Tails of Hope
Home alone with her young daughters, BellaRae and Jakie, Danielle DeLeon had already texted her husband, Connor, that she wasn’t feeling well. When she stood to make lunch, her German shepherd, Echo, jumped on her, giving her no choice but to go to the floor where she passed out.
Her daughters didn’t know what to do, but Echo did. She lay across Danielle’s legs providing deep pressure therapy to help push the blood back toward her heart and brain. Once Danielle was conscious, Echo fetched the medication that lowers Danielle’s heart rate and then retrieved her phone.
It was one of many times that Danielle credits her service dog Echo with coming to her rescue. Danielle has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome or POTS—a condition that causes the heart rate to skyrocket and blood pressure to drop during position changes, such as sitting to standing. With her keen sense of smell, Echo detects the hormone that increases heart rate. She alerts Danielle by jumping on her, something she does at no other time so that Danielle knows to sit or lie down. Otherwise, she risks concussions from passing out and hitting her head when she falls.
“Echo has saved my life literally more times than I can count,” Danielle said. She received Echo through Tails of Hope; a division of the non-profit dog and cat rescue organization Coco’s Cupboard.
Echo was one of four sick, neglected puppies crammed into a small crate and surrendered by a backyard breeder. Like many of Coco’s Cupboard rescues that exhibit potential, all four, once healthy, were trained as service dogs through Tails of Hope, which processes requests for service dogs and companion animals and provides support and training.
Danielle, who lives in Tyrone, is also a Tails of Hope coach. In addition to teaching dogs their tasks, she schedules outings to grocery stores and movie theaters to help service dog owners gain confidence, and conditions their dogs to be calm around sirens and rescue vehicles.
Recently, Danielle received her second Tails of Hope service dog, Jinx—a breeder-donated German shepherd. Once trained, Jinx will allow Echo to retire. “She’s been working her whole life, and I would like to give her some time to be just a dog,” Danielle said.
She tears up explaining what these dogs have meant to her. “Having my service dogs has allowed me so much more freedom,” she said. “It takes a lot of fear off of my kids and my husband and it brought me more family and a support system with Tails of Hope.”
In the abandoned halls of the old McCrary School in Gay, GA, the echoes of children’s voices and laughter had dissipated. But the old school is no longer silent. Today, it’s filled with the hopeful barks and meows of animals given a second chance.
An army of volunteers has turned the decrepit 26,000-square-foot structure, vacant for decades, into a facility for Coco’s Cupboard.
“The school kind of fits our whole mission,” said Todd Johnston, Tails of Hope president. “It was abandoned and cast aside just like the dogs and the people we help with service dogs. It all fits together.”
Coco’s Cupboard was scheduled to move into the school in July. “It’s taken a lot of love to get it ready,” said Suzanne Aaron, Coco’s Cupboard president.
Before, Coco’s Cupboard relied on a huge network of fosters. Although it will still depend on fosters, most dogs will now be housed at the school. “We believe in socializing and open play,” Suzanne said, adding that the dogs will have a big, beautiful yard to play in and even a pool. Inside, former classrooms have been divided into large kennels, a cat room, a media and training center, and offices. Now a trailer provides a place for someone to stay on the campus 24 hours a day, but future renovations will include adding a groundskeeper’s suite inside the school.
Most importantly, the new facility provides a place the public can visit. “Our goal is to have it be an education center—a real school,” Suzanne said, adding that it will also be a home for service dog training.
Named for the first dog rescued, Coco’s Cupboard began in 2011 and serves the Southern Crescent—primarily Fayette and Pike counties. It began as a food pantry for pets so that people in need could keep their pets instead of surrendering them. Thanks to the generosity of volunteers and the community, Coco’s Cupboard donated almost 15,000 pounds of pet food last year. “When we put out an SOS, our community is second to none, whether it’s physical donations or monetary donations,” volunteer Laura King said.
Coco’s Cupboard also has a program that helps pet owners in underprivileged areas with spaying and neutering, medical care, and food. There is also a group of volunteers who take rescue pups to nursing homes and colleges to brighten people’s days.
Last year, Coco’s Cupboard adopted out 362 cats and 222 dogs. About 65 dogs and 100 cats are in the organization’s care at any given time and include many owner surrenders. Suzanne said, “We get hundreds of requests every week for owner surrender. It’s overwhelming.”
Although there are many great rescue organizations in the area, Suzanne said the people element sets Coco’s Cupboard apart by ministering to people as well as animals, or as the Tails of Hope slogan says, ‘changing lives at both ends of the leash.’
The entire Coco’s Cupboard community is based on the pay it forward program. Many of the volunteers needed Coco’s Cupboard for something at one point. “We gave and now they’re giving,” Suzanne said. “It continues to grow and feed a bigger network. ”Whether it’s walking a dog or hanging out with the cats, Laura said, “We have a job for every person, and they truly become part of our family.”
Suzanne agrees. “It feeds your soul,” she said.
For more information about Coco’s Cupboard and Tails of Hope, or to purchase tickets for the annual fundraisers in September—Fur Ball and Golf Tournament—visit cocoscupboardinc.org.