Paige Johnson has always been a visionary – at first, maybe a little too much of one.
“When I was very little, I thought I would have a farm full of elephants – an exotic animal sanctuary. I thought there might be miniature elephants by the time I was old enough to do it, and I wanted those, too. I was probably six years old!” Paige recalled, laughing at the thought. “Growing up a little bit, reality sank in, and I realized there would be no miniature elephants and no elephant sanctuary!”
But that didn’t mean Paige, now 32, still didn’t think big. She got hooked on horses and went on to compete at the international levels of show jumping, training with the likes of the legendary Bill Maroney and Joe Fargis – as well as the growing legend that is Kent Farrington – and successfully competing both stateside and abroad.
"I wanted to help give dogs a voice..."
But while fully immersed in a business-oriented industry where horses change hands often, Paige isn’t afraid to remain a self-proclaimed “horse collector.” Her junior jumpers and first grand prix mounts return to her farm in The Plains, VA, to live out their days. The desire to give animals a safe haven and a forever home has now transferred to a smaller four-legged species – of the canine variety.
“I’m the person that cries watching the Lion King when Mufasa dies,” Paige said. “I have a huge love and respect for animals; I love them more than anything. I wanted to help give dogs a voice and do more. If I could save all the animals in need, I would.”
Paige has been working to establish “Their Voice Rescue,” a non-profit 501(c)(3) animal rescue, for the past two years. Focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming high-risk dogs from kill shelters around the country, the rescue is now up-and-running in Delaplane, VA.
“When I do something, I do it all the way – 100 percent,” Paige said. “I’d been donating [to different charities] for a while, including the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you can ‘foster’ an animal like an elephant or rhino. Money goes a long way, but at some point, I wanted to do something more hands-on.”
Paige and a dog from Their Voice Rescue
Paige, who is also an EQUUStar through the Equus Foundation, thus began researching how she could help animals in her area. A dog lover as much as a horse lover, she received advice from friend, fellow show jumper and active dog rescue advocate Georgina Bloomberg on how to best help canines in need.
“Georgina gave me a lot of helpful advice,” Paige said. “That’s my girl! I see what she does, and she inspires me. I thought, ‘What can I do?’ I’m in Virginia and can actually have a facility. I can do something.”
The search for the perfect property was perhaps the most difficult part of the endeavor. After the acquisition of one land parcel fell through, another larger piece of real estate finally revealed itself in November. Their Voice Rescue is now based on 50 lush acres.
“We have a good team right now,” Paige said. “The dogs look amazing and are so happy.”
Peanut – Chiweenie, 7 months
What started as just a single family home and lots of land has now been developed with kennels built by Horizon Structures of Chester County, PA, ironically located near Harrisburg’s Pennsylvania National Horse Show. Doggie residents are evaluated by vets, go for leashed walks, and have play time with both humans and their rescue companions, running in the open spaces of the fields and getting wet ‘n wild in kiddie pools. Currently, eight dogs are enjoying the premises, with seven ready for adoption (Paige started with 12 dogs, and three have already been adopted). Paige hopes to gradually expand the size and scope of her operation to accommodate 30 dogs at a time.
“It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work"
“We’re allowed to have up to 30 dogs to start with our first license. I hope to steadily grow to that number,” Paige explained. “It’s really important to me that each dog gets the individual care and attention it needs, and we’ll gradually hire more people.”
Petey – Boxer, 7 months
Paige communicates with other dog rescue organizations and shelters and scouts out dogs that she thinks will best fit in Their Voice Rescue’s program – temperament plays a big role. She likes to seek out kill shelters in financially unstable areas to rescue the most at-risk dogs, which are then transported north to Delaplane. A recent rescue was done through the Tri-State Pet Rescue in Georgia – the experience brought Paige a sense of reward she had never before experienced.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding work. You can’t give up. What we want to be is an amazing layover location for dogs until they can find a forever home. Seeing them get adopted is a ‘Yes!’ moment. It gets me thinking about what might have happened if we didn’t get to them. They all deserve that chance.”
To learn more or inquire about adopting from Their Voice Rescue, visit theirvoicerescue.org.
Photos courtesy of Megan Weckter and Their Voice Rescue.
Written by Catie Staszak
Catie Staszak can typically be found doing one of three things: talking about horses, writing about horses, or riding horses. A broadcast analyst and journalist at FEI competitions, she spends her time traveling to shows and getting behind the microphone to break down courses and get people excited about equestrian sport. Normally spotted with her dog Omaha nearby, she's grateful to be able to combine her greatest passions into a career she loves.