I feel like I should start this story by saying, "Once upon a time, there was a girl with a dream," but that might sound a little crazy, even if it is true.
While volunteering at a local kill shelter, I came in day after day to find the little souls that had touched my heart and my life were forever gone, not because of anything they did wrong, but because there are so many animals in this world who have been neglected, abused, or left behind. Every day it became harder to volunteer, knowing 4 little paws that had touched my heart the day before might not be there when I came to visit. That is when I realized something must change. It is easy to say things should change, but it's a whole other thing to take action and make a difference. Often times, we sit back and judge others, but don't do anything to improve a situation, and I wasn't going to be one of those people.
My "brain-child" so to speak was a no-kill sanctuary in Wisconsin, modeled after the largest no-kill sanctuary in the U.S., Best Friends. However, I had to get others on board as I was just a regular girl, attending college, and starting my future as an adult. The first people I thought of were my parents, Ken and Lois Reitz. If I couldn't convince them to join in on the endeavor, I was never going to get my idea to go anywhere. My mother, Lois, loved the idea, but didn't believe it possible. My father, Ken, thought I had lost my mind! However, being the diplomatic person he "usually" is, he asked for proof of it being possible (little did he know that I already knew about Best Friends). After this discussion, the Reitz family (yes the dog went too) took a trip southwest to Kanab, UT to visit Best Friends and take their seminar, "How to Start Your Own Sanctuary". The trip there was a complete success, we took in all the knowledge we could absorb and brought it home with us to Wisconsin.
On the trip home, it was "decided," and I use that word lightly, that we would embark on the endeavor of a no-kill sanctuary three years from that time as I was to finish getting my teaching degree at UW-Green Bay, and my mom and dad would retire from their jobs. If you've ever met me, you know I don't like to sit around and do nothing, especially for three years. At that point I gathered a board of directors, which included myself, Ken and Lois Reitz, Michelle Bork, Rick Laes, and Susan DeFilippi, DVM., I started getting paperwork ready as is required to incorporate a business in Wisconsin and applied for non-profit status with the federal government. Shortly after submission we got recognized in Wisconsin as a corporation and received our 501c3 status from the federal government. With that, I was still supposed to be keeping in mind "we weren't starting for three more years". Little did we all know, things would change fast.
Only two short months later, we came upon our first rescue. I was heading home early from a family vacation and came upon a sweet but very stinky basset hound. It was obvious to me this little man was dumped, but my parents wanted me to find his owner. I went from house to house around the lake but could not find my little guy's owners. He then became Walter, the basset hound, (for those who have children and read, his antics reminded me of Walter the Farting Dog, hence the name). Rescuing Walter truly was the start to Wisconsin's no-kill sanctuary, Happily Ever After.
Several months after having Walter and getting him all fixed up (that means vaccine, other medical care and of course neutering), we found Walter a home. Then came Sugar, Winter, Otis, Heidi, Snowball, Smokey, Mindy, Chubby, Lucky, and the list goes on and on.
Happily Ever After started with fostering animals in my parent's home, but when the animals became too many, changes had to be made. I had always wanted to live up in Marion. This is where my grandfather and family had 40 acres of land which had a 70 year old barn existing on the property. As a little girl my dream was to remodel the barn and make it into something beautiful, but I would never have guessed we would remodel it and make it into an animal sanctuary. As a child and adult, I always found this area peaceful, warm, and inviting, and wanted the animals in our care and the people who came to visit to feel that too, so my father moved up to Marion (as I was still in school). Yes, I know how lucky I am that my parents were completely supportive of HEA's mission and were and still are along for the ride! Along with them, the rest of my family including my grandfather, aunts, uncles, and brother and his wife are all very supportive of and involved with the sanctuary.
HEA is now located on 40 acres in Marion, WI. The 70 year old barn that existed on the property did not look at all like it does today. The building hadn't been used in years. The corner foundation was collapsing and lots of repairs needed to be made for it to be structurally sound. We found skilled men/women who could "put Humpty Dumpty" together again and we now have a climate controlled barn, with many rooms and play areas that have been made to be the home of over 40 dogs and 130 cats on any given day.
Our hopes for the future include a larger building that has indoor/outdoor access for everyone, more room to run, and grooming facilities. We also hope to either have a mobile low-cost veterinarian service or a veterinarian service on site. Eventually we hope to house other animals beside cats and dogs that are in need of shelter such as horses, small animals, birds, and wildlife. These are long-term goals for our organization and we will need to have continued support of the public to make these future dreams for the animals a reality.
Here at Happily Ever After, we are very proud of our mission to help reduce the pet population, provide care and attention to animals who are looking for a home, provide long-term care to animals that are not suitable for living with the public, and educating the public on issues concerning the welfare of animals.
Together, the volunteers and community make Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary a safe haven for animals and we look forward to continuing to make a difference in the lives of animals everywhere.
May paw-prints forever grace your heart,
Amanda M. Reitz