Sonya King still gets quizzical looks when she explains that her animal rescue organization is a faith-based ministry. Her answer is that all of God’s creatures must be cared for and protected and that through serving animals she can be a witness to people. “God can use everything to connect with someone, to develop a connection, to build a relationship. The opportunities are right in front of us,” she said. “I can tell you story after story of how our animal rescues have shared the love of God with others.”
Two by Two Rescue. Two by Two Rescue operates out of Helena, Ala., and is run with the mission to save unwanted, abused, and abandoned animals. Founder and owner King operates her work with the promise that all possible animals will be served, and that none of them will be killed. King, who first attended college with the plan to be a broadcaster and then ended up with a law degree, felt God’s calling to start an animal rescue after seeing the proliferation of stray dogs in the community. She began picking up stray dogs one by one, feeling compelled to “do something with the struggling dogs in the area.”
At the time, then Helena Mayor Sonny Penhale told King that there wasn’t anyone who wanted to care for the stray animals in the community; the town didn’t even have an animal control service. King began as a volunteer, and then Penhale encouraged her to do it in a more official manner; she agreed, but she had to go by the rules she felt so strongly about based on her faith. “I said, every animal lives. And he said okay,” she recalled. “That was 20 years ago.” Today, Two by Two rescues not just dogs but also cats, horses, and other animals and its services stretch into 24 states other than Alabama. King and her volunteers get donations from around the world. “When people call us from Mobile or Huntsville, or other states, we take that as a high compliment, because it says something about our integrity,” King said. “We do as much as we can with the resources we have.”
At the time of its inception, Two by Two was one of the very first cities in the state to offer a no-kill policy. More cities and communities have followed that lead, but King said that animal shelter euthanasia is sadly still common and generally accepted. The way societies–cities, states, and nations–care for their animals says a lot about their priorities, King said. There are many improvements still needed in Alabama, she said, and she does her best to raise awareness of the issue. “I honestly wish our services weren’t needed, and that’s my dream and prayer that the Lord would change the way we treat animals,” she said. “We need our government to realize that we need fair, basic laws to protect our animals. It’s about being a good steward.”
The animals rescued by Two by Two come from a wide variety of places–and King said they don’t say no to any of them. They receive calls from law enforcement about animals, or someone will simply call or email that a dog is running up the road. Families in crisis, who’ve experienced a death or a divorce, will call because they have an animal that can no longer be cared for. Some requests for help have come in simply because King or a staff member has worn a Two by Two t-shirt at dinner and it started a conversation about an animal in need. “We’ve had people tell us they have a financial issue where they could either pay for their dog or pay for medicine for a spouse,” King said. “Unfortunately, when we say we’ve seen and heard it all, it’s true.” Two by Two offers care and takes the financial burden in most situations. “If we have, for example, a veterinarian come in with an animal whose care can’t be paid for, we will pay for the care or they will relinquish the animal to us,” King said. “We can’t say no to animals in need. Thankfully, we have a lot of great volunteers and supporters.”
Two by Two also offers foster opportunities, and King stressed that they always need volunteers for this program. Fostering involves bringing abandoned animals into the homes of volunteers who care for them until a permanent home can be found; all the costs of fostering (food, bedding, vet care, etc.) are taken care of by Two by Two. “We believe that a home is where the animal should be, and we also like to know our animals first. See how they are with children, things like that,” King said. “Foster parents are there to supply love and security, and we need those volunteers.” King said she sometimes marvels at how she went from her original life plans to directing an animal rescue with such a huge scope. She believes ultimately, though, it goes back to her belief that God desires mercy and care for His creation. “The Lord has placed a mantle of justice on me,” she said. “It started first with my interest in law, when I thought I was going to go after the bad guys. But I know now He was pointing me in this direction.”
Christ-Centered Work. King grew up as a preacher’s kid and has always felt led to live out her Christian faith; she said that, although she didn’t realize it, her calling to work with animals came from God at a young age. She still has a photo of herself at just 7-years-old, when she brought home her first stray dog. “That’s where it’s totally a God thing,” she recalled. “Back then we didn’t have cell phones to take pictures, but someone snapped a photo of me and this big black dog with me. It was the start of it all.” She named her animal rescue after the story of Noah in the Bible, and she follows Biblical principles in her work. “Noah obeyed God’s voice, and that story tells us that the Lord values creatures. If He wasn’t concerned about them, He wouldn’t have made them a priority,” she said. “The breath of all creatures comes from God, that includes us as humans, but also all creatures.” She also points to Jesus’ own words to minister to “the least of these” and stresses that it can apply to any of God’s creatures that are not given priority in society. King often gets the opportunity to share her vision with others, and she said that other Christians often question her about her work. They haven’t stopped to consider, she said, that work with and for animals is a mission in and of itself– and that it can lead to other ministry opportunities.
The work of Two by Two does just that- often extending a helping hand to owners who need help. The group recently responded to a woman standing in front of her house with a basket of puppies and a “Free” sign. She sobbed about the fact that her husband had just left her and her son, and she no longer had the money to care for her pets; she couldn’t pay for her son to play little league baseball, and she didn’t even have money to pay her electricity bill. “We told her we’d take care of the puppies, but we’d also get her electricity turned on and sponsor her son’s baseball season,” King said. “We were able to love on that family in that dark moment.” She and her volunteers have also heard from non-believers who were witnessed to because of Two by Two’s work. King said that she recently received an email from a man who’d scheduled his suicide, but then saw how the rescue group had taken care of his animal. She and the man–who was an atheist–became friends, and he gave his life to God. “He saw that we were able to save the dog, and not send it off to be killed. He said he’d give his life another day,” King remembered. “We were opposites, in our personality and politics and more. But when it came to dogs, he softened. He’s become a champion for us,” she says.
“We truly believe this is a ministry,” she said. “Your work and ministry are often right in front of you. Use your passion to serve others, and God can do great things.”
Save the Date for Barktoberfest!
Two by Two animal rescue will sponsor its annual Barktoberfest on Sunday, October 30, at the Amphitheater at Buck Creek in Old Town Helena from 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Activities include food trucks, items for sale, veterinary clinic, dogs to adopt, a dog park, vaccinations, family picture with dogs, owner-and-doggie costume contest, and entertainment. Two by Two owner Sonya King said that the annual festival is an effective way to get the word about their work, but also is fun for dog owners. She encourages anyone who has adopted to come to the event and celebrate at the alumni booth. “We’d love for you to come over after church, and bring your dogs with you,” she said.