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TX Coal Miner Works Double Duty to Save Unwanted Pets: 'God Puts Us in Charge of His Animals'


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MEXIA, Texas – It's 3:45 a.m. on a chilly December morning in rural Mexia. John Liscano reaches out to shut off the alarm blaring next to his bed. Once again, morning came too quickly.  
Like most days, there's little time for him to rest before starting work at a coal mine about 30 minutes from his home. 
As his family sleeps, John quietly puts together a lunch made up of leftovers, a sandwich with summer sausage and cheese, and a 6-pack of Coke Zero. 

One of his three pit bulls is snoring loudly through the commotion. The air is calm under the dark Texas sky as he heads out in his pickup to start another 12-hour shift at the mine.

But when that shift is over, his day is far from over. John, a former Limestone County Deputy Sheriff, turns his attention to helping the hundreds of unwanted pets that are brought by people to his 12-acre rescue every year with nowhere else to turn.  

"God has given us these animals to take care of and love," said John. "The last thing we want to do is turn people away, which sadly we have been doing for quite some time now." 

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Not a day goes by that Lara's House does not receive numerous desperate calls, emails, and text messages from people at all hours begging him to take in an animal. 

It's a Texas-sized problem that keeps getting bigger, and not just for Lara's House.  

While this is a 501C3 no-kill shelter, tens of thousands of other shelter animals are euthanized across the state each year simply because there is not enough room and money to care for them all. Statistics show, for every 10 dogs that enter an animal shelter, only four are adopted.  
Since the pandemic ended, the problem has only grown worse here in Texas and across the country. Countless pets adopted during lockdowns are being returned to shelters or abandoned. In addition to overflowing city shelters, private rescues everywhere are overflowing, unable to take in the never-ending stream of owner surrenders, strays, and abused animals. 
"I do this because I love animals and I can't stand to see them suffer. We as people truly don't deserve them. They have no defense. No voice and all they ask for in return is love," he said.  
Meanwhile, the animal population in Texas is exploding. 

"Another big problem is not enough low-cost spay/neuter options. Here, spaying a female dog costs approximately $300. To neuter a cat is $275.  I have yet to find any state program or state funding to help with spay/neuter programs for areas that don't have it," he explained. 
Lara's House, which keeps its rescues in open-air/outdoor kennels, has more than 100 of them waiting to be adopted.  
"We have 49 kennels and 76 dogs at the shelter. We have 15 dogs in our overflow space, totaling 91 dogs. That does not include dogs we have in foster homes. "We also have about 30 cats," said Lisa Shaffer, who is the shelter manager. "They go through about 3,250 pounds of food a month." 
To make matters worse, as inflation soars, donations have dropped. Money is getting tighter each month with the shelter forced to cut the number of hours its small staff can work.  Workers and volunteers often help buy necessities out of their own pockets.   
Lara's House, which relies solely on donations to stay open, had an annual budget last year of more than $131,000. More than $18,000 of it was for medical care. 
"Our main hindrance is funding. It's hard to operate a shelter such as ours without proper funding," said John. "Currently, we have about $10,000 in our account right now." 

Lara's House is also recovering from a tragedy in February when a fire broke out and killed 9 puppies and their mother who were sleeping in the office because it was too cold for them to sleep in the outdoor kennels. All the shelter's computers, files, records, and animal medication were destroyed. 
With Christmas coming, John's wish is for the community to rally behind the rescue effort so more lives can be saved. He also dreams of building a large, safer, and more comfortable place for the animals while they wait for a second chance.     
"I want to find a way to raise the money to build an actual facility. Something we can do is climate control. A brick-and-mortar facility."  
Meanwhile, with the help of a small, but devoted shelter team, John will keep burning the candles at both ends to keep things going. 
"God puts us in charge of His animals and that's what we are here to do. Like I tell the board members, just keep the faith."  

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About The Author


Tara Mergener is an award-winning journalist and expert storyteller who spent the majority of her career as a correspondent in Washington, D.C. She worked at CBS Newspath for many years, reporting for all CBS platforms, including CBS News and CBS affiliates throughout the nation. Tara also reported at CNN, Hearst’s Washington, D.C. Bureau, and was a contributor on Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren. Tara has won dozens of awards for her investigative and political reporting, including Headliner Foundation’s Best Reporter in Texas, multiple Edward R. Murrow awards, Texas Associated Press