ROCK FALLS – It’s been a year of transition for Happy Tails Humane Society, and the animal shelter is ready to take the next step in its evolution.
The shelter has come a long way from its humble beginnings at a makeshift building in Sterling’s Hickory Hills area. Six years ago, the shelter moved to its current facility in the country at 1408 McNeil Road.
Happy Tails was challenged last year by allegations of violations of the Animal Welfare Act made by staff at Advanced Animal Care in Rock Falls.
After an inspection in October 2015, the Illinois Department of Agriculture closed the investigation, and the accusations were deemed unfounded.
Inspector Ron Settles, in his report filed Nov. 4, 2015, “found all animals to be healthy and happy, and the facility was in good sanitary condition.”
The shelter has moved on from the situation, and is focused on more upgrades, such as an isolation area expansion that’s about a week from completion.
Happy Tails also has been solidifying its leadership structure, which includes a new shelter manager, and for the first time in a while, a full complement of board members.
The board had dwindled to three members last year, but that number is now up to seven. The group, led by president Dave Suarez, brings an impressive collective resumé to the boardroom.
“It makes a big difference having more members on the new board,” Suarez said. “You need diversity of skills and opinions to run any organization.”
Suarez said the new board brings great passion for the animals, but the skills mix is heavily weighted toward business and education.
Suarez is a retired area schools administrator, and the board now has a technology expert, Charles Kinsella, who retired from his job as technology director for the Dixon school district.
“Education will be an important part of our mission, especially regarding spay and neuter, because we have a big feral cat problem in the area,” Suarez said.
Suarez said keeping animals updated on vaccines, and other cornerstones of responsible pet ownership will all be points of emphasis in the shelter’s community outreach efforts.
A big part of the educational component is the shelter’s Pet Wellness Clinic. The clinic operates Mondays and Thursdays to help keep pets healthy and in their homes.
“Caring for pets can be difficult financially, so we want to help keep them with their owners at a very reasonable cost,” Suarez said.
Timothy Dayton, a mobile veterinarian well known throughout the area, heads up the clinic. When she is home from college, Rock Falls native Allie Furr helps out at the clinic.
“Allie is a former Happy Tails employee who is studying veterinary medicine,” Suarez said. “It is our hope to have her on board as a vet once she graduates.”
Marc Razo provides some continuity on the board, serving as vice president. An employee of CGH Medical Center, Suarez says Razo brings medical knowledge that is indispensable to the shelter setting.
John Mowery is another familiar face to frequent visitors to Happy Tails.
“John is our ‘cat guy’, and his expertise is very valuable in the day-to-day running of the shelter,” Suarez said.
The business side of the board has been bolstered considerably, an important part of the nonprofit’s plans going forward.
“The board’s goal is to use the available resources to help as many animals as possible, but as with any nonprofit, we can only do what our budget allows,” Suarez said.
John Novak Jr., the board’s resident financial expert, is there to dissect the budget and help the shelter maximize its resources.
Local businessman Jim Gabler recently joined the board. Suarez said Gabler has a wealth of connections in the community that should help the shelter in several aspects of its operations.
Suarez said Gabler has worked to strengthen the shelter’s ties with local government, churches, and businesses.
Beth Uhrich, an attorney at Pignatelli & Associates in Rock Falls, is the most recent addition to the board, enabling the shelter to directly deal with any legal issues that arise.
The first person visitors are now likely to see when they walk through the shelter’s front door is Kaleo Makaimoku.
Makaimoku is the new shelter manager, taking the baton from Donald Czyzyk, who resigned to focus on his many local business interests.
Makaimoku started at the shelter in mid-July. Her husband’s job brought them to Sterling in April.
The new manager said the job is an exciting outlet for her lifelong love of animals.
“No 2 days are the same here, and that’s why it’s so exciting,” Makaimoku said. “The animals all have such different personalities, and you never stop learning.”
While the shelter can always use more volunteers, she said her base is amazing.
“We couldn’t run without our volunteers,” Makaimoku said. “They are so passionate and giving of themselves, and most have been here for many years.”
Suarez said Czyzyk is one of many individuals who have left a strong foundation from which the board can continue to build.
“The animals were well cared for while Donald was here, and the new board is grateful that we’ll be carrying on the excellent work done by all of the past board members, staff, and volunteers,” Suarez said.
The shelter continues to increase the number of forever homes it provides for animals. In 2014, about 340 animals were adopted, 450 found homes last year, and the shelter still hopes to hit its goal of 550 this year.
Click here to learn more about donating, volunteering, fostering animals, or sponsoring a fundraiser or adoption event, or stop by the shelter at 1408 McNeil Road in Rock Falls, or call 815-626-2994.