WARSAW — There isn’t always one defining moment that shapes a person into who they’ve become, but rather an accumulation of moments over time combined with the inherent nature of a person. Having always been raised with dogs, animal-loving runs through the veins of 57-year-old Suzanne Abel, Warsaw. Life has led her to build a nonprofit rescue, One Dog at a Time Rescue, which she kept going while battling cancer.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago,” explained Abel. “Then they told me I had metastatic breast cancer. It spread everywhere, into my bones and liver. It was scary. The oncologist told me that if I didn’t start treatments, I’d have four months to live. I was in charge of all these things like the spay-neuter-transport to Fort Wayne and taking food to Combined Community Services for clients to have pet food. I didn’t know what my future was going to be like so I said that somebody else was going to have to start taking over.”
ODTR formed in 2010 from local volunteers who wanted to do something better to help the animals and community. With only six volunteers, the rescue is foster home-based without a public facility. About 530 dogs have been given homes and several members of the community are thankful for the effort ODTR puts in to helping them. It’s Abel’s full-time position whereas other volunteers have full-time jobs, making it difficult for her to delegate responsibilities while getting treated.
“Everybody said they couldn’t do it,” said Abel. “I realized that if I don’t continue, the rescue is going to die. So I had to do what I had to do. I think knowing the rescue would die if I didn’t continue was a huge motivator. Plus my husband, Bob. He’s my rock. You really can’t do rescue work if you don’t have the support from home. He helps with it and goes on home visits with me.”
Life revolves the rescue as well as assisting other local rescues. Abel will never be considered cancer-free as she has to continue treatments and check-ups regularly for the rest of her life, but it hasn’t taken her away from her true passion. There are always struggles to overcome and odds to beat. Everyone carries those with them but the attitude maintained in the face of hardship reveals the true essence of someone.
In the face of something that threatened to take her away before she was ready, Abel fortified and wore strength like armor. Cornering cancer into a back-alley brawl hardened her resiliency. Her family has always seen her as a strong woman but during the past year she made sure to look as healthy as she could for her sons so they wouldn’t worry. Keeping a sense of humor in rough situations has led her to hold a positive perspective on life and keep walking forward.
Abel earned her bachelor’s degree from IPFW at 45-years-old in organizational leadership and supervision that has helped with running a nonprofit organization like ODTR.
“Everything I do is pretty much animal-based,” she added. “I love them so it’s very rewarding to keep doing this. I think I found my passion. Starting the rescue was something I wanted to do but put-off. Now that it’s running, I have no regrets. I enjoy what I do and don’t think I’m missing out on anything.”