A crisis was in the making as Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) approached the 20th year in its first permanent shelter at 2250 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even with a 1969 addition that doubled its original size, the shelter was experiencing wear and tear—about 600,000 paws' worth, according to 1984 DCHS Director Carter Luke.
DCHS announced a fund drive of which $100,000 would be co-sponsored by The Capital Times newspaper with the tagline “Dane Humane Campaign.” Work would begin the summer of 1984 and completed in four phases: 1) remodel the kennels and add a ventilation system; 2) build office space, an admitting room, and adoption counseling room for people to get to know a prospective pet adoptee; 3) add an infirmary, treatment room, food storage, and garage; and 4) remodel the current garage and current office area.
The fund drive kicked off during Be Kind to Animals Week, May 6 through 12. In addition, a photography contest with a theme of Kids & Animals—Forever Friends was featured. Winning photos were displayed at East Towne Mall.
The community came through, and the DCHS shelter was remodeled and expanded to meet changing needs. More than $500,000 was raised from local corporations, foundations, individuals, and several large bequests. A January 27, 1985, open house was attended by several hundred people.
Less than 15 years later, the shelter was once more running out of space. “We had animals housed in closets, hallways, and the bathrooms at one time,” says DCHS Executive Director Pam McCloud Smith. “The facilities were quite worn down and infested with mice and roaches. We remodeled a few times with staff doing the work. We converted part of the original garage into an office and a medical treatment area, and a closet into a surgery room. We added additional cages to house sick animals so we could quarantine them from the rest of the population. We rented a mobile-home trailer parked on the front lawn that we used for meetings and summer camp kids’ programs. We knew we could do more for the animals and our community with a better facility.”
DCHS announced the capital campaign Give Shelter in 1997 with a $6 million goal. But this time, a brand-new facility would be built on Voges Road in Madison near Highway 51 and the South Beltline—the site of a former Christmas tree farm. One gift was quite remarkable—an anonymous donor contributed $500,000 in 1998 and promised to match all donations dollar for dollar if $1 million could be secured by the end of 1999.
It was touch and go two weeks before the end of the year, with DCHS short about $200,000. Once again, the community came through. Most of the contributions during the last two weeks were small, including ones from children at area schools. Students at Velma Hamilton Middle School came up with $900 in a penny drive with a competition among the classrooms. And 11-year-old Ben West was honored as a community asset builder by the Madison Community Foundation for pledging most of his allowance for five years to DCHS’ campaign to build a shelter.
Ron Dayne, University of Wisconsin–Madison running back, Heisman Trophy winner, NCAA career rushing record holder, and MVP for leading the Badgers in back-to-back Rose Bowl wins, helped raise money for the campaign. As a spokesman for DCHS, he cut TV ads for the 1999 holiday season. His Great Dayne poster generated about $15,000 for DCHS. Staff reported that people would come to the shelter to buy the poster and then end up adopting an animal.
The Pennsylvania Avenue shelter closed on July 15, 2000, and the new location opened to the public on July 20. Animals were moved to 5132 Voges Road in an operation dubbed Noah’s Ark, with volunteers in a caravan of more than 30 vehicles driving about 350 furry residents to their new home.
Set on 29 tranquil acres, the new shelter was more than twice the size of the old one. It had everything: admitting rooms for dogs, cats, and other critters; conference rooms that meant staff no longer had to go offsite to meet; spaces to counsel potential animal adopters; a surgical suite and medical clinic instead of a converted kitchen; a ringworm treatment center; an on-premise barn to house horses and livestock; an education room for children to learn about pets and their care; and fenced dog yards and walking trails for plenty of animal exercise. All in all, the spaces were bright, open, and cheerful.
Dave Zweifel, now editor emeritus of The Capital Times, wrote in a 2000 column, “Compared to the shelter on Pennsylvania Avenue … well, there is no comparison. This place is a five-star hotel, the old place is a run-down flophouse.”
In 2002, DCHS began taking in ill, injured, and orphaned wildlife from throughout southern Wisconsin in a newly added Wildlife Center, which was formerly known as Four Lakes Wildlife Center. Brooke Lewis, wildlife program manager, remembers a unique situation when not one, but two bobcats were admitted back to back in December 2013. Both had been hit by cars—one from Vernon County and the other from Marquette County—in unrelated incidents. Despite admitting around 150 different species each year, no bobcats have been admitted since.
DCHS is an open-admission shelter and accepts all animals regardless of age, health status, or temperament. DCHS also has an adoption guarantee—all healthy or treatable animals can stay as long as it takes to find a home.
To inform the public of available critters, DCHS relies on a good relationship with local media. Such has been the case for many years. On January 14, 1954, the first Dog of the Week feature appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal, initiated by its executive editor. The late Ed Stein, long-time photographer for the newspaper, was able to get just the right expression on the dog’s face that made the animal irresistible to anyone who saw its picture. The Capital Times published a weekly Pet Eligibles feature for a number of years highlighting dogs and cats looking for homes, and for a period of time, published the DCHS newsletter Petpourri as an insert, which was also mailed directly to DCHS supporters.
“Today, animals at DCHS are adopted so quickly—an average stay for dogs about one week and cats two—that local TV and radio are most timely for Pet of the Week segments,” says Amy Good, director of development and marketing. “Those features are aired on local channels 3, 15, and 27 at various times during the week. Every year, more than 135 segments are broadcast and include both information about an adoptable animal as well as highlights of something going on at the shelter. DCHS radio promotions include weekly segments on 94.9 WOLX and 105.5 Triple M—more than 100 appearances every year.”
In the past, DCHS observed a variety of national events celebrating animal welfare and pet adoption. “Since our dogs are adopted so quickly, we don’t need a national observance to help. Now our focus is to offer adoption specials, almost always for adult cats, when the shelter is nearing capacity. These specials usually happen one to four times per year,” says Amy.
Anyone interested in adopting can view available animals at giveshelter.org .
Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.
Review past issues of Madison Essentials to learn more about DCHS, including “The Introduction” in the March/April issue, “The Beginning” in the May/June issue, and “The Shelter” in the July/August issue. Watch for the November/December issue, focusing on community response to DCHS needs for funding and volunteers.