When David and Ann Nix moved to their little slice of property on CR 550 in the San Augustine County hamlet of Denning in 2012, they didn't expect that within seven years they'd have their own kind of empire spanning three counties and more than 1,800 square miles.
In fact, it wasn't something they particularly wanted, but the couple realized a need that was unmet deep in the pineywoods.
The Daily Sentinel reports two years ago, the Nixes founded the Denning Animal Rescue, which they intended to be a small operation rescuing cats, which they'd been doing for years. David, a disabled veteran and Ann were both fond of animals, and had spent years rescuing animals, rehoming them with the support of various organizations in the places where David was stationed.
"It wasn't just us then," Ann recalls. "We had lots of support."
In 2012, they moved to San Augustine to be closer to aging family members, and a chance encounter with a cat abandoned near their property led them to the decision to found a small rescue organization for felines in 2017 for San Augustine County.
But their work didn't stay within the county, and before too long, they began hearing from people in Shelby and Sabine counties -- none of which have an animal shelter. Sabine County is home to the Barking Mad Animal Rescue, but that organization primarily focuses on dogs and livestock, though according to its website, no animals are turned away when there is room available.
"It spiraled from cats to dogs to every kind of animal," Ann said. "It's bigger than I thought. If it involves animals, we do it."
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The rescues relies largely on the Nix's personal income, a trickle of revenue from a booth set up inside Joy's This and That in downtown San Augustine, donations and whatever they can generate through their booths at festivals across the region.
It's far from self-sufficient, especially given the area the couple and their occasional handful of volunteers cover.
"These are rural, poor counties," Ann said. "The big donors don't come here. The big organizations don't work out here. We're just on our own."
Ann and David get calls from all over East Texas from people looking for help to rescue stray animals.
And often, they are where the pets of animal hoarders end up sending their animals.
Since they began as a nonprofit, the rescue has tried to keep the number of animals in their care to a manageable level, usually between 20 and 30 cats, which have access to two mobile homes on the Nix's property for shelter, warmth and respite from the Texas heat.
Three months ago, though the rescue found itself inundated after the rescue of some 60 cats from a home in the county.
"It's really common to have hoarding situations," Ann said. "We get cats all the time."
The animals suffer from a variety of health issues that the rescue is slowly working to address, but the high cost of veterinarian visits, feeding and care for the animals means its slow going.
Because the rescue takes in a lot of cats, it makes it difficult for them to take on many dogs, as well, though the Nixes aren't opposed to caring for dogs.
"We don't have the facilities for dogs," Ann said. "We just don't have the funds."
Recently, they've also taken up caring for almost a dozen horses and other equines suffering from neglect.
As with the cats and dogs that come to the rescue, the Nixes are looking for rescues and fosters to take over care of the animals, they said.
Ann and David plan to continue running their rescue for the time being, but they aren't sure how long they'll be able to keep it up.
"There's no feel good moments," Ann said. "For every one you get out, there are 10 more."
It may seem like an uphill battle for the rescue, but their efforts have made an impact.
Currently, six of the cats who've come to Denning are being fostered, for whom the Nixes have covered vet visits and necessities.
Since they began, Ann said they've adopted or relocated to other rescues out more than 100 cats, 36 dogs, two ferrets, and two birds.
They regularly hold adoption events in San Augustine and at Petsense in Nacogdoches.
The rescue has worked to establish free spay and neuter clinics in the past year with the help of corporate and a handful of private donors and Dr. Sharon DeHart, a veterinarian based in Reklaw.
Free clinics in August 2018 and in January 2019 saw more than 150 animals spayed or neutered, Ann said.
She and David said ultimately, they'd like to see spay and neuter programs instituted regularly in the counties they most often work in.
"If I could get anything, I'd get a spay and neuter program," Ann said. "It's out of control here. It has to start with spay and neuter."