Jasmine Smart shakes her head in disbelief when she thinks back to the seemingly small project she started five years ago which somehow became Central West Animal Rescue.
It was 2016 and Ms Smart, originally from Bendigo, had moved to Orange five years before that. At that time there seemed to be a lot of homeless animals in the region and no network of communication between the different towns. Within the year, the small Facebook page had morphed into an animal rescue.
Now, as Central West Animal Rescue (CWAR) heads towards it fourth year of existence, the group has hit an important milestone: it's obtained its tax exemption status as an official charity. It has also become so large that only a few months after launching a branch in Bathurst, it is preparing to open one Dubbo.
The journey has been far from smooth to get to this point, but then rescuing homeless, helpless and sometimes abused animals is not a business that's known for being easy.
"It's been a really rough road," CWAR's 37-year-old founder admits. But, she explains, "once your eyes are open," to what happens in places without animal rescues "you can't go back".
Since starting in July 2017, the rescue has saved thousands of animals, paid for hundreds of life-saving operations through crowd-funded campaigns, and travelled countless miles to pick up animals on death row - all while Ms Smart worked fulltime as a marketing manager.
Also saved by Ms Smart's team of volunteers are dogs with behavioural issues which had been deemed too difficult to rehabilitate. Not all dogs can be, of course, but Ms Smart has seen first-hand that, in right hands, the vast majority improve dramatically.
"There's no bad breed," she says. "So many times it's the environment. It's not the dog.
"It's a big rule I enforce in my group - you don't give up on the first go. There are all these things you have to try first... and if we don't try all those things, I wouldn't be able to live with myself."
For if rescuing teaches you one thing, it's that people give up on animals far too easily.
This is startling evident in the two most common reasons people give for surrendering dogs: because they've had kids or because they're moving.
Understandably, the emotional toll and stress from running a rescue has been significant, to the point she sometimes wishes she never began CWAR. The longest break Ms Smart has since the rescue started in 2017 was a five-day-honeymoon after her wedding in 2019.
"I wake up every morning and I don't want to give up... That passion keeps you going," she says.
"[Animals] can't look after themselves, so you need to be there for them."
Plus, there's the overwhelming number of happy endings Ms Smart and her team get to hear about when the new families of the animals they saved get in touch to give updates; success stories they get to enjoy with the knowledge they were responsible for them.
"That's the reward," Ms Smart says happily.
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