died," Susko said.

Susko runs an adoption program where she tries to find good homes for the animals.

"If not, they live out their life here," she said.

Q&A

Name - Melissa Susko

Address - Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Date of birth - Jan. 28, 1969

Occupation - Executive director of PIGS Animal Sanctuary

Most notable achievement - Being named the recipient of the 2003 Hank Award, a national award recognizing outstanding animal rescue.

Your proudest moment - Every time I take in a scared, frightened, abused animal and offer him/her sanctuary and my love. I am so proud that I have the opportunity to do so on a daily basis and to actually call this my job. I have fulfilled my lifelong dream to operate a sanctuary for hundreds of homeless animals.

Who is the person you most admire and why? - My mom. She passed on her love for animals to me and taught me to respect all of God's creatures. By following her example, I've learned to stand up for what I believe in and to speak out for those who do not have a voice of their own.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Who gave it to you? - You cannot save them all, but the ones you do save makes a difference. Laura Knox, president of PIGS Animal Sanctuary.

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