MADISONVILLE, TX--This week the Madison County Commissioners released their preliminary budget proposal for next year, including an allowance for a non-profit animal rescue.

Over the last few years Rufus Refuge has taken in hundreds of stray animals, and they’re hoping the county will help them with increasing costs.

Dawn Knight found a stray dog a few years ago.

“He was in really bad shape. He found a little hole to just lay down and die in,” said Knight. “He was covered in maggots and had been a bait dog,” she added.

Knight named him Rufus, and after nursing him back to health, she opened her eyes to what she says is a problem with stray dogs and cats in Madison County.

“It is rampant. People are irresponsible pet owners,” said Knight.

That’s when she started the animal rescue, Rufus Refuge, named after the dog she saved.

“I thought we’d take of this right away. We’d get the dogs off the streets and we’d find them homes, get them vetted, and we’d be done,” said Knight.

However, that little project turned into a mission, and the cases kept pouring in to them.

Knight said she’s seen some very severe cases.

“They’re all miracles,” said Knight.

Those miracles are in the hundreds. Knight said Rufus Refuge has rescued over 600 cats and dogs in Madison County, in only two years.

They take the animals in, get them veterinary care, find fosters, and eventually find them forever homes.

That’s why Knight has asked Madison County for help. The vet bills are mounting, even though they receive donations and reduced rates from local vets.

Madison County Judge C.E. “Butch” McDaniel said he appreciates their efforts and passion, but with a tight budget, other issues are more important.

“I’m not saying it’s not a good cause. We’ve got other concerns we have to deal with that are maybe on a higher priority level than Rufus Refuge,” said Judge McDaniel. “If we had plenty of money, it wouldn’t be an issue,” he added.

Plus, Judge McDaniel said people in the county aren’t on board with it either.

“I’ve had frankly more calls telling me, ‘Judge we don’t want to spend taxpayer money to do that,’” said Judge McDaniel.

He does admit though, that there’s no other program in Madison County to get strays off the street.

The City of Madisonville has an animal control officer, and Officer Ellie Haynes said she stays pretty busy.

“It is overwhelming. Our shelter is full all of the time. We almost never have vacancies,” said Officer Haynes. “It’s like a cycling door- one goes out, one comes in,” she added.

And many of those are heart-wrenching cases.

Officer Haynes remembers one dog, “almost the entire left side of her face was just gone.”

“I don’t know how she survived,” she added.

Officer Haynes said a spay and neuter program would help decrease the number of stray dogs and cats.

“I feel like if people would start to get their pets spayed and neutered we’d have a lot less of a problem,” said Officer Haynes.

Knight has been to Commissioner’s Court over the last few months, asking for help with implementing a spay and neuter program in the county.

“Rufus Refuge feels that a low cost spay and neuter program would be a way to resolve this long-term,” said Knight.

Judge McDaniel said that money is tight. However, they have allotted some funds to help; $1,000 a year has been allocated for Rufus Refuge in their preliminary budget for next year.

Knight says, however, that’s not enough. Even though she feels the community should be more accountable, her mission will go on, saving one stray at a time in Madison County.

“It’s a great feeling to save one of them, to get them placed in happy homes where they are loved,” said Knight.

“They deserve that,” she added.

For more information on Rufus Refuge, you can visit their website or Facebook page.