It is a moving photograph, and one that shows just how strong an animal can be in the midst of immense suffering. A dog, missing most of her hair coat, stares into the camera with one blue eye and one brown. She is curious but not moving, her eyes hopeful as she looks at her rescuers.

Earlier this month, you saw Emma’s photograph leading my post on a rescue that was taking place in Jones County, Mississippi. Our Animal Rescue Team, working with the Jones County Sheriff’s Department, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and Southern Cross Animal Rescue, removed Emma and 54 other dogs and 34 cats from the 161-acre property that day, beginning a new chapter in their storied lives. This past weekend, these animals continued on their journey to get the love and care they deserve, when we arranged for their transport via Wings of Rescue from a temporary shelter in Mississippi to an airfield in Virginia. The animals were then transferred into the care of shelter and rescue partners.

When we found the dogs and cats, many were in urgent need of veterinary care. They had been living in filthy surroundings, locked inside crates, and some were very sick. Many of the animals were emaciated and all were covered in fleas and suffering from skin, eye and ear conditions.

But as we often find during these rescues, the animals, despite the misery in which they lived, were eager to give and receive love. Our video team captured a happy and curious Emma guzzling treats and giving her new friend, HSUS Director of Animal Crimes Jessica Lauginiger, kisses a day after her rescue.

“Time and time again we have been touched by the resiliency and spirit of rescued animals that once suffered from a life of trauma and neglect,” Sára Varsa, vice president of animal rescue, told me. “But their capacity for forgiveness and trust, and their fight to survive is astounding.”

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[media-credit name="Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images for the HSUS" align="aligncenter" width="620"]

Dogs and cats from the Mississippi rescue arrive at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia.
Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images for the HSUS

[/media-credit] Dogs and cats from the Mississippi rescue arrive at the Manassas Regional Airport in Virginia.[/caption]

Even as we work with our partners to help the dogs recover, the wheels of justice are turning. The Jones County Sheriff’s Department last week charged two suspects, David and Mary Ellen Senne, with one count each of aggravated animal cruelty. The charge is a misdemeanor and is the strongest possible charge under current law. The suspects are scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 9.

But the suffering of animals cannot end unless we have stronger laws to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Mississippi is one of only two states in the nation without felony penalties for egregious animal cruelty, such as torture or starvation, on the first offense. No matter how depraved an act of animal cruelty is, law enforcement can only charge the offender with a misdemeanor if he or she doesn’t have a previous conviction for animal cruelty. This recent rescue highlights why we need better laws to protect animals from cruelty, and we hope to make that case in the coming days to lawmakers as we work with them to strengthen laws. If you live in Mississippi, you can help by contacting your state representative and senator and asking him or her to support legislation that provides felony penalties for egregious acts of animal cruelty.

As always, we are grateful to our many partners who make these rescues and helping the animals with their recovery and adoption possible. These special dogs and cats from Mississippi will be available for adoption through Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, Angels of Assisi and Homeward Trails. Eddie’s Wheels donated a cart for one of the dogs, whom we named Eddie and who is paralyzed in the hind legs. As always, we support our partners with a portion of expenses related to the animals' ongoing care and offer more financial assistance for those with critical and chronic ailments, as they await their forever homes.

Emma and many of the other rescued animals still have a road to recovery ahead. But we can rest assured they are now in good hands. Instead of a life filled with deprivation, they have a future filled with hope, love and plenty of treats to look forward to.

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