To the rescue

Neighbors: Profiles of our community

Volunteer animal emergency responders Suzanne Burry and Dennis Burns, pictured here with their rescue dogs (from left) Peanut, Dofi and Buster, are the heart and soul of Valley Isle Animal Rescue. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

Untangling a horse caught in a wire fence. Rappelling into a gulch to find a missing dog. Freeing a wild pig stuck in a septic tank.

It’s all in a night’s work for Suzanne Burry and Dennis Burns, the founders of Valley Isle Animal Rescue.

The couple started the nonprofit not long after they moved to Maui in 2008. At the time, the Maui Humane Society had suspended its after-hours emergency service due to funding cuts. Burry and Burns had previously run an animal rescue and sanctuary in San Diego, so they stepped up to fill the void.

The Maui Humane Society has since reinstated its 24-hour, seven-day-a-week animal response service; Valley Isle Animal Rescue will respond to calls if the Maui Humane Society is not available.

For more than a decade, Burry and Burns have come to the aid of lost, trapped or injured cats, dogs, horses, pigs, goats, ducks — any type of animal in need. They are often first on the scene of an animal-involved accident or emergency (particularly in locations the humane society can’t get to as quickly) and will immediately transport badly hurt animals to a veterinarian for treatment.

The husband-and-wife team routinely helps pets, livestock and wildlife get out of sticky situations — in gulches, fences, and yes, even septic tanks. They also care for abandoned animals, reunite lost pets with their owners and take part in search-and-rescue efforts. (They have their own drone, and if the situation calls for it, there’s a team of volunteer rappellers on speed dial.)

Valley Isle Animal Rescue is a two-person operation, but the couple works closely with the Maui Humane Society, Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation, Maui Pitbull Rescue and the East Maui Animal Refuge (aka, the Boo Boo Zoo).

Burns says his weeks are filled with highs and lows.

“It’s a rewarding business to be in, but also a heartbreaking business to be in,” he said. “You have to take the good with the bad.”

And he says the good always outweighs the bad.

“There are so many happy things that keep us going,” he said.

“Labor of love” may be an oft-used phrase, but it perfectly summarizes what Burry and Burns do day in, day out. It’s a round-the-clock commitment. Calls come in at all hours, and Burns says he’s lost track of how many times he’s been rousted out of bed in the middle of the night.

But even if they had the chance, he and Burry wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s something we chose to do,” he said. “Does it hamper your life? Yes. Does it change your life for the better? Absolutely.”

You can help Burns and Burry continue their lifesaving work by making a donation in any amount to Valley Isle Animal Rescue. Donations will help cover operating costs and veterinary care for sick or injured animals. Checks can be made out to Valley Isle Animal Rescue and mailed to P.O. Box 695, Makawao, HI 96768.

If you encounter a loose pet, Burns says to safely contain it and call the Maui Humane Society or Valley Isle Animal Rescue any time of the day at 463-4194. If you encounter a wounded animal, call either organization, and if possible, stay with it so it can be easily located by first responders.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Valley-Isle-Animal-Rescue-167858386596767.

n Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at missruppenthal@gmail.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.


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