AC PAW Celebrates 20 Years of Saving Cats and Dogs

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Twenty years is a long time for any non-profit organization to continue to be successful, but it’s even more special for an animal rescue group to be able to do it. These groups have many things working against them – the constant & dire need for financial resources, attrition of volunteers, trusted and important members leaving to form new groups and the biggest hurdle of all – the fact that it’s both physically and emotionally draining to run and participate in an animal rescue group. Yet, AC PAW has not only beat the odds, they have thrived. For the backstory on how AC PAW started, you can click here

Twenty years of helping homeless, abandoned and abused animals in Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau counties has amounted to more than 9000 lives rescued, saved and placed into new homes with all animals being health screened, vaccinated and spayed or neutered before being adopted. Because this is a hard number to imagine, Pet Friends has done a pictorial representation of those animals here.

Co-founders June McGrath and Brian Manley, along with their hard-working and dedicated volunteers, continue to keep the group fresh and active with new programs and social media networking.

One program they offer that is very close to their hearts is the Dog House Project which is spearheaded by Manley. AC PAW helps dogs keep warm in the winter by collecting new and used dog houses for animals who are outside in the winter months and need better shelter. Since AC PAW was started, more than 400 dog houses have been donated, some built and some bought. If you would like to know more about this project, please email Brian Manley here.

On Christmas weekend, AC PAW collected a total of 15 dog houses at their fundraiser at the Alden Bar & Grill.

On Christmas weekend, AC PAW collected a total of 15 dog houses at their fundraiser at the Alden Bar & Grill.

A newer program that AC PAW started is called the AC PAW Spay & Neuter Project. In addition to spaying and neutering all of their cats and dogs before adopting them out, AC PAW has been on the forefront of spay and neuter efforts in and around Grand Traverse County. This new program will help pet owners with low cost spay and neuter assistance. You can email them here for more information.

A few other programs that are currently being discussed in their beginning stages include looking into the possibilities of starting a pet food pantry and the feasibility of having some sort of physical shelter system set up in the next few years.

In addition to new programs, the core values and priorities of AC PAW haven’t changed – a dedication and compassion to the animals in their care and a commitment to spay/neuter – in education, resources offered and in fixing their own rescued animals. Manley comments on the importance of an organization being committed to spay/neuter by saying, “If you are not ensuring this, I’m not sure how much good you are doing.” He adds that another important priority of AC PAW is to shine a spotlight on hard-to-adopt animals such as the sick, injured, old, disabled, orphaned, etc. These animals have been a substantial regular percentage of the animals that they take in. Manley and McGrath have learned that the problem of animals in need is even bigger than they could have imagined when they started the group. He says, “the workload is ever increasing as you see more problems and more people bring problems to your attention.” They have learned that they can’t help every animal even though they may want to and that sadness and joy are two constant companions when you take on so much responsibility for homeless, abandoned and abused cats and dogs who have no one else to turn to.

When asked what the biggest challenge is for AC PAW, Manley replied that bringing in funds is always at the top of the list. There is always a constant need for funds for medical care, food and many other necessary supplies. He also said that he’d like to “rebuild the canine foster care program to be more effective and with more capacity as well as more training for them and have increased adoption efforts for canines.” Another priority is to expand the Dog Housing Project and raise awareness of the issue.

As partners, Manley and McGrath have learned that each of them has skills and talents that can compliment each other and have found some of the most caring volunteers capable of giving a lot to the organization and the animals. Manley says that they have learned that their health is critical to keeping up the fight – as well as the health and well-being of their volunteers and are looking into a program to keep up the physical and emotional health of their volunteers so that AC PAW is around for many years (or decades) to come!

Although every volunteer with AC PAW is special, appreciated and very much needed, it’s hard to ignore the “kick in the pants” networking opportunity that came along when Erin Monigold of Social Vision Marketing offered to volunteer with AC PAW in January of 2010. Monigold takes care of the website and the social media for AC PAW, keeping the community up to date on the animals up for adoption, events and much more. With over 5,000 “likes” the AC PAW Fan page is a huge asset to the organization, keeping everyone in touch with what the group is doing and letting volunteers and donors know about when their help is needed. It’s much easier to get an animal adopted if there is a photo and a story for everyone to “share” with their friends and family and the Facebook page is constantly being updated with current animals and events.

Monigold contacted AC PAW because of their great reputation. She talked to them about an idea she had to use Twitter to raise money for AC PAW’s animals. Because the event was so successful, it dawned on her that she should donate her time and services to them to help improve their social media and web presence. She was simultaneously beginning to form her own social media marketing business at that time. Monigold says, “it was a perfect fit to use my skills and my love for animals to help such a fantastic organization.”

Monigold puts in about 12-15 hours a week keeping AC PAW’s social media presence in front of the community. Monigold says, “It’s a lot of hours but it’s so rewarding. I really enjoy being AC PAW’s social media voice. Due to social media and our website, we have found many loving homes for our cats and dogs and that makes me feel so wonderful. I manage AC PAW’s Facebook page, Twitter accountInstagram account, website, as well as adding the pet bios that go on the website and adoption sites like PetFinder and Adopt-A-Pet.”

Why is social media such an important part to an animal rescue group’s success? Monigold says, “Social media should be a huge part of the outreach for animal rescue groups. Not only does social media help to spread the word about our adoptable pets and share stories of adopted pets, but it also helps the public to know about upcoming events, the need for donations, and everything that AC PAW does behind-the-scenes to help the animals.”

AC PAW also thrives thanks to their closed Facebook group of volunteers and fosters who are in constant communication with each other about animals that need to be saved, volunteer needs, logistical problems and much more. This group of 53 members works great together to provide the best services they can to the cats and dogs in their care. Because a lot of them only know each other via the computer and Facebook, they decided to gather together this month to meet in person for food and fun. Although there is not supposed to be any “shop talk” going on, it is doubtful that the volunteers will heed that warning as there is always discussions going on about animals in need.

Thinking back over the years about rescues that have taken place and the joys and heartache of trying to save animals, Manley reflects on a few things that have stood out over the years. He marvels at McGrath’s bottle feeding of about 400 orphaned kittens and a couple of dozen puppies over the years. He said, “it takes incredible commitment and she has only lost a few.”

Manley recalls the story of Katie, a middle-aged Leonberger in need. AC PAW received a call about fifteen years ago from a concerned person who told them that a large dog was outside all the time, tied to a tree and looking very skinny. Katie was 94 pounds and eventually filled out to be about 130 pounds. She had hundreds of fleas on her and lots of flea bites. Although she was neglected and in miserable shape, she wagged her big tail through all of her baths. She recovered and often went to schools when AC PAW had educational appearances. Everyone loved her, including Manley and McGrath, who ended up adopting her. Katie took over the easy chair in their house and lived the good life with them for about ten years before she passed away.

Manley also recalls the story of Sophie. About 13 or 14 years ago, he got a call from a concerned person about a woman in Kalkaska named Carol who was having many physical, financial, emotional and family problems. She had a young dog, Sophie, who needed a new home as the woman had a disease which robbed her of her ability to move around without great difficulty. Her husband had left her, her adult son was handicapped and she was to be evicted within weeks. Even though AC PAW was already overloaded with animals, Manley told McGrath that they needed to go in person to check out the situation. Carol’s home was barren of everything except for some packing boxes. Sophie was the only thing she had left, so Manley wanted to leave Sophie with her as long as possible even though it was a worry about her situation.

photo credit: Sarah Brown Photography

photo credit: Sarah Brown Photography

Manley contacted social welfare workers and women’s help groups to see if he could find some help for Carol. Manley and McGrath visited her several times over the next few weeks, while posting profiles of Sophie to potential adopters. Even though Sophie had a limp because she had been hit by a car and her rear leg was permanently injured, a woman named Diane who worked at Munson Medical Center was interested in Sophie. After doing a home visit at Diane’s house, Manley thought it was a great match. Diane lived with her 14-year-old mentally challenged son who was very gentle with their other dog and the family had a wonderful back yard with a fence all around it. When the two dogs were introduced, they got along famously. Carol was willing to let Sophie go to her new home as she was going to be evicted soon and didn’t know where she would end up. Manley was unable to contact Carol again after she was evicted but was able to keep in touch with Diane over the years, including seeing her at some AC PAW events. Sadly, Sophie was put to sleep recently but she left those who knew her with loving memories.

Congratulations, AC PAW, on all of your accomplishments over the past 20 years – you’ve saved lives and helped to make families complete with the love of a great dog or cat that you rescued.

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