The Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS) started out as a one-woman show. Melanie Crehan, a schoolteacher working in a First Nations community near Sylvan Lake, was caring for a few abandoned animals in her home. To make a bigger impact, she founded AARCS in 2006. Today, it’s a registered not-for-profit with 16 paid staff members that rescues and cares for animals from across the province.
While the charity is headquartered in Calgary, executive director Deanna Thompson says the majority of the work AARCS does is outside of Calgary city boundaries. The organization focuses on rural and low-income Alberta communities where there are limited or no animal services available.
Thanks to community support, AARCS has seen substantial growth over the course of a decade, with more than 1,000 volunteers, hundreds of animal foster homes and multiple programs for those who need help with their pets. The organization started out rescuing and finding new homes for rural animals. Now, Thompson considers AARCS “a package deal,” keeping animals in foster homes until they are adopted. “That’s where rural animals learn how to be a family pet. They will socialize with other people and other animals, so that they can be more adoptable,” says Thompson.
AARCS also offers free spaying and neutering, free pet food, vaccines and products to those who need them, and emergency shelter services for pet-owners who are temporarily unable to care for their animal.
Unlike other animal-rescue organizations, AARCS goes out into rural areas on rescue missions – animals aren’t brought to them. It also offers programs specific to the needs of rural and low-income communities. That doesn’t always mean removing an animal from that area – it’s also about supporting those communities, through educational programs about caring for pets. AARCS’ Dog House Program, for example, has volunteers build and distribute insulated, durable shelters for outside dogs living in rural communities.
Thompson encourages Calgarians to fill out an adoption form for an AARCS animal and make arrangements to meet a future pet. “If you adopt an AARCS animal, you’re saving two lives,” says Thompson. “You’re saving the life of that animal, and you’re making room for us to go out into a rural part of the province and rescue another. And they make wonderful pets.”