DCHS Centennial Celebration: Helping People Help Animals

Photo by Dane County Humane Society

From the beginning, community members have rallied to help Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) save animals. Whether it was giving to Mrs. Ida Kittelson, their first president; contributing directly; or participating in a campaign, the community has been there when DCHS needed them.

In 1922, the Madison Community Union (later Madison Community Chest) was incorporated with 14 agencies, including DCHS, to band together for donation collections from community members. The goal was to reduce the number of financial drives and campaigns in Madison. One solicitation a year would provide a time savings for all agencies. In fact, their slogan was “Give Once for All.”

In 1950, Community Chest turned over fundraising responsibilities to United Givers, a newly formed single fundraising group. Then in 1951, prior to the start of the fall giving campaign, DCHS was dropped. DCHS Membership Chair Evelyn Baas wrote in The Capital Times, “Its ‘governing body’ [Community Chest’s] says we are no longer entitled to share in any of its funds, which, by the way, are publicly donated. Therefore, we must depend on new memberships, renewals of our old ones, and contributions. … The public at large perhaps does not know that our work is not entirely confined to animals, but when so-called welfare agencies whose budgets have always been larger than ours fail to carry out their obligations, DCHS can be relied upon to at least not pass the buck, but make a concentrated effort to help and has yet to fail.” Evelyn’s husband, Alexius Baas, DCHS director of education and a columnist for The Capital Times, also blasted Community Chest/United Givers on several occasions for its action.

The present-day United Way of Dane County became the organization’s new name in 1971, and DCHS is today a donor-designated agency. DCHS receives money only when donors designate their United Way contributions to go to them.

DCHS’s budget is now nearly $5 million, with individual and corporate donations representing the greatest share at 35 percent, followed by program services and fees at 21 percent, bequests at 14 percent, municipal contracts at 6 percent, investments and miscellaneous income at 6 percent, grants at 5 percent, events at 3 percent, and thrift store and merchandise sales at 3 percent.

Photograph provided by the Dane County Humane Society

Children have also held a place as DCHS donors. There are many stories, including that of elementary school art class students putting together quilts to keep dogs and cats warm, kids and teens (and adults) participating in a Piano Playathon at Hilldale Shopping Center, and a young woman soliciting pet food donations as a bat mitzvah project.

“Scout troops, 4-H clubs, community programs, and classrooms run donation drives and fundraisers for us now,” says Amy Good, DCHS director of development and marketing. “A great example is the New Century School (Verona) k/grade 1 partnership that was started in 2019. The kids do monthly donation drives for such items as timothy hay, squeeze cheese, training treats, kitten and puppy food, and fleece blankets as well as cash. Forty-five students toured the shelter a year ago to see where their donations went.

“In addition, children help raise money with lemonade stands, giving their allowance, and asking for donations to DCHS instead of presents for their birthdays or other holidays.”

DCHS also receives community support from those who donate to and purchase merchandise from its Thrift Store. After launching in January 2019, the store opened a new location at 6904 Watts Road in June 2020.

Local businesses do their part too. Mounds Pet Food Warehouse has been a fantastic partner for 25 years. They donate approximately 10,000 pounds of dry dog and cat food and 17,000 pounds of cat litter each year, a $40,000 in-kind contribution, and more than 5,000 animals have found their new homes through Mounds’ satellite adoption centers. Additionally, Mounds holds fundraisers and sponsors DCHS events.

Several local organizations provide invaluable support, including the Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times; University of Wisconsin–School of Veterinary Medicine and UW Veterinary Care; the law firm of Laffey, Leitner & Goode; Alliant Energy; Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing Cooperative; Glass Nickel Pizza Company (University Avenue location); Cat Care Clinic; ProClip USA (a neighbor of DCHS); West Towne Veterinary Center; and Madison Veterinary Specialists.

Photograph provided by the Dane County Humane Society

As with most nonprofit organizations, DCHS relies heavily on volunteers and has done so since its inception, when volunteers kept animals in their homes before an organized shelter was part of the picture. Today, more than 900 volunteers help at DCHS, making a commitment for at least six months for a minimum of a two-hour shift per week. DCHS staff is tremendously appreciative of their volunteers and very aware of the importance of their contributions.

Long-time volunteer Abbie Loomis has been with DCHS for 17 years. “I’m so proud to be part of DCHS. My role is to help dogs with behavior modification, especially those that need help settling down or are very shy. DCHS has a great training program for volunteers so they can identify behavior issues in the dogs. Many dogs come to the shelter that have had tough times. They may be fearful. They may be rowdy because that’s how they express their anxiety. It takes time for a dog to develop trust in people again. The biggest joy for me is when that light bulb goes on in the dog’s head that it can trust people because of how it’s been treated here at the shelter. I know it will be a good dog now that it has settled in.”

Abbie encourages others to volunteer. “It’s fun getting to spend time with the dogs or cats or rabbits—whatever your passion animal is. You also get to work with volunteers and staff to figure out what an animal might need. And you learn about yourself—how to feel compassion, empathy, sadness.” Abbie adopted an American Eskimo Dog from DCHS 12 years ago. “He had been found in a parking lot at night and was a fearful dog. I’ve learned about helping shelter dogs from handling my own dog.”

Eight-year volunteer Sheila Hart is a counselor at the Adoption Center. “I absolutely love the role—helping adopters find the perfect pet to complement their family. It’s not unusual to have adopters come in to meet one specific dog and go home with a completely different one. The counseling part is important in helping families determine the right energy level, temperament, size, and age of a new pet they are bringing into their home.”

Photograph provided by the Dane County Humane Society

Sheila and her husband foster a variety of animals from DCHS. “It’s been a great opportunity to learn about chinchillas, rats, guinea pigs, and other critters that I can put to use as an adoption counselor. Most animals go into foster care for health or behavior issues. It’s rewarding being part of the process that ensures an animal receives the care it needs,” says Sheila. “And I can’t say enough about the DCHS Animal Medical Services team. They make such a difference in the animals’ quality of life from the time they arrive at the shelter to when they’re healthy and ready for their new family.”

Sheila adopted a 13-year-old Italian greyhound nine years ago and, six years later, a pit bull mix that has since become a certified therapy dog. “We also have several DCHS zebra finches that are noisy, messy, and beloved,” says Sheila.

A favorite volunteer activity is Community Dog Days, an event that supports people in caring for the pets they love. Volunteers and staff go to a Madison area where access to vet services is limited. Pet owners are encouraged to bring their pets for vaccinations, microchipping, checkups with a vet, and even to receive pet food and supplies.

Wendy Bell, DCHS humane educator, visits area nursing homes, schools, and other places with volunteers to give presentations for a nominal fee. They bring along animal visitors, including DCHS classroom animals or animals that have been adopted and approved to go on visits.

In addition to community contributions, DCHS serves as Dane County’s stray holding facility. Each year, more than 700 companion animals are reunited with their families. As a contractor, DCHS assists Dane County and City of Madison authorities when they pursue animal seizures due to suspected abuse and neglect. As a private, nonprofit organization, DCHS has no legal authority to investigate animal abuse nor seize animals, serving only as a holding facility. Decisions on animal seizure or to keep a seized animal at DCHS are made by law enforcement, statutorily authorized humane officers, and representatives of Dane County Animal Control in conjunction with local prosecutors and the courts.

The story of DCHS’ success is one of community—individuals and organizations donating their time, money, and expertise. Greater Madison has shown its heart is large, and that it doesn’t want to imagine a future without the care and resources of DCHS.

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.

Photograph by MOD Media Productions

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, “The Shelter” in the July/August issue, and “Give Shelter” in the September/October issue. Watch for the January/February 2021 issue, which will focus on how DCHS has innovated over the years and its plans for the future.

Volunteer at DCHS

DCHS Thrift Store