Weed's Gabby Yoakum has successfully placed 14 cats and three rescued dogs in “forever homes” since January.

Gabby Yoakum pats the large square head of Mars, a grizzled pit bull who gazes back at her with calm adoration. Since the former fighting dog came to live at Gabby’s home in Weed last year, he’s become accustomed to friendly pats, a comfy bed, regular meals and people that love him.

Mars was scheduled to be euthanized at an animal shelter near Thousand Palms when Gabby saw his photo on Facebook and decided to embark on a 1,500 mile round trip to save his life.

Because Mars was most likely a “bait dog” in his senior years, used to enrage other dogs for “training” purposes, his teeth were filed down so he couldn’t bite back; his tan coat shows years of scars.

Though Mars has always been wonderful with humans, when he first came to live with Gabby he couldn’t be around kids, cats or many other dogs.

With love, patience, trust, training and time, Mars now plays and interacts with his “pack,” including cats, said Gabby, who regularly shelters animals in need through Shasta Sanctuary and Animal Rescue.

She’s successfully placed 14 cats and three rescued dogs in “forever homes” since January.

“It seems as if we find a home for one, two more are needing help and are coming here... You look into their eyes, and how can you say no?” said Gabby. “I know I can’t save them all, but I can save this one, and that one.”

Gabby’s always had a soft spot for animals in need of help. When she had to leave her job at Mercy Medical Center last year because of a disability, starting her own animal rescue and sanctuary gave her something “productive” to do.

“We have to set a healthy limit to have a manageable number,” said Gabby, who relies on help from her husband, Jason, and two children: Taylor is 19 and a student at College of the Siskiyous; Sam is a junior at Weed High.

They make sure their animals get plenty of exercise, are treated well, receive medical care when needed, and get all their shots on schedule. The animals are treated to life in a household rather than a shelter. Gabby works with each of them on basic manners to make them more adoptable.

The effort it takes to care of so many animals is significant. So is the financial impact.

The Yoakums spend $300 to $400 a month on dog and cat food. Vet bills aren’t cheap, and she ensures all the animals she adopts out are altered and up to date on immunizations.

Her main focus is finding good homes for the animals she takes in, although unadoptable animals will remain with her.

In January, Gabby got a call from a shelter in Los Angeles who had a 13 year old pit bull/mastiff who needed help and a comfortable place to live out his remaining days.

When they got there, Brock had to be carted out because he couldn’t walk, she said.

“I wasn't prepared for how sick he was nor how sweet he was despite everything he had been through,” Gabby said. “He had a swollen and infected ear and they think it was from someone throwing a brick at his head. His arthritis was so bad he couldn’t walk and had huge open sores on his legs from licking due to pain. He was a broken down and sad dog whom you could tell had lived a hard life,” said.

Gabby took Brock to the vet and got him on steroids, arthritis injections and a multitude of pain and antibiotic medications.

“Two months later and he is not the same dog he was,” said Gabby. “His favorite place to be is right by the fire on his dog bed. Although he is slow he now walks with ease and holds his head high. He loves attention and treats. He is comfortable here and will be here until he takes his last breath, I promised him that.”

There are currently three adult dogs, including Mars, and three pit bull puppies who are up for adoption at Shasta Sanctuary and Animal Rescue, as well as many cats and kittens.

Gabby requires interested owners to fill out an application, and she conducts home checks. She finds prospective owners through networking on Facebook and by word of mouth.

“It’s important to me to know where my animals are going,” she said. “It’s hard to let them go, but when I know they’re going to a good home, it makes it easier.”

Gabby has also started reaching out to the community to help people cover the cost of spaying and neutering their pets.

“We have helped five cats and their owners this year stay together by simply donating food and paying for their sterilizations,” she said.

Gabby also provides temporary shelter to animals who need a place to stay for a set amount of time.

“If I make a promise to keep an animal for a certain amount of time, I will keep that promise no matter what, even if it turns out to be difficult,” she said. “I will always give the owner their dog back. People are sometimes very concerned about that.”

While Gabby has a special place in her heart for pit bulls, which she believes get a bad rap and are usually misunderstood, her daughter has a soft spot for cats. Taylor often catches stray kittens she sees wandering around in public and works hard to return sick litters back to health.

She said kittens are the easiest to find homes for, while older dogs and pit bulls, like Mars, take more work.

“I never thought we could turn (Mars) around but he is a normal dog now who loves being outside and especially loves his daily walks,” Gabby said. “He loves kids too and does not bark much. Although is probably 10 or 11 he acts like he is two. He went from a skinny, scared, and depleted dog to a gentle giant who loves life and looks forward to adventure. What an amazing change!”

Gabby said she feels very lucky that the community has been so supportive of her and her venture.

“Without donations of food we would not be able to pay it forward and help other families with their pets,” she said.

Donations can be made to Shasta Sanctuary at 1068 North Davis Ave., Weed CA 96094.

To contact Gabby, email surviving3@live.com or call her at (530) 938-8895.

You can also find Shasta Sanctuary on Facebook.