Cleburne County EMS last week gave the old ambulance to the nonprofit animal group Semper-Fi Rescue — named after the Marine Corps motto “always faithful,” — which will use the vehicle to transport stray and abandoned dogs to regions in the country with a need for adoptable pets.
“Having something larger and more reliable and sleek is going to affect our ability to transport more,” said Lisa Wippler, the president of Semper-Fi Rescue.
Local animal advocates like Wippler hope the ambulance will help with the overpopulation of stray animals in the area, which is a result of Alabama not having strict spay and neuter laws. Some shelters have had no choice but euthanize many of the animals brought to them because they don't have enough room for them all, local animal advocates say.
Depending on their resources, Wippler estimates the ambulance could transport up to 250 animals per year and open up a new avenues she hasn’t considered before.
“I wouldn’t consider making a trip to New York in my car, but if I had something reliable like the ambulance I might,” Wippler said.
When Cleburne EMS bought new ambulances three months ago, EMT George Iliff thought donating one of the agency’s old ones to Semper-Fi Rescue would be a great idea.
Iliff said Cleburne EMS planned to auction off the ambulances and use the money to pay for renovations, but he knew one could be used as a transport van for dogs.
Iliff brought the idea up to his director in July, who took it to the Regional Medical Center board of directors. The board agreed to donate the ambulance, Iliff said.
“I’m just thrilled that Cleburne County EMS was able to let them have this as a donation,” Iliff said. “It’s for a great cause.”
Wippler said her organization has worked to develop partnerships with four rescue groups in states such as Florida, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and South Carolina, that do not have many adoptable dogs available to families. Using the ambulance, Semper-Fi will be able to transport more dogs to these groups, she said.
Angie Persch, the director of Cheaha Regional Humane Society, which took over control of Calhoun County Animal Control at the beginning of December, believes Semper-Fi’s new ambulance will help the county’s dogs as long as checks and balances are in place.
Persch said she thinks people have a compassion for animals in the South because the region doesn’t have strict spay and neuter laws, but local groups should make sure the groups they are partnering with and transporting the animals to are reputable.
Wippler said she is very picky when it comes to the rescues she partners with. She has seen their facilities to make sure the animals are being fed and kept in a good, safe area.
"You do have to be really, really careful where you take animals to," she said. "The rescues we work with....we literally drive them to their door."
Iliff said the van currently has around 189,000 miles on it, but because it had been routinely maintained by his agency, it should be able to go several hundred thousand miles more.
“They shouldn’t have any problems with this van for three or four years,” he said.
He added that the ambulance should be able to fit anywhere from 20 to 30 small animals or 10 to 15 bigger pets at a time. He said the vehicle even has a heating and cooling compartment so they can be transported during the winter.
Wippler said that aside from being able to transport more dogs, the ambulance will also save volunteers wear and tear on their own vehicles, which have been used to transport dogs in the past.
Wippler said because the ambulance was just donated to the organization last week, she has no idea how much any updates will cost. Wippler does want to keep the ambulance style, though, because her organization is, indeed, saving lives.
Residents or businesses who donate to the van can get their names painted on the side, according to Wippler. Semper-Fi also is making plans to start a rescue and sanctuary ranch for Calhoun County sometime within the next year, and is getting ready to apply for land grants. The group’s website is www.semperfirescue.com.
Staff writer Madasyn Czebiniak: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @MCzebiniak_Star.