Highland News Leader

Highland woman helps animals displaced by fires in Tennessee

Michelle Dorsey considers her animals to be like her children, she said that in times of disaster animals should not be the last thing that we think of but they often are. Her animals were what inspired her to give back and get involved with the Southern Emergency Animal Response Unit.
Michelle Dorsey considers her animals to be like her children, she said that in times of disaster animals should not be the last thing that we think of but they often are. Her animals were what inspired her to give back and get involved with the Southern Emergency Animal Response Unit. Courtesy photo

Inspired by her love for animals, including her own pets, Michelle Dorsey embarked on a mission recently. The goal: to help animals displaced by the wildfires that burned in eastern Tennessee last November.

“I have animals of my own,” Dorsey said. “I would be devastated if anything happened to any of them.”

According to Dorsey, she sees her animals as her own children. When she saw a Facebook post by the Southern Emergency Animal Response Unit (SEARU), an animal disaster relief organization, urging volunteers to help their “fellow horse neighbors” in eastern Tennessee, she knew she had to act.

Shortly after responding to the ad, Dorsey volunteered her time by making phone calls and speaking with local media outlets. She also started a donation drive, setting up drop-off centers at the Highland Police Department and Rural King stores in Highland and Swansea.

Dorsey has collected lead ropes, halters, countless bags of dog and cat food, horse feed, 400 bails of hay and has even received donations from people living in Florida and Canada. While Dorsey has received some large donations, she said that each donation is meaningful.

“No donation is bigger than another,” Dorsey said. “It is all about people opening up their hearts to others in their time of need.”

Using money out of her own pocket, Dorsey made a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on Dec. 20. There, she dropped off a U-Haul full of donations to the Douglas Lake View Stables. Dorsey’s three children and mother also came along for the ride.

“She’s been wonderful,” Autumn Hardcastle, owner of the Douglas Lakeview Stables said. “She has helped get the word out, to get the donations out and helped so many people through the donations she received.”

The Douglas Lake View Stables volunteered with the SEARU to take in animals displaced by the fire. Among the animals relocated was a pony named “Heaven,” which Dorsey fell in love with.

According to Dorsey, Heaven is a therapy pony that belongs to a young girl in the area who has autism. Dorsey said that Heaven was caught in the fire and almost lost an eye, but now the pony is doing fine now.

The stable has a total of 15 horses and is boarding a number of cats and dogs without homes as well.

“We want to thank everybody up there for all the help they have done its been wonderful,” Hardcastle said.

According to Dorsey the people of Gatlinburg still seem like they have everything under control and even were able to put up their Christmas display.

“They are strongly, strongly spirited people,” Dorsey said.

While Dorsey has dropped off the majority of donations collected, she is still looking for volunteers to help deliver the 300 bails of hay that she has yet to take to Gatlinburg. If anyone is looking to make further donations, Dorsey said to contact the Highland Police Department and to ask to get in contact with her.

For all of her efforts with helping the animals displaced by the wildfires, the SEARU made Dorsey their chairperson for the state of Illinois.

“I am one person trying to do this,” Dorsey said. “Without my family I would not have been able to.”

Dorsey is planning to keep working with SEARU and is planning a trip back to Gatlinburg in the summer.

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