Five years ago, Noreen Kohl sent out an email with a picture of a short-haired St. Bernard.
The dog was the newest arrival to their rescue, aptly named Gentle Ben's Giant Breed Rescue because of the large breed dogs Noreen and her husband Rich take into their home.
This particular dog was found by a local shelter as a stray, and the shelter, familiar with the rescue, and the fact that they specialize in large breed dogs like St. Bernards, Great Pyranees, and Mastiffs, called the Kohl family.
By the time I got the email, the stray Saint already had a name, Violet, and a place to sleep, which was sprawled out in the middle of Noreen's bed.
At this time, their rescue had been up and running for six years, and the very special intuiton and love the Kohls have for these giant dogs led Noreen to believe that "Violet" had not found her forever home...yet.
This particular story, just one of many the Kohls have been a part of, does have a happy ending.
Violet, now Greta (she snores like a Greta, dainty is not her bag), has a forever home and a place to sleep sprawled out in the middle of our bed.
I will be forever grateful to Noreen and Rich for allowing us to adopt Greta. Her gentle giant nature, along with our second Saint, are literally the glue that has bonded my family together.
So, it is particularly hard for me to share that the story for the Kohls has taken an unfair, unjust and undeserving twist.
After 11 years now of running Gentle Ben's Giant Breed Rescue, after saving the lives of countless dogs, after saving area shelters thousands of dollars by taking dogs they could not afford to keep, rehabilitate or adopt, and after positivley impacting the lives of hundreds of animals and humans, the exsistence of their rescue has been threatened.
Due to a complaint by a neighbor, one who had actually adopted from Noreen and Rich in the past, and a decision by the New Sewickly Township Zoning Board, Gentle Ben's has been labeled as a "commercial kennel."
Now, far be it from me to dabble in township law, but it has yet to be explained how a rescue, which survives solely on money spent by the Kohls and money donated, has ever earned a profit.
Earning a profit is one of the requirements to be labeled a commercial kennel, and it is definitely not something the Kohls achieve, or aspire to achieve for that matter.
In fact, Gentle Ben's is actually a nonprofit 501 C (3) rescue, meaning the IRS recognizes it as an organization established for the purpose of such noble endeavors as charity and the prevention of cruelty to animals.
The Kohls spend an estimated $10,000 out of their own pockets each year to care for the dogs.
Many, like our Greta, come to the Kohls emaciated, neglected and needing medical attention.
This is what makes the Kohls so incredibly special. They take in dogs, treat them as their own, heal them with love and then find families where the dogs pay it forward—tenfold.
Although denied a varience by New Sewickley, the Kohls are hoping that filing an appeal to the Beaver County court will be their saving grace.
The court has a chance to save Gentle Ben's, so what can we do to help?
What can we do? How can we help? This has been the outcry from not only this community, but from across the country!
You need only look on their facebook page to see the outpouring of love and support for Gentle Ben's Giant Breed Rescue and the Kohls.
An online petition has been signed by more than 5,000 people. Salt Power Yoga in Seven Fields held a raffle and benefit yoga class where the community raised $1,300 in just one week to help the Kohls.
There are even online fudraisers, such as Tasefully Simple, to help raise funds. All of this support shows just how valuable the rescue is to this community.
Gentle Ben's is inspiring, and the rescue should be praised and recognized for the good they do.
Share their story with your dog-loving friends and family. Let the township, your community, and Gentle Ben's know that we are all grateful and inspired by what they do.
Then, with any luck, Noreen will be sending emails with pictures of their newest arrivals for years to come.