Left to right; volunteers Marilyn Wheat, Ellen Burbage, Wanda Stevens, and shelter manager Mary Dowdel.

On the eve of Woofstock, Humane Society celebrates two milestone anniversaries
Part one: Looking back on ten years as a society and the fifth anniversary of the shelter

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[September 22, 2016]   LINCOLN - Whenever there is an opportunity to talk about the work of the Humane Society of Logan County, volunteers are always ready and willing to share their knowledge of the program that they believe in so much. Go to any community event where businesses and organizations are invited to set up booths, and you’ll find members of the HSLC on hand working to grow their program and gain support for the animals they are all dedicated to protecting.

Because they are so visible in the community, it may seem to some that the HSLC has been around for years, but the truth is, in human years at least, this program is still a kid. The HSLC opened its doors, though it didn’t actually have any doors, ten years ago in 2006. It took five years for them to establish a physical location, but in 2011, they opened their real doors to the HSLC shelter and did so debt free.

Recently three volunteers, who have been with the HSLC almost from the beginning, sat down with LDN to talk about their first ten years, the work of the HSLC, and the appreciation they have for those who have given so much time and support to saving the lives of displaced animals.

Ellen Burbage, Wanda Stevens, and Marilyn Wheat are all heavily involved in the HSLC. Burbage has served as the president of the board of directors for multiple years. Wanda Stevens is a long-term volunteer who works at the shelter caring for the animals in residence, and also works with the Spay/Neuter Program offered through the shelter in conjunction with the Animal Protective League of Springfield. Marilyn Wheat also spends a great deal of time at the shelter, but is most often recognized as one of two gals who work tirelessly to raise funds for the shelter, along with Judy Conzo.

Wheat and Conzo are the driving force behind the annual HSLC Route 66 Garage Sale. They work the booths and tables at every event promoting the pet cemetery and offering products that will help pet parents memorialize their deceased furry friends. And, this year, they are marketing an HSLC calendar that features first responders from around Logan County.

Then there is Woofstock. The annual fall fundraiser event was born from an idea that it would be good for folks to get out, and move around, and show off their beloved dogs while having a good time and raising money for the HSLC all at the same time. The event is a “pet project” of local business owner Joshua Slightom.

Woofstock was first held at Kickapoo Creek Park on the north edge of Lincoln. It was then moved to Latham Park in the downtown area. This year it is moving again, to the Logan County Fairgrounds. Woofstock started off small, but has grown continually with new attractions being offered each year. According to Burbage, Woofstock has become a major fundraiser for the HSLC, which operates solely with dollars raised or donated by the community.

According to Burbage, it takes $80,000 to $90,000 a year to keep the program running smoothly. With that money, there is only one paid employee. The balance of the funds goes to the upkeep of the shelter, and taking care of the animals, including veterinary costs when they are ill, and of course food and other pet supplies deemed necessary to keep the animals happy and healthy while they wait for their “forever home” with an adoptive family.

How it all began

When the Humane Society of Logan County opened in 2006, there was no shelter, no brick and mortar location for the agency to operate from. Instead, it relied on volunteers who would agree to “foster” animals in their homes while waiting for adoption. Stevens said it was a big job to accomplish. To take in animals the HSLC first needed people to give them a temporary home. In addition, those foster parents needed to be willing to adjust their daily lives so that adoptive parents could have an opportunity to visit the animals, and make their decisions about who they would claim as their own.

Stevens said the issue was, they could only take in as many animals as they had foster homes for, so that did limit them somewhat. None-the-less, Burbage said between 2006 and 2010, the HSLC placed 53 cats and 51 dogs in forever homes.

In 2011, they placed 32 cats and 33 dogs. In 2012, 13, 14, and 15, the HSLC averaged placing 135 animals per year with adoptive parents. Thus far in 2016, the HSLC has placed 89 pets in forever homes, so “we are on track,” she said, “to have the best year we have ever had.”

Stevens said that even after the shelter opened in 2011 there has still been a need for foster families, particularly for animals that need special care and socialization. She said, yes it is a little more work, but getting the animals adapted to a family situation, and better preparing them for adoption is vital, and better sometimes done in a foster home environment.

Building a shelter

In 2011, the HSLC got a windfall that made building the shelter building possible. Burbage explained that first` there was an inheritance of cash that would help cover the cost of construction. The Burwell family then donated the land for the building site, and the Lincoln Community High School LTEC built the building at a greatly reduced price. Burbage explained that when all was said and done, the HSLC had a building with space for animals, an office and reception area, and a great outdoor space, all debt free.

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Stevens said that with the opening of the building, the need for foster parents was reduced, but not done away with. Animals under certain conditions, still need families who will take them in and care for them, particularly kittens.

A pet cemetery comes to HSLC

After building the shelter in 2011, the HSLC realized they had a lot of property that was not being utilized. Coupling the ideas that the HSLC needed to raise money, and wanted to offer more services to the pet-owner community, they created a plan to establish a pet cemetery.

The vacant lots owned by the HSLC were drawn out and divided into 3 feet by 5 feet plots, where pet remains after cremation could be buried. Wheat and Conzo took on this project. Wheat noted that while she and Conzo did not originate the program, those who chaired its creation have moved on, and she and Conzo have taken up the torch.

In the process, the HSLC sells the urns that are needed. They sell marker stones and other items, such as lockets, that will hold a wisp of the pet's hair so that owners may have a remembrance of their four-legged family member after it has passed.

Wheat said each plot sold would hold up to four urns of cremains. Currently, they have sold 22 plots with more than 1,000 available.

The focal point of the cemetery is the lovely gazebo that was built shortly after the cemetery was established. Wheat said it is an ideal location for memorial services for animals but is also available to the public for other events, even weddings.

While it is a common practice to bury a pet on personal property, it is against the law. Offering a pet cemetery in Logan County is an asset to the pet-owner community in that it gives them a safe and attractive location to memorialize an animal they love.

The cremation is done locally by some veterinarians in the area. Urns can be purchased from the HSLC, and remains can be placed in them during the cremation process.

Burbage said something that came about as somewhat of a surprise was the addition of allowing human remains also to be buried at the HSLC. She said when the HSLC filed the paperwork to become a cemetery, it was discovered that there is no distinction between animals and humans when classifying a space as a cemetery. Therefore, anyone who wishes may purchase a plot for human cremains as well. This also offers the opportunity for pets and pet owners to be buried side-by-side.

When walking around at the cemetery there are stones in place now for future burials, and stones for those that have already passed. There are statues and a lovely bench dedicated in memory of Lisa Kuhlman.

There is also a brick area that is referred to as the scatter garden. In the area, rose bushes grow, and for those who cannot afford a plot or for other reasons, do not wish to purchase one, remains can be scattered around the rose bushes.

Each year in the fall, the HSLC hosts a blessing of the animals. During that time, a short ceremony is held, where that remains from animals lost during residency are scattered in the rose garden that accompanies that bricked area. The bricks hold the names of animal remains that have been placed in the garden and offers a life-long location for HSLC volunteers and others to come and contemplate and remember the special animals that have passed.

Of course, having the cemetery and keeping it looking nice depends upon people who will volunteer their time and efforts to the maintenance of the area. Wheat said that her husband Dan does a lot at the cemetery, but there is still a need for more volunteers. The lesson to learn here is that while it is good that a volunteer love animals and wants to serve them, they can do so without actually caring for the animals, by caring for the spaces they occupy both now and in the after-life.

Do you know?

Do you know all that the HSLC offers in this community? Pet adoption…obviously. But there is a great deal more involved in running a Humane Society than finding homes for displaced pets. In part two, Burbage, Stevens, and Wheat will talk about the other, perhaps lesser known services provided by the HSLC.

[Nila Smith]

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