Author: Kendra Meinert
Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette
Oct. 6, 2016
ASHWAUBENON - There’s an enormous photo of a barn that greets visitors in the lobby of Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary’s new adoption center.
A poignant reminder of where the no-kill shelter started in 2006 and how far it has come in the decade since. It’s why founder Amanda Reitz gets emotional when she talks about all the helping hands it took to get from there to here, beginning with those of her late grandfather.
That refurbished 80-year-old barn on his homestead near Marion is where she took in her first homeless animals. A University of Wisconsin-Green Bay student at that time, she founded the nonprofit organization to give cats and dogs a home for as long as they need one.
Imagine what Lester Bork, who died three years ago at age 93, would think of HEA’s newest facility — a state-of-the-art building at 2255 Fox Heights Lane built with the help of donors, sponsors and thousands of hours of volunteer time. Reitz has thought of him often in recent weeks as the new adoption center quietly made its public debut.
“His presence is just here. He would be so proud of where this organization has come in the last 10 years and just the educational impact it’s provided for everybody," Reitz said. "When we started with him, it was like, ‘Pit bulls are so bad, and animals don’t belong in the house,’ and all that kind of stuff. Obviously, he changed over time. This building is giving us a platform to share the mission and the vision and the education with the public, and he would be very proud about that.”
HEA is still headquartered at the Marion sanctuary, which is devoted to animals who need rehabilitation or extra time before they meet with potential adopters. Others will live out the rest of their days there.
The new Green Bay Adoption Center replaces the modest space HEA had rented on Holmgren Way since 2010 to give added exposure to animals ready for new homes. It’s triple the size of the former building and brimming with creature comforts.
Making it feel like home
There are no bars or cages. Individual cat condos and dog kennels have glass doors. Felines in one of four multi-cat rooms, named The Cove, The Loft, The Corner and The Quarters, have exterior windows, roomy hammocks and a continuous loop of bird footage playing on flat-screen TVs. For the dogs? Squirrel TV.
There’s a large backyard with individual dog runs and a walk-in dog shower in the mud room. Energy-recovery ventilators exchange air within the building to keep it fresh. Music plays over a sound system. Rustic barn board — another nod to HEA’s rural roots — gives the interior its stylish, unconventional feel.
“What was really important for us was that when people came to this facility they felt like the animals are safe and cared for until we can find them a forever home, versus that feeling of the sterile environment and that kind of sad feeling a lot of people get when they enter into a shelter environment,” Reitz said. “That’s why actually some people won’t go to shelters and won’t adopt, because they don’t like that feeling, that institutionalized, helpless feeling I think that a lot of people get.
“So hopefully this environment will allow people who have never experienced shelter animals before to now get to see them. ... Hopefully when they see how well taken care of they are and how loved they are that feeling will kind of go away and they’ll allow a shelter animal to come into their life.”
The building, once home to Reading Connections Inc. before sitting vacant for several years, was given to HEA by Rick and Debbie Giesler in early 2015. It’s a significant upgrade from the former location, which, despite its cramped quarters, still managed to adopt out hundreds of animals.
“We wanted this to create an experience for people who come, so it feels very warm and home-like,” said Marcus Reitz, who handles HEA's branding and marketing and is Amanda’s brother. “Secondly, we wanted it to help tell our story, because today probably 80 to 90 percent of the people who know us in Green Bay, or maybe don’t know anything about us, all they know of us is that we’re a little, kind of hole-in-the-wall adoption center on the corner of Holmgren Way and Borvan (Avenue).”
The new facility is about 3,000 square feet compared with 975 at the other site. The outdoor space for dogs to play and exercise went from 300 square feet to 7,000. There’s room to house about 40 cats, and six dog kennels offer 30 square feet each. The roomier facility allows HEA to slightly increase the number of animals it can showcase in Green Bay, but quantity wasn’t the goal as much as quality of life, Amanda Reitz said.
“We didn’t try to increase capacity. We tried to make sure we’re providing the right experience for people, so that way when they have that right experience and they’re able to really get to know the animals and have that time together, we’re hopefully moving more, which allows us to help more animals,” she said.
Two private cat rooms and another for dogs give potential adopters a place to spend face-to-face time with an animal, an upgrade from one shared room in the former location. A large meeting room called Community Central has a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard painted on the wall and will be used for training sessions, volunteer orientation and other events. There’s a separate medical area for vaccinations and blood work — procedures that sometimes had to be done on the retail counter previously.
A storage room for donations of food, litter, blankets and cleaning supplies dropped off by the public has an extra-wide door with direct access to a designated unloading zone in the parking lot. It’s one of the many little efficiencies volunteers and staff appreciate.
“At our old building, if you stopped by with a 50-pound bag of dog food, we were going to literally haul that through four doors before it found its final resting place,” Marcus Reitz said.
Volunteers, donors made it happen
The building has a designated break room for the 130 active volunteers who keep HEA running, some of whom work six-hour shifts on Saturdays. It’s a luxury they didn’t have in the old location, where an eight-person coat rack behind a door in a tiny room that housed the washer and dryer, a utility sink and refrigerator was the next best thing. The new room is called The Heart.
“At the end of the day, they’re the heart of our organization. They’re making all this happen,” Marcus Reitz said. “Being as volunteer-run as we are, this is an important spot.”
Volunteers were critical to gutting the building down to the studs and renovating it. They did everything from interior demolition, painting and door installation to tiling the shower, siding the exterior and building the cat bridges and scratching posts. Only heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, flooring and the dormers were contracted out; the rest was the work of volunteers — an estimated 3,000 hours’ worth, Amanda Reitz said.
“Everything has been done with either in-kind donations, discounted services by contractors or volunteer hours. It was very important to us to put up the building as we had the funds to do so and not overextend ourselves, so everything has been covered,” she said. “It was a lot of spouse commitment. A bunch of our female employees said, ‘Hey, take our husbands for the weekend or take our husbands for the week.’ It’s family members who have been a part of this for the journey and so they said, ‘Hey, let’s make this the next phase of it.’
“We always knew our community was good. We didn’t know great they were, and that makes me tear up,” she said. “I could not have ever imagined the community would back HEA in such an amazing way. You know a lot of people come to me and talk to me about you’re the girl with the dream ... Yeah, but that’s one person’s dream. It takes a community to make a dream come true.”
As rewarding as it is to have the new facility open, you won’t catch Reitz spending a lot of time catching her breath. She says there’s more work to be done on the five pillars of HEA's mission: adoption, education, spay/neuter, rehabilitation and sanctuary.
“When that many lives are depending on you — I’m talking about the fur kids, but actually I’m talking about the community — you don’t have time to sit ...” she said. “We did this. Now where can we go? There’s always more that needs to be done.”
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