While Amanda Reitz, Director of Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary, Inc. has a passion for animals, she will be the first to admit, that volunteers are vital to the sanctuary.
"We started in April of 2006," Reitz noted. "This is my grandfather's land. He always wanted to see the barn reused from his farming days. We revamped the barn, it was starting to cave in on the corners, we restored it, and this way he gets to see it running again, in a different fashion."
Not only did the barn need repairs, but it had to be completely redone inside to make it usable as a sanctuary. The downstairs is divided into four sections as dog runs. Each group has its own area, where the dogs can choose to be inside or outside. Each of these groups range from four to eight dogs.
Upstairs there are additional dog rooms, as some dogs like play times, but are not able to be with other dogs all the time. They have large runs so they can get exercise.
"We pulled some puppies from a shelter in Georgia, private pilots flew them up here," she explained. "That way people don't have to get their puppies from puppy mills, they can adopt one from a shelter."
She pointed out that all of the animals that come into the sanctuary are kept in isolation for two weeks, to be sure that they are healthy, before they are put into the rest of the population. They are tested, given shots and spayed or neutered. During those two weeks she observes their behavior also, and decides what group they are best suited.
Some of the cats and dogs are at the Green Bay branch of Happily Ever After, located on Holmgren Way. Volunteers man that shelter, which is open Monday through Friday from 6-8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 11-4.
The rural Marion site is open by appointment only. Appointments can be made by contacting Reitz via email at email@example.com or if you don't have email, you can call her at 920-639-2654, but she says email is much faster.
Reitz noted that there are about 90 regular volunteers, which seems like a lot, but it really isn't. Not when you consider that the sanctuary has an average of 250 animals, and another 150 on the waiting list to come in.
"We have some volunteers who only come in one hour a month, others come once a week, whatever works for them, helps tremendously," she stated. "Other volunteers help with pet stories to share, for publicity, for fundraising, it is all vital."
The cats are housed in temperature controlled rooms upstairs in the barn-there are 14 cat rooms. The heating and cooling and vet bills make fundraising an ongoing need. The rooms have sofas, chairs, and windows, so the cats are acclimated to in house living.
All of the litter boxes need to be cleaned, fresh water given, floors cleaned, food given, cats brushed, and socialized. The dogs need to be walked, as well as fed and cleaned. That is where the volunteers are irreplaceable, because if Reitz needs to do all of that, she doesn't have time for the fund raising and other tasks that are ongoing needs. She says she puts in on average 90 hours a week.
The day I visited the sanctuary, there were several volunteers present, working with the cats.
Janice Battermann of Marion said she began to volunteer at the sanctuary when she moved back to Marion. She explained she has cats at home, but she missed working with a lot of cats, like she used to when she volunteered in a Phoenix, Arizona shelter.
"I am usually here by myself on Fridays and it's six to eight hours before I get done," Battermann explained. "But it's not work, it's fun."
"I found out about this facility when I retired, and visited a health fair," explained Fran Dowling of Ogdensburg. "I was looking for volunteer opportunities, and I've been coming for four years now. It's good for the blood pressure to have cats on your lap."
Bruce and Jean Hundertmark of Clintonville lost their elderly cat in 2010, and came to the sanctuary to adopt two cats. They have been volunteering ever since, coming for two hours, once a week.
The cats come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and while the kittens tend to be adopted quicker, adult cats get adopted too. Part of the duties is to play with the shy ones and get them more people friendly.
"There is always someone to love you," noted Jean. "I know Bruce one day sat out on the couch and it wasn't long before he was covered with cats."
"I like to brush cats," Sarah Frankowski noted. "I would love to do another fundraiser at Pamida, they have been very supportive."
Sarah is from Clintonville and works at Pamida. Not only have they had fundraisers, but they have also had some adoption events there.
The volunteers say they are excited when they come, and find one of the cats have been adopted. It is easy to volunteer at a no kill sanctuary, because volunteers don't have to feel they have to take their favorite home.
"We found the two cats we adopted from here are wonderful cats," Jean said. "The success stories are fun to see."
Jean noted that the sanctuary has calendar for sale, available at the A & W in Clintonville. The calendar has photos of adopted sanctuary animals with their forever families. However, if an adoption does not work out, any animal is welcomed back.
As far as Reitz knows, Happily Ever After is the only true no kill shelter in the area. There are some others that will only take highly adoptable animals, but Happily will take any animal, regardless of age, health, breed and behavior. Their only limitation is space and finances.
Future plans include building another housing unit on the forty acres of land that her grandpa, Lester Bork, who is 92, still lives on. Reitz began this sanctuary because she used to volunteer at a kill shelter, and would come in day after day to find the little souls that touched her heart to be suddenly gone.
More information on the sanctuary may be found on the internet. Reitz says they focus on educating the public on pet population, and the welfare of animals.
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