Kay Stahl-Schwarzlose just won’t let an animal suffer – not on her watch.
Whether it’s an elderly dog with a terminal condition, a bird orphaned in a drug raid, or a ferret lost in the underbrush, Schwarzlose, 56, takes them in, loves them, and reaches out to her network of resources to find forever homes.
“I think that God gave us everything on Earth,” Schwarzlose said. “It’s our duty to care for the Earth and everything on it.”
Raised the fifth child of seven on a small ranch in Comal Town near the site of today’s Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in New Braunfels, Schwarzlose remembers a pastoral childhood, wading horses in the Comal River, and enjoying the town at its most idyllic.
“I was pretty fortunate to grow up the way I did,” Schwarzlose said.
She inherited her love of animals from her father, James Rahe Sr., a civil servant who worked in San Antonio and often picked up strays on the side of the highway on his way home. At one point, she remembers having 25 dogs.
Her mother, Marjorie (Brietzke) Rahe, helped raise the family menagerie (including seven children), as well as Blue, a blue jay that lived in the house and would pick from dinner plates when hungry or sip from milk glasses of the children, Schwarzlose said.
And today in her own home off Highway 46 in New Braunfels, Schwarzlose carries on the family tradition with her own cacophony of voices — from barking pups to squeaking guinea pigs and even a colorful macaw that likes to imitate phone conversations.
The first animal you’ll meet, though, is a gentle pooch that looks swollen with puppies. But Buddy, a medium-sized mixed breed, instead suffers from an enlarged heart. Schwarzlose saved him from euthanization and spends a hefty sum each month for medications that mitigate the dog’s condition but won’t ever cure him.
And because Buddy is not long for the world, Schwarzlose simply gives him all the love she can while he’s here, she said.
“I don’t need to go shopping or out to eat,” Schwarzlose said scratching the dog’s ear and looking into his eager, dinner plate eyes. “We’ll spend the money on Buddy.”
Retired from a career in commercial banking with Chase in New Braunfels, Schwarzlose is a mother of two grown children — Travis, 35, and Summer, 25. With the support of her husband Jeff Schwarzlose she makes a full-time mission of her work with animals. The two married in 2008 shortly after Schwarzlose’s first husband and 30-year partner in rescuing animals, Jeff Stahl, passed away.
“If it involves an animal — furs, feathers or hooves — we get involved,” Schwarzlose said.
She spends roughly $600 per month on food alone to take care of her revolving menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters, ferrets, pot-bellied pigs, chickens, and even wild animals such as deer, possum, javelina pigs, or even bobcats.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” Schwarzlose said.
She’s never met a dog that was too aggressive, for example, but said it is a delicate balance when working with a new animal to find their triggers and thresholds as she tries to reintegrate and find them a new home.
“Any time you’ve got a big dog, you have to be responsible and keep them under control,” she said.
The worst bite she got was from a kitten cornered under a photocopy machine, and she’s never seen a case of rabies in any animal.
While many people don’t think she has “all of her marbles in her head,” she has one simple motivation: “It’s cuz I love the animals,” Schwarzlose said.
She has a network of fellow “rescuers” who communicate mostly via Facebook to share resources.
She keeps desperate cases such as Buddy, or elderly animals that no one will adopt. The rest are on their way somewhere, either via an area shelter or program.
Cats are a particular challenge, though. More difficult to rehome, many cats become feral and impossible to handle.
“When cats have an established area, they don’t want any others in their area and they’ll run ‘em off,” she said, so it is vital to spay or neuter the animals and return them to their territory.
She’s a member of the New Braunfels Community Cat Coalition and supports recent efforts by the Humane Society of the New Braunfels Area.
The wild animals she rescues, from docile deer to aggressive bobcats, often wind up at Wildlife Rescue and Rehabiliation, which boasts a 300-acre ranch near Kendalia where wild animals can roam.
“It’s a lot of hard, dirty work,” Schwarzlose said of her efforts. “Who wants to go pick up big piles of dog turds all the day long?”
But Schwarzlose is overwhelmed by the number of animals still being euthanized in some shelters and vehemently echoes Bob Barker (and now Drew Carey) of Price is Right fame when she implores people to: “Please be responsible pet owners and spay and neuter your animals.”
Then there are those who profit from the problem, Schwarzlose said. For every legitimate dog breeding professional there are scores of unethical and greedy breeders who propagate inferior animals in poor conditions, then sell them for a few dollars in front of shopping malls.
Irresponsible pet owners advance the cycle of neglect by getting that “Christmas Puppy” they simply leave in a backyard, only to later dump the animal onto some rural tract to breed with other abandoned animals.
“The big thing that has to happen is community involvement,” Schwarzlose said, and that starts with responsible education and community-wide support of local shelters.
“Every once in a while I get tired,” Schwarzlose said. And while she wouldn’t mind a house without dog hair all over the furniture, she wonders what would happen to that next animal in need.
“Whatya do? Let ‘em die?” she asked, holding Buddy close to her side. Not on her watch.