Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

Volunteers seek help caring for county animals

By Scott Sullivan
Editor
It was the best and worst of times for Allegan County animals.
Best because Wishbone Pet Rescue volunteers transformed a county-run shelter from holding tank and death sentence for most dogs and cats in 11 years into one with 90+-percent adoption rates.
Worst because lack of funds and space still threaten.
Why care? Have you loved or been maddened by a pet? (Don’t worry, they’re often the same.)
That’s why.

Behind Bars
Wishbone evolved by Chance. A black lab mix heard whimpering in Dorr Township was found hung from a tree, owner beating him with a stick after having fed his pet antifreeze. Chance was rescued and named that hoping he’d get a better one.
Heartened by finding Chance medical care and a family to tend to his special needs till he died, volunteers were asked by Allegan County Animal Control to take charge of a larger structure meeting state standards at 2293 33rd St., replacing the county’s old 3,200-square-foot essentially euthanizing center.
The latter, now used for storage, remains nearby on the county’s rural campus south of Dumont Lake.
Animal Control, working through the Sheriff’s office which deals largely with human criminals, was ill-equipped to cope with increased and non-ending needs of discarded creatures for whom death beat living, however briefly.
In 2011, the now federal 501c3-qualified nonprofit Wishbone Pet Rescue Alliance, with county fiscal support plus its own base of donors and volunteers, agreed.
County officers still respond to stray, seizure, death and/or recovery complaints/requests and deliver abandoned creatures to a shelter intake room for which they have 24/7 keys.
“We never know what we’ll get,” says Greg Dziewit, in his third week as Wishbone’s volunteer executive director when we meet him Oct. 13 at the shelter. Board member George Stoutin joins us.
“Yesterday morning,” continues Dziewit, “officers dropped off a dog hit by a car DOA along with living animals to care for.”
Tags or microchips help Wishbone contact owners. Maybe they’ll pick up their pet, maybe his or her life became inconvenient.
Either way, surviving beasts are vaccinated, spayed or neutered if old enough, microchipped for owner ID, checked for ticks, worms or more, held in isolated cages (respiratory illnesses spread easily) in a back room that’s often crowded.
Larger, grown dogs need larger containers than, say, kitten litters brought in together. Cages stacked atop each other have clipboard intake notes attached.
For Princess, an estimated 2-year-old, 37-lb. female beagle mix: Needs 1-1/2 cups adult dog food twice twice daily. Hard chew toys is checked in a box underneath “Please Give Me”; I chew on anything! below “Behavioral.”
Kneeling with camera to shoot Princess eye-to-eye, we soak knees of our jeans near a floor drain. Frequent moppings with sanitizer can’t abate shelter odors.
A laundry alcove sports whirring washers, dryers, hamper piled high with towels, blankets, soft beds inscribed with whimsical cartoon bones and whiskered faces, all body soiled for volunteers to refresh.
“Let’s see where we do surgeries,” Stoutin says.

Operations
“This was meant for storage,” says Lori VanRyswyk of the 12×12-foot space with tables, shelves and a makeshift steel sink in which she and aides operate. A leash rack lines the right wall.
Many animals are abandoned having medical needs owners can’t afford or deal with. Chance’s owner, convicted of felony animal cruelty/torture when apprehended, explained his pet had Prestone diet diarrhea.
Mondays Wishbone performs “maybe 17-18 heavy surgeries,” says VansRyswyk. Staff does spot work too. The shelter hosts public spay/neuter clinics Sundays paid for by donation.
“A farmer brought in six cats to be spayed or neutered last week and paid $20, what he said he was able to afford,” she says. “They were barn cats valuable to him for mouse control.”
Of 3,000 some animals Wishbone cares for yearly at the shelter, some 900 make it under roof, 500 are adopted, others spayed, neutered, offered vaccinations and food for owners who can’t afford it. Most are dogs and cats. Not all.

34 Snakes
“Animal Control left us 34 snakes we found one morning,” Stoutin remembers. “We don’t have facilities to care for them but got hold of a reptile rescue service that could.
“It’s amazing what you learn with research and about people,” he goes on.

Dog in Creek
Cat cages stack walls in the front lobby. The country allows for 12 cats; more than 50 are kept there plus as many as 27 at the Douglas Wishbone House cat adoption center and thrift shop, where we’ll go next.
To the right lies Dziewit’s executive office and adoption consultation center. Laying against a wall inside is a graying and shaggy black and white dog fond at 4:30 this morning in a creek southwest of Pullman.
“It smells like death warmed over,” says a volunteer venting the door.
“Miracles happen every day,” Stoutin says.

Assess
Kittens freed from cages gambol on linoleum at our feet as we turn left. There lies the Assessment Room. Living beings, abandoned or not, have temperaments.
“We test here,” says Dziewit. “Do dogs or cats get along with other dogs, cats? Children? High or low energy levels? Food aggression? Past-based fears?
“We want to find good adoptive homes, where owners know what they’re getting. What settings or families fit for them and their owners? Which not?
“Life relations do not work otherwise,” he says.

Unwanted
Two corridors of dog kennels, each in rows two high, accommodate 50 dogs graduated from intake. Many bark greeting the intrusion/excitement. “Free Me! Adopt Me!” Others are more dour, silent. Cinder-block confines don’t dim the din.
“Imagine,” says Stoutin, “how much anxiety in each.”
Anthropomorphism means attributing human traits or behavior to a god, animal or object. What must this be like?

Debt Crew
“We need willing help who shows up dependably,” Dziewit says.
In a chain-link enclosure east of the shelter, jail Debt Crew inmates, earning trust via supervised outdoor labor, walk dogs, let them poop, pee, sniff grass and frolic.
Back in the lobby corridor, a tall one stands cuddling a cat on his shoulder, seemingly not mad at the world at all.

Official
Wishbone board president Jim Sellman’s May Day ask of the county board to raze the old shelter/now-storage building and help Wishbone build a modular in its place saw members five days later OK $100,000 for demolition plus to install a concrete pad and utility connections.
The new structure, otherwise built at Wishbone’s expense, would provide proper space for cat housing and isolation, surgeries, storage and more.
Welcome to inflation. Building estimates close to $600,000 far exceeded Wishbone projections, causing members to seek and the county grant a year’s reprieve. The old building’s storage space still is needed.
Allegan County Executive Services Director Dan Wedge replied fast to our Oct. 2 inquiry, noting Allegan operates its shelter per state mandates.
“The county has fully funded the construction of the current shelter, all building repairs, maintenance and operating costs, surrendering all shelter adoption fees to Wishbone,” Wedge wrote. Allegan has also upped operating payments to now $6,500 monthly ($78,000 yearly).
“The county remains supportive of all efforts to enhance shelter operations through donations, volunteers, grants and assistance programs. The county expended consultation center. Laying against a wall inside is a graying and shaggy black and white dog fond at 4:30 this morning in a creek southwest of Pullman.
“It smells like death warmed over,” says a volunteer venting the door.
“Miracles happen every day,” Stoutin says.

Assess
Kittens freed from cages gambol on linoleum at our feet as we turn left. There lies the Assessment Room. Living beings, abandoned or not, have temperaments.
“We test here,” says Dziewit. “Do dogs or cats get along with other dogs, cats? Children? High or low energy levels? Food aggression? Past-based fears?
“We want to find good adoptive homes, where owners know what they’re getting. What settings or families fit for them and their owners? Which not?
“Life relations do not work otherwise,” he says.

Unwanted
Two corridors of dog kennels, each in rows two high, accommodate 50 dogs graduated from intake. Many bark greeting the intrusion/excitement. “Free Me! Adopt Me!” Others are more dour, silent. Cinder-block confines don’t dim the din.
“Imagine,” says Stoutin, “how much anxiety in each.”
Anthropomorphism means attributing human traits or behavior to a god, animal or object. What must this be like?

Debt Crew
“We need willing help who shows up dependably,” Dziewit says.
In a chain-link enclosure east of the shelter, jail Debt Crew inmates, earning trust via supervised outdoor labor, walk dogs, let them poop, pee, sniff grass and frolic.
Back in the lobby corridor, a tall one stands cuddling a cat on his shoulder, seemingly not mad at the world at all.

Official
Wishbone board president Jim Sellman’s May Day ask of the county board to raze the old shelter/now-storage building and help Wishbone build a modular in its place saw members five days later OK $100,000 for demolition plus to install a concrete pad and utility connections.
The new structure, otherwise built at Wishbone’s expense, would provide proper space for cat housing and isolation, surgeries, storage and more.
Welcome to inflation. Building estimates close to $600,000 far exceeded Wishbone projections, causing members to seek and the county grant a year’s reprieve. The old building’s storage space still is needed.
Allegan County Executive Services Director Dan Wedge replied fast to our Oct. 2 inquiry, noting Allegan operates its shelter per state mandates.
“The county has fully funded the construction of the current shelter, all building repairs, maintenance and operating costs, surrendering all shelter adoption fees to Wishbone,” Wedge wrote. Allegan has also upped operating payments to now $6,500 monthly ($78,000 yearly).
“The county remains supportive of all efforts to enhance shelter operations through donations, volunteers, grants and assistance programs. The county expended over $216,000 in shelter costs for 2021,” Wedge said.

“We need a capital campaign,” Stoutin says, acknowledging 4 Paws With A Cause volunteers, which 11 months ago merged with Wishbone; West Shore Aware and private businesses such as Green Koi and Back Alley Pizza, both in Douglas, have been generous.
“Plus more day-to-day volunteers,” adds Dziewit. Wishbone-founding executive director Susan Smith, who has moved to development head, was and is to him exemplar.
Wishbone House, also founded in 2011, rests much smaller than the Shelter uneasily in a 165 Blue Star Hwy. former video store. Its retiring owner OK’d $750 monthly rent if Wishbone took over building maintenance.
“It’s a real estate problem,” says Stoutin. “The building is in rough shape. Thrift store sales don’t come close to maintenance costs we face. City zoning limits how many cats we can keep there.”
There were issues too with two part-time paid staff claiming Form 1099 independent contractor status on tax filings. Our hosts assure this has been corrected. Federal tax-exempt status granters cast a scant eye on variance from strictures.
Wishbone does not own the building, hence can’t sell it on commercial Blue Star frontage, perhaps as a tear-down, either.
We head there next.

Wishbone House
A 25-minute drive crisscrosses numbered streets and avenues west of from Dumont under rain-pregnant skies towards a larger lake.
At Wishbone House volunteer Sandy Corsiglia recalls the Sept. 7 board members’ visit to say due to fiscal reasons it stands to be closed next month.
“I love this place. I was stunned,” she says.
A hastily-called Sept. 21 town hall meeting hosted by longtime-volunteer Ruth Johnson at Saugatuck’s Coral Gables Crow Bar saw close to 100 attendees pour in.
Board treasurer Renee Draves, opening and standing beneath a blue raining-cats-and-dogs umbrella, said no one wants Wishbone House closed, but where do we get money?
On the tavern’s north wall hung photos with captions showing adoptable cats and kittens now in rooms and large back crates behind shelves lined with donated attic oddities, price tags attached. Do I hear $1?
Others start higher. Last week we saw one presumably porcelain U.S. Bicentennial Lionstone Whiskey decanter shaped like a trailblazer (buckskins, beard, blade) go for near its $10 asking price. Empty, we assumed.
Corsiglia, who says between Jan. 1, 2018 and June 30 this year 294 Wishbone House cats and kittens had found new homes, and center friends others offered options and ideas. Some attendees left checks.
She adds $8,065.08 was collected that night, and now close to $14,000, since a Sept. 15 Commercial Record and Allegan County News front-page story.
The board has agreed to apply those funds and more donations to keep the House open at least three more months.
We wander onsite to find resident Pat Huyge, who recently lost a cat, wants to adopt another. Someone wants me!
A bespectacled 30s-something man enters with four boys who look at and pet the kitties. The smallest, maybe 5, is smitten with a regal black-and-white cat, age 7, eyeing traffic from atop a scratching post in her isolation cage.
“Can’t let you in there,” says Corsiglia. “She’s not good with children.” Crestfallen, he walks on.
An older, more-voluble boy tells how his pet cat sleeps on his pillow next to him, so excited to be heard he loses his thought train and needs re-cueing.
“Cat on pillow.”
He eagerly plunges on.
A wide man in his 60s enters and says he has kitchen wares in his truck.
“What kind?” asks volunteer Mike Bojko. The man hesitates to be specific. “Pull around back and let’s take a look,” Bojko says.
“I’m thrilled people are stepping up not just financially but adopting more cats and kittens. Not that they do not keep coming,” Corsiglia says.

Follow-Up
We head home in rain to our own rescues: dogs, cats, bunnies … Dziewit, asked later, says the dog in the creek, who they named Bernard, died from laryngeal paralysis (trauma-caused throat collapse) and pneumonia. Not all miracles happen.
We romp on our lawn playing fetch with our pit bull wondering what it would be like to live uncaged.

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