When Melissa Nolan started Misspits Rescue in 2013, it was focused on saving pit bulls.
Eight years later, in addition to pit bulls, Nolan’s farm near Oakville is home to cows, goats, sheep, pigs, fowl and other breeds of dogs. But she kept the Misspits name because it still fits with the goal of the non-profit.
“We’re about all the misfits and the misunderstood animals,” she said.
A vegan for more than 20 years, Nolan said her compassion for animals led her to the field of animal rescue. She started out volunteering for Forgotten Dogs Rescue and then the Kitsap County Humane Society. Her motivation to strike out on her own started when she was offered the chance to adopt a pit bull that was on its way to the animal shelter. She explained that at that time, pit bulls were immediately euthanized at animal shelters because of their reputation for aggressive behavior. By taking the dog, she saved its life. And the one-on-one experience with the breed motivated her to want to save more of them.
“Pit bulls have a way of making people advocate for the breed,” Nolan explained.
When she began Misspits, Nolan lived in a residential neighborhood in Gig Harbor and knew she would need to move to a larger property to be able to rescue animals while not getting complaints from neighbors. Four years ago, she purchased the 13-acre property in Oakville still intending to do dog rescues but knowing the extra acreage would allow her to expand her offerings.
“What I wasn’t expecting is the need is so great for farm animal rescue that it almost immediately took over everything,” Nolan said. “I still rescue dogs, primarily pit bulls, but it kind of evolved into a sanctuary.”
Every animal at the Oakville area sanctuary is a rescue and none are purchased. Many of the dogs come from shelters that have reached capacity or families that have a serious hardship that makes keeping their dog impossible. Some farm animals have been surrendered by their owners, such as the case of Luka the Scottish Highland bull who was bought by a family as a pet and then grew too big for them to handle anymore. Several dairy cows, such as the rambunctious calf, Grace, were bred at dairy farms to induce mother cows to produce milk, but then were unneeded in the adult stock.
And still others in both categories end up at the farm as a result of animal neglect or cruelty cases. Nolan has a good working relationship with sheriff’s office deputies, who often call her when they have a case where she might be able to help. She said she is grateful that deputies allow her to be part of a positive solution for the animals, but it is often emotionally difficult to be part of these cases.
“It’s terrible to go to a place where dogs are kept in closets or where the horse literally had the skeleton of another horse in the pasture with them,” Nolan said.
While farm animals live out the rest of their natural lives at Misspits, they attempt to rehome the dogs and puppies. At 13 acres, Nolan said she’s a fairly small operation compared to other sanctuaries, which can be hundreds of acres. But she is a firm believer that if she wants to see animal cruelty change, she has to create a place for the animals to go. Adopting out dogs not only allows her to find loving homes for these animals but it allows her to give people a glimpse into what a sanctuary does.
“My hope is to take what I am able to do, what I can do for animals, and let people see them with the dogs being the bridge,” she said.
Before being adopted, dogs and puppies are all vaccinated and spayed or neutered, if needed. They are allowed to become healthy and to play and get socialized before being adopted. And they’re willing to wait. Nolan said they have had dogs stay with them as long as five years before they found the right home for them. Misspits has a rather lengthy application process that includes references and a home visit. Nolan said they are usually looking for families that: use positive (non-fear, non-pain training techniques); have a living situation with no breed restrictions (some Homeowners Associations or apartment complexes restrict so called “bully breeds”); and have a veterinarian lined up for regular care. If everything checks out, the family is invited out to the farm to meet the dogs. Nolan explained that families cannot just choose the dog they think is cutest, but are assisted by Misspits volunteers to find a dog with a personality that meshes well with the family members.
“We find almost always people have one dog in mind and they end up picking a different one or a puppy picks them,” Nolan said.
As a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Misspits Rescue is always in need of donations and volunteers. Volunteer Saturdays are offered a few times each month but Nolan said the lion’s share of the work still ends up falling on her, which is sometimes difficult because she also works from home to support herself. Nolan said social media has been a great tool for her to raise both awareness and money for the rescue. So often, though, that tool comes at the price of having people disparage the work of the rescue, Nolan noted.
“Just people not thinking things through. Just assuming the worst things,” she said. “If I didn’t have this I think I would sign off social media.”
Nolan said the irony of having people assume terrible things about the rescue is that she is extremely interested in welcoming people to come see what they are all about. For about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most group gatherings, Misspits rescue held public events such as barn open houses and cow socials. She said she hopes to bring those events back soon when they are allowed. For Nolan, her original love for the misunderstood pit bull breed is also a large driver for her desire to welcome the public to the farm. She credits rescues that took in pit bulls and socialized them with changing the public’s perception of the pit bull and changing rules that automatically euthanized the breed. Nolan said she thinks other animals could be helped by the same methods.
For instance, she said cock fighting is a large problem in Washington state right now. Most of the birds seized in busts are euthanized but Nolan has several former fighters on her property and said they can safely be rescued.
“Like the pit bull, that’s being changed because sanctuaries are showing people how nice they can be, how friendly they are,” she said.
Find Misspits Rescue at @misspits.rescue.wa on Facebook or @misspitsrescue on Instagram or email email@example.com
Donations and purchases to benefit the rescue can be made at linktr.ee/misspitsrescue or donors can purchase items off the Misspits wish lists on Chewy.com and Amazon.com