Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Mary Palmer, founder of Northcentral Maltese Rescue

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RACINE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Most of us hope to retire by the age of 77, but a woman in Racine doesn’t have any plans to slow down anytime soon. She runs the Northcentral Maltese Rescue, Inc., an organization she founded 20 years ago. In that time, she’s saved hundreds of dogs, and it’s what gets her up in the morning.

“Her name is Winnie,” Mary Palmer said, holding up her latest rescue dog. Winnie is about a year old, and was surrendered by her owner, who could no longer care for her.

Palmer recently brought Winnie to the Belle City Veterinary Hospital to see Dr. Brian Ray. It’s a visit she’s made hundreds of times.

“So is this a new one,” Dr. Ray asked as he walked into the exam room. “Show your pretty teeth.”

Palmer and Dr. Ray have developed quite the rapport over the last 15 years. At last count, she’s brought him 679 dogs. It’s the first place she goes when she rescues a new dog.

“My wife and I call her my Wisconsin mom,” he said with a laugh.

On the day we visited, Palmer had four other rescues at the vet, too. One had a skin tumor that needs to be removed. The others, including a lively black and white dog named Finn, mostly just need a check-up. Dr. Ray said most of the small rescue dogs need dental work.

“All of them need to have their mouths worked on,” he said. “We refer to the toy breeds affectionately as our swamp mouth patients.”

Whatever the story or situation, Mary is ready to help.

“This keeps me going. I get up every morning for this, and I love it,” she said.

She started Northcentral Maltese Rescue, Inc. 20 years ago.

“I used to show Maltese, and I came across a little dog that needed help,” Palmer explained. “And it just changed the whole course of everything.”

She has a binder full of newspaper clippings and photos of the dogs she’s helped over the years.

“Actually, she's been in some parades and stuff like that. She's beautiful,” she said, pointing out one dog named Rosie.

The photos and articles show the difficult beginnings and happy endings of her many success stories.

“That's myself and my granddaughter, at one point,” she said with a laugh, pointing out a photo with her granddaughter and eight small dogs.

Now, she has just two dogs at home.

“Good kids, good kids,” she said to them, making kissing noises.

Their names are Jewel and Itty Bitty.

“I always joke, if you want a pet that's going to be affectionate, it's a Maltese,” Palmer said. “If they're not with you, they want to know why.”

It does take work, and there are sad stories. Jewel came to her with ears that had been cut.

“And when she came in, she was not this friendly, lovey little dog,” she said. "It took about a year to gain her trust.”

“She loves everybody. She wants attention,” she said of Jewel now. “We let the hair grow out, because she's a little vain. She wants to look like all the other dogs.”

Itty Bitty had wire wrapped around her front leg, which had to be amputated. Now, she gets around just fine, with a little hop and an impish grin. Both dogs are as friendly as can be.

“They snuggle in bed and want to go where I go,” Palmer said.

That’s what Mary wants for all of the dogs she’s rescued.

“The reward is in the end when I adopt them out and I see them go to wonderful homes and people tell me how happy they are with them and everything, and that's what it's about,” She explained.

One of those success stories belongs to Dick Myer’s dog, Lily.

“A lot of love. Lily is full of love,” he said with a smile.

Lily started out as his foster dog, but it quickly became permanent.

“Unfortunately, we were foster failures,” Myers said. “We fell in love with her and when Mary said, I found another home for Lily, we said no! We can't give her up.”

Just like Palmer can’t give up rescuing dogs.

“I'm going tell you, I'm 77 years old, and my kids will say, mom, it's time,” she said. “And I say to them, what am I going do?”

Myers has known Mary and worked with the rescue for years. He expects she’ll keep doing what she loves.

“She does have a lot of fight. She goes to bat for the dogs,” Myers said. “She fights for the rescue tooth and nail.”

For more information on the Northcentral Maltese Rescue, just visit http://malteserescue.homestead.com.

If you’d like to nominate someone for Natalie’s Everyday Heroes, send Natalie a message at nshepherd@cbs58.com.

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