SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — Mary Fodale-Tavoularis was a force to be reckoned with when it came to saving dogs and everyone involved in animal rescue knew it.
The 58-year-old made no apologies for being strict on who was able to adopt or even foster one of the countless dogs she took into her rescue over the years.
"She wanted to do the best that she thought she could for these animals, and she only trusted a select few, but she definitely trusted herself first and foremost," said Danny Tavoularis.
7 Action News spoke to Danny and his brother Jaime Wednesday. They are Mary's twin sons, and if caring for animals could be part of anyone's DNA, Mary passed it on to her boys.
On Tuesday, after a police officer informed Danny that their mom had been found deceased in her home, the first thing he asked was about her dogs.
About a week ago, Mary was posting on social media that she needed friends to step in and help out as additional fosters because she wasn't feeling well.
"Since Thanksgiving, she was telling us she didn't feel good," said Debbie Pisarski, who assisted Mary in running her nonprofit rescue, Mary T's Chis.
The chis stood for chihuahuas because, while she helped save dogs of all sizes, small dogs were Mary's specialty because they were easier to manage because of her health issues.
"We didn't have huge donators and things like that. We relied on just, you know, someone that would say here's $10," Debbie said.
And even with little funding, Mary never said no to a dog whose spirit or body had been broken by people.
"No matter if they were old, broken, aggressive, it didn't matter. She would somehow say, 'I'll take care of them. I'll find something that we can do for them,'" said Debbie.
Mary told friends on Facebook last week that she had COVID and she was going to the emergency room. Debbie said they had to talk Mary into going to the hospital because, even when she was feeling ill, she was still putting dogs first.
Jaime said his mom was concerned about being fatigued and trying to care for the dogs.
"She never gave off that she was in the condition that she was.. we didn't know. I don't even think she knew. I think she just thought she was pretty ill and was going to just ride it out," Jaime said.
While their mom had tested positive for COVID, Jaime and Danny said at this point, the medical examiner has only told them that she died from natural causes.
"COVID didn't help. Let's put it that way," Danny said. "She was already sick as it was. She battled a lot of ailments. So even getting the flu or, you know, a chest cold, would be way worse for her than your average person."
One thing Mary's boys know for sure, since letting her friends and supporters know via Facebook that she died, the outpouring of love has filled them with gratitude.
"We're proud of her now more than ever because we didn't realize that she touched so many lives inadvertently, accidentally, purposefully," Danny said. "It's a big shocker and a lot to take in. We're still overwhelmed by it and we're trying to take it all in and conceptualize it and, you know, trying to understand just how impactful she was to the community and to the lives of not only the dogs but the people that she introduced them to."
There are still about 20 dogs in Mary's rescue that are in need of homes. You can contact Mary T's Chis if you're able to offer them a life of love and care - the kind of life Mary would have wanted for them.
Family and friends are organizing a memorial for Mary and will provide information on her Facebook page, Mary Fodale-Tavoularis, regarding a date, time, and location.