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I can think of no one better to exemplify the concept of Living a Rare Life than Melissa Zudweg Borden. Melissa is a woman whose commitment, character, determination and strength are focused on being the change she wants to see in the world.

Melissa is the founder of The Devoted Barn (a program of Devoted Friends Animal Society), a rescue facility that takes in the most urgent cases of extreme abuse, neglect and animal cruelty as well as one of the few feral dog rehabilitation facilities in the United States. Melissa takes in animals that have been stabbed, shot, abused, intentionally starved and abandoned as well as animals confiscated from hoarding situations.

From a barn about 30 miles south of Detroit Melissa has created a safe haven where these animals come to heal both physically and emotionally and learn to trust people again in order to find their “furever” homes. Melissa operates The Devoted Barn as a non-profit, charitable organization relying financially on donations and fundraisers. Melissa is not paid and there are no funds to hire staff (or fix the leaking roof) but that does not stop her. The Devoted Barn is run entirely by Melissa, her family and her volunteers better known as her “barn family”.

In addition to rescuing horses, pigs, goats, llamas, cats and dogs, Melissa is a single mother to five amazing kids. They work alongside her to make every rescued animal know they are now out of harm’s way. Her youngest child, at age 5, has the confidence and experience to bottle feed kittens and day old puppies, cuddle a newly rescued feral dog and knows that she is an integral part of the overall team caring for the animals.

If that is not rare enough, Melissa opens her doors to at-risk youth and individuals with special needs to provide them with the experience of interacting with the animals. The Devoted Barn’s motto is “Teaching Compassion Through Positive Action.” Melissa goes into schools, frequently taking a special needs animal with her, to teach compassion through stories of resiliency and the challenges these animals have overcome while providing education on how working together can make a difference.

Melissa is always willing to assist in the most difficult rescues, whether that means patiently working for months to capture a feral dog living in the woods for over two years, evacuating a 500-pound pig living in the basement of an abandoned house, taking in a puppy needing open heart surgery or bottle feeding a three legged lamb every two hours through the day and night. Her devotion to animals is clear. Even when the program is full to overflowing she finds room for just one more.

I hope that you will take a moment to go to ( ) for more stories of the animals that have been given a second chance at life through Melissa’s intervention. Those animals that Melissa takes in that are deemed unadoptable have a home at The Devoted Barn for the remainder of their lives.

Melissa and her all-volunteer team arrange for appropriate medical care, training and rehabilitation with a network of volunteer foster homes. Her feral dog program is a national model for helping socialize feral dogs so they might become adoptable. Melissa has said “It’s a long process, but once you have their trust, it’s priceless. To watch a dog go from melting into the floor hoping to be invisible to asking for human attention is amazing.”

Melissa is an animal rescuer extraordinaire but this commitment does not come without sacrifice. Rescuing animals that have been severely injured and abused is expensive.

Melissa has said, “It is my dream, my purpose. I've had to say farewell to the ones we couldn't save and good bye to those we could as they started their next chapter. I've cried many times over the stress and responsibility of paying for all of this. I've had many moments that I felt defeated, questioning my choices.” “I know I can't save them all, I'm realistic about that. But looking into their eyes and knowing I could at least give them a chance to be at peace is hard because we just don't have room.”

Because of her vision, persistence, strong-will, dedication and advocacy for the most at risk animals it is my privilege to raise a glass and nominate Melissa Zudweg Borden for the Rare Life Award.

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