Helser shares credit for Jefferson Award with all volunteers

LIMA — Deb’s Dogs has been around since 2007, but Debbie Helser, a Lima resident, has been rescuing animals in Allen County for 25 years.

So far, her organization, consisting of around 30 volunteers at a given time, has won two Jefferson Awards for community service, first in 2017 and now this year.

“That’s amazing,” Helser said. “But it’s not about bragging. It’s about everybody all together making this work, and we all share the passion and we all love animals. We’re like one big family.”

Helser even said that what she is looking forward to most when she is recognized at the March 28 awards ceremony is getting a chance to share her appreciation with all the volunteers that work with her to provide care to stray dogs and cats as either foster families or supporters.

“It all goes back to my volunteers because, without them, I couldn’t do this,” she said. “I just called one to go pick up a puppy that somebody found. But they are awesome. All I have to do is tell them an address and they help in every way they can.”

Helser said that rescuing animals comes naturally to her.

“I just have a heart for it,” she said. “It’s just a part of me. I don’t make a conscious decision to get up and do it, it just comes to me as naturally as breathing. I really love animals.”

Judging by the testimony collected from Helser’s nominations, plenty of community members can tell.

Page after page of testimonies touts Helser’s dedication, not just to helping animals in need around the community by returning lost pets, trapping strays and feral cats, giving them all appropriate medical care including neutering if necessary and adopting to loving families, but also to educate the community about how they can help and assisting various agencies around the counties with any problems.

“If you spend time with animals, all they ask for is love and care and, of course, food,” she said. “They bring so much more to your life. I get attached to every one of them, but rescues have such an extra sense of appreciation.”

Helser said that she is amazed further by them because they sometimes come from bad situations. Some may be emaciated or suffering from the effects of heartworms. Some animals have even been found blind from birth or with tumors.

“But we give it our best to see that they get everything they need until we can place them in a home and then sometimes the foster families will even adopt them. And that’s great with me because our ultimate goal is to find them all really good loving homes where they can live their life the way they should. All animals deserve the best that we can give them.”

Deb’s Dogs really does rely a great deal on the foster families.

“We’re a foster base so we don’t have a physical facility,” she said. “I rely on those foster homes because they take the cat or dog in and they’re treated as part of their family. And then when we put the animal up for adoption, the family can tell me particulars about them.”

Deb’s Dogs even has adoption events at Lima’s Pet Supplies Plus to get visibility for animals, which she said helps students get service hours and helps animals get better socialized with people.

“I welcome any sort of help to come and hold the dogs or cats and care for them,” she said. “And I’m very thankful that our community also supports this. I think they know what we try to accomplish and without them, we couldn’t do it.”

Anybody interested in getting involved can reach out to Helser via email or phone which can be found on the Deb’s Dogs Facebook page, as well as the organization’s website.

Helser said that all anyone really needs to help animals is love.

“It is very consuming, but you have to know entering into it that it’s not a financial thing at all,” she said. “You just have to have the heart and want to help because that’s what really matters, and you can’t give up.”

If volunteering is not an option, Deb’s Dogs, which is run entirely by donations, is always accepting monetary contributions and supplies like food or blankets. Items can be dropped off in the donation box at Pet Supplies Plus on Cable Road.

As for what people can learn from Helser’s work, she had some firm words.

“The world needs to be kinder,” she said. “Animals matter. God made us all and part of our responsibility as human beings is to help as many animals as we can.”


The Jefferson Awards honor 10 individuals for their community service. There will be an awards ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28 at the City Club in downtown Lima. At the ceremony, one of the winners will be selected to represent the region at the national Jefferson Awards dinner in Washington, D.C.

Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.