By Mecca Ray-Rouse

The smell of a fire lingers in the morning air as the transport van’s doors swing open. It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Friday, and Sue DiVita is in the zone. After going over the paperwork from the shelters, she begins to rapidly carry the dogs from the transport van to the pet carriers bound for Luvable Dog Rescue, a 55-acre no-kill dog sanctuary in Eugene, Oregon. Their small, furry bodies are handed over one by one, the barks ceasing as DiVita holds them. By 6:45 they’re on their way to Luvable, where DiVita separates them into groups, feeds them, and goes over the paperwork. 17 new additions — 17 dogs that would have otherwise been euthanized at the high-kill shelters they were rescued from.

Photo by Mecca Ray-Rouse.

Sue DiVita takes a few gulps of her lavender mocha from her oversized mason jar, the tattoos on her arms peeking out from her Luvable shirt and brown Carhartt overalls. Her voice is soft yet electric as she hastily goes through the day’s many tasks: feeding, cleaning, walking pit bulls, intake on the new dogs, coordinating volunteer work, and other needs.

DiVita has been working and volunteering at Luvable Dog Rescue since 2011. Luvable is a no-kill shelter, meaning they don’t euthanize any healthy or treatable dog. Most shelters Luvable pulls dogs from are high-kill shelters located in the Los Angeles area. These shelters are overcrowded and sometimes healthy, adoptable dogs are euthanized in order to make room.

Out of an estimated 83 million dogs in homes across America, 14 million were adopted. Though these dogs were able to find a home, 2.2 million other dogs are euthanized annually. DiVita works tirelessly at Luvable to try to lower that number. From picking up dogs at 6:00 am from transport to working on socializing, she tries to give every dog the best chance at being adopted.

At a young age, DiVita learned about having compassion for other living creatures.

“My dad used to bring home injured wild animals like rabbits, ducks, birds etc.” DiVita said. “We would nurse them back to health and send them back out.”

As far as dog rescue, DiVita knew she always wanted to work with dogs. As she began working for Luvable, she realized how overwhelming it is to see dogs on death row and not be able to rescue all of them. With limited room, supplies, workers and volunteers, Luvable can only care for a limited amount of dogs at any given time.

Photo by Mecca Ray-Rouse.

“You have to learn to harden yourself to the emotion or it will consume you with grief,” DiVita said.

Most of the dogs on death row are bully breeds, ferals, or older dogs. DiVita works with these dogs in hopes of them getting adopted, but knows Luvable is also a sanctuary for dogs that may never be adopted. DiVita and her co-workers invest their time and effort into every dog, believing they deserve a chance. Some of these dogs have been with them for over six months, or have been returned for behavioral issues.

“She is very committed to the rescue,” Ashley Olson, Adoptions Manager at Luvable, says. She has been working with DiVita for over a year and admires her strong character.

DiVita is one of the few workers at Luvable who is cleared to work with dogs with behavioral issues or are abused or feral.

“This woman can stay calm under crisis,” Liesl Wilhardt, founder of Luvable, says about DiVita. She has been working with her for around five years, and appreciates her ability to stay in the moment, be very thoughtful, and show concern while still keeping her wits about her.

“I have seen a lot of people in emergencies, especially with animals, fall completely apart,” Wilhardt says. “They get so overwhelmed with emotion that they can’t function, and you can’t have that when working with animals that need you […] to put aside your own emotions and be strong for the animal, Sue is really good at that.”

Photo by Mecca Ray-Rouse.

Being a mom of four children, DiVita brings her mom instincts to work. She barrels through her tasks, never cutting corners. Her pedometer sometimes gets up to 12 miles in one day. She is able to take a deep breath and calm everyone down when it gets chaotic.

“She’s the kind of mom anybody would want in a crisis,” Wilhardt says.

Though no-kill shelters do not euthanize healthy, adoptable dogs, there are some circumstances where a dog must be euthanized after all possible solutions have failed. These dogs either suffer from a terminal illness or are a danger to the safety of others.

“Showing compassion and patience is what is important to me,” DiVita said. “It doesn’t always pan out the way you would like it, but knowing you gave it everything you could is important.”

DiVita’s mason jar is empty after a long day. She doesn’t make a lot of money, gets dirty all the time, and acquires a small bite or two from the little dogs. But she wakes up and does it all over again the next day — and enjoys it.

“She is very selfless and optimistic despite the things life throws at her,” Olson says.

Photo by Mecca Ray-Rouse.

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