The Citizen Spotlight is a project I started with the Oklahoma Gazette. In each issue, we highlight a person in our community who stands out for their leadership, kindness, and good deeds. Read it on the Oklahoma Gazette website here.
Maria Latham – Country Roads Animal Rescue
A lifelong animal advocate, Maria Latham believes the love of a dog can help make the world a better place. For her, rescuing dogs has become a way of life, and each one changes her life and the lives of others for the better.
Hailing from the grind and bustle of big city living, Maria was the head bartender of New York City’s original Coyote Ugly before she laid down roots in Oklahoma. She met her husband, Terry, while opening the Oklahoma City location. After a few years of long-distance love, she made the permanent move and soon looked for new ways to spend her time.
“I started volunteering with a different rescue in the city, and I just became absolutely obsessed,” Latham said. “I saw so quickly how easy it was for one person to make a difference. A lot of things, it takes a while, a lot of time, and logistics to really make an impact. This was immediate. I volunteered to walk the dogs that were stuck in kennels at the shelter or waiting to enter placement with a rescue. They just sat in kennels all day long. I got to walk them and spend time with them, and it made a huge difference in their lives. Then I would take two home to foster. Then I realized that fostering and opening those two kennels allowed the rescue to pull two new dogs out of the shelter and save them from euthanasia. I was just one person, and I was saving lives. I became obsessed and fell in love with it. Then I had my own ideas and ways I wanted to do things, so I decided to start my own rescue. I did this with a Facebook page, an Instagram account, no money, a notebook, and a little card table. I went and sat at Bleu Garten with my husband and a little notebook and just started asking people to foster some dogs. I met Tara, who is now my assistant director and has been with me since the get-go. Then I met my friend Erica, who still works with the rescue, and then it just kept growing and growing and growing into what it is today.”
Maria and her team go to great lengths to ensure that each dog is matched with the right person and goes to a permanent, loving home. They work with a behaviorist and other professionals to ensure every animal gets the care and attention they need to thrive.
“We have a very thorough application process,” Latham said. “Then we set up a meet-and-greet with the foster parent and the adopter to see if it’s a good match. And there are plenty of times we have to say it’s not a good match. But due to that thorough process, our return rate is very, very low.”
Oklahoma animal shelters are often overcrowded, leaving hundreds of dogs desperately needing homes and often facing euthanasia. Country Roads Animal Rescue takes in dogs from all over the state from various shelters, owner surrenders and emergency situations. They rely heavily on the hospitality of people opening their homes to foster dogs, the time of volunteers and the generous donations that allow the animals to get the care they need.
“We get dogs from everywhere, and we accept every breed, Maria said. “I get a million emails a day from people wanting to surrender their own animals for reasons all over the board — emails from people who found strays they don’t know what to do with. We have tons coming in from rural Oklahoma, places that don’t have shelters or any way to help them. These folks have no idea what to do. Most of the time, they are really kind, good-hearted people who need help. So, we ask for photos and temperament information on the dog and start doing the work to find it a home. We have a big group of volunteers in our Facebook group that help coordinate transportation. Some drive for hours to pick dogs up and bring them to our intake coordinator Erin. She does basic medical care, microchipping, vaccination, deworming and checks them over for any concerns. Then we set them up with their foster parent. They get all the medical care they need, even if it’s just spay or neuter, rabies vaccine, etc. Then their photos are taken, they get listed on the website with a bio, then we review applications and set up meet and greets accordingly.”
Maria told the story of some recent rescues, including a dog chained and left outside with no shelter and freezing temperatures imminent.
“This dog was abandoned outside in the cold, and now he’s in his foster home, and the guy is totally going to adopt him,” Latham said with a big smile. “His foster dad says he’s so in love. It’s an incredible feeling to help change these lives. The dog is saved and loved. I have no doubt that this dog, his name is Friday, will change that man’s life for the better. I truly believe dogs are angels on Earth. Even if they’re put in these horrific situations where they’re chained up, beaten, or neglected, they’re so forgiving. If they can be paired with the right human, they will thrive, and that human will thrive. Humans and animals are meant to coexist.”
Maria and her family have six rescue dogs of their own, and most of the Country Roads team has ‘foster failed’ multiple rescues, also giving them a permanent home.
Country Roads Animal Rescue currently has over 200 dogs in foster homes available for adoption. Since opening in 2015, Maria and her team have rescued and placed over 7,000 dogs into safe, loving homes and she hopes to help thousands more.
“I deeply believe that every dog is meant to be with a human,” Maria said. “I think it’s our job to put them together. By putting them together, we’re going to make both of these lives better, the humans and the dogs. By making their lives better to make your community better, you make the city better, you make the state better, and it’s just a ripple effect that can make the whole entire world a better place.”
To learn more about Country Roads Animal Rescue, to donate, or to see adoptable pets visit www.countryroadsanimalrescue.com.