DENVER (KDVR) — A crook tried to take off with a Denver animal rescue’s transport van, holding the non-profit’s founder at gunpoint.

Last Friday, Red Fern Animal Rescue co-founder Gregg Bartlett turned the key and opened the passenger side of this locked transport van only to find a thief messing with the ignition in the front seat.

“The guy was sitting in the seat and, as soon as I opened the door, it was like he jumped up and then he had a handgun right in his hand,” Bartlett said. “Your heart, I can’t even explain it, that could have been the end of my life right there.”

Barlett did what police suggest, he did not engage and dodged for his life in that split second. 

The crook took off, but not before ripping out the ignition of the rescue transport van, taking out parts, and leaving it unusable for taking dogs to treatments.

“We use almost all of our own money always, so this just throws us at a huge inconvenience, all these animals are in limbo now, maybe for a week or two,” Bartlett said. 

Bartlett and his wife, Melissa, a Denver school teacher, are cofounders of Red Fern Animal Rescue. The non-profit’s mission to rescue animals from South Texas that either have been in hoarding cases, would have been euthanized in kill shelters, or have been left for dead on the streets.

“We are all volunteers and there is nobody on payroll,” Bartlett said. “We spend thousands of dollars a year out of our own money just to do this for the animals and it’s a labor of love. There’s a lot of sadness and crying doing this work too, but we do it all for these animals because they can’t speak for themselves whatsoever.”

Bartlett found a friend in the rescue community who said he would help do the repair work on the van. However, there are a lot of parts that need to be replaced.

There’s a GoFundMe to help with the cost of fixing the van here.