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Metro Detroit

Supporting the rescues that save lives

Guardians for Animals makes holiday appeal

December 13, 2013

METRO DETROIT — It all began in a drug house in a remote Ohio town more than 30 years ago. Late one night, Alexandria Whitney heard from a friend in law enforcement that a drug dealer had abandoned his hideout and left behind a lioness he had been breeding for profit. He had fled from the police, but not before shooting the lioness.

A lifelong lover of animals, Whitney showed up to do what she could, caring for the lioness until the cat passed away. It was all she could do, with no vet in the area.

Three cubs were holed up with the lioness. They were also thought to be dead — until someone saw a tiny foot move. In the end, Whitney was able to save one of them.

Whitney says this moment shaped her destiny. In that moment, she knew her calling. She went on to start Guardians for Animals, and GFA continues to save lives today.

GFA will be celebrating 10 years this February. The nonprofit network provides funding, resources and support to 20 no-kill rescues in Southeast Michigan.

Together, the rescues save animals on death row in shelters across the state. Close to 700 animals are in foster care through GFA affiliates. Last year, they saved 3,421 animals — a number Whitney can recite by heart. Each life saved is a hard-earned victory. 

Sometimes, victory is fleeting. Whitney points to the case of Angel, a kitten born with numerous medical problems, including a birth defect resulting in six ears. A GFA affiliate rescued her and tended to her needs, but she still passed away after 10 weeks.

But in those 10 weeks, Angel was happy.

“Some groups focus on the puppies and kittens, because everyone wants them and they turn over so easily. But we want the maimed, the elderly, the disfigured — we want those animals that no one else wants, because we believe every animal should experience love and hope before they die,” Whitney said.

“In the case of Angel, she was going to be euthanized without ever being held by a human and knowing the joy of life,” she said. “We rescued her, and we had high hopes of getting her far beyond 10 weeks, but it wasn’t meant to be. But if I were to put that cat on your lap, she would immediately begin to purr and want to play. Any person with a heart would fall in love with her.”

Now Angel’s legacy lives on as GFA’s “Ambassador for the Forgotten.” Purchasing an Angel pin from the GFA website,, or a participating PETCO location will help GFA help animals like Angel who are in need. All proceeds go to the animals, and GFA has the connections to stretch the value of every dollar, providing food and supplies and medical care.

“GFA helped us get started,” said Melanie Wittner, founder of A Hopeful Heart Animal Rescue, based out of Roseville. “Alex (Whitney) helped me out with cages and crates so we could take more animals in; she helped us pay for vet bills, and got us tons of food and flea medication — enough to protect the whole rescue from them spreading.

“And it’s really nice she sets up adoption events that help our animals find homes,” Wittner added. “One event she did was the Clawson Dog Walk, outside of Roseville. Eight of our dogs got adopted.”

There are so many animals in need. Lost homes and lack of spaying/neutering has landed around 10 million animals in shelters across the country, fewer than half of which will be adopted. Many more would be put down, if not for the efforts of groups like GFA and A Hopeful Heart Animal Rescue.

The holidays see an uptick in adoptions, Wittner said, but it’s far outweighed by the number of strays brought in from the cold and by the number of people who simply give up their animals around the holidays.

On Thanksgiving morning, Wittner and her young son went out to a residence in Roseville to pick up a guinea pig someone had abandoned in a woodpile. It had been surviving off frozen apples fallen from a tree in the yard, burrowing into the woodpile for warmth. Guinea pigs are warm-weather creatures, though, so its prospects weren’t great. Luckily, Wittner was able to rescue it.

Wittner said she doesn’t understand how someone could abandon a pet like that. She and Whitney prefer the term “pet parent” to “pet owner.”

“When you own something, it’s yours and it’s disposable. But when you’re a parent, you nurture it, you grow it, you give it everything you have,” Wittner said. “These animals are smart enough to know the difference between when they’re owned and when they’re loved.”

Whitney said it’s the goal of all GFA affiliates to help all animals — even those that no one else will take, and even those that aren’t expected to live long.

“No matter how brief the encounter, we have to do what we can to help them feel love and hope, even if it’s just a short amount of time,” Whitney said. “What we gain as humans is the satisfaction that we put ourselves out there and did what we could to help them feel love and hope. And you never know: The vet may say the animal only has a week, but then they’re around six or seven years. So we can’t play God — we just have to do what we can to give it a chance.”

For more information about Guardians for Animals, including how to purchase an Angel pin or make a monetary contribution, call (248) 457-8024 or visit their website,

Angel pins are also available at the PETCO locations in Troy, Warren, Sterling Heights, Chesterfield, Roseville and Auburn Hills.

About the author

Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski covers Madison Heights, Hazel Park, Madison District Public Schools, Lamphere Public Schools and Hazel Park Public Schools for the Madison-Park News.


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