Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MELLINGER: Will you provide a Christmas miracle?

By MOLLY MELLINGER, Community Viewpoint | 12/16/2013

If you’re thinking about bringing home a furry family member or giving back this holiday season, Prairie Paws Animal Shelter should be on your mind. I got acquainted with Prairie Paws this fall, as a new transfer student at Ottawa University, when I picked up a sweet black Lab wandering on U.S. 59. This dog, now called Walter, joined the group of 65 dogs (and 55 cats) at Prairie Paws.

I have two pets in my studio apartment and couldn’t adopt Walter. But, after seeing how gently he ate granola bars out of my hand, I couldn’t just walk away from him. Thus began my time visiting Prairie Paws and learning firsthand how amazing this Ottawa institution truly is.

If you’re thinking about bringing home a furry family member or giving back this holiday season, Prairie Paws Animal Shelter should be on your mind. I got acquainted with Prairie Paws this fall, as a new transfer student at Ottawa University, when I picked up a sweet black Lab wandering on U.S. 59. This dog, now called Walter, joined the group of 65 dogs (and 55 cats) at Prairie Paws.

I have two pets in my studio apartment and couldn’t adopt Walter. But, after seeing how gently he ate granola bars out of my hand, I couldn’t just walk away from him. Thus began my time visiting Prairie Paws and learning firsthand how amazing this Ottawa institution truly is.

As we all know, being at an animal shelter is the best possible scenario for pets who don’t have a safe home. For Walter and the other Prairie Paws residents, this is particularly true. The current facility at 3173 K-68 was built in 2010 with an incredible angel donation, and is situated on about 20 acres of land beside the Cottonwood Animal Hospital. The dog kennels, rather than being cramped, dark cages, are ingeniously designed with a fresh-air section for each dog. The cat kennels have Plexiglass walls for observing the world as cats like to do. All of the shelter features are reflective of the staff, led by Jaron Asher, shelter director, who are superhumanly loving and hard-working.

It’s important to remember, however, that being kenneled is not a natural way of life for dogs or cats. The shelter is a waystation. Prairie Paws welcomes walk-in visitors, tirelessly promotes its adoptable animals (including via www.prairiepaws.org), and participates in adoption drives around Kansas. (You can frequently find staff and shelter dogs at Petco stores in Lawrence and Olathe.) But the need is massive. In September 2013, gaps in funding forced Prairie Paws to reduce its public operating hours to four days a week.

And remember Walter, the stray black Lab now at Prairie Paws? Staff discovered that he is heartworm-positive, a condition that puts Walter at serious risk for a stroke or heart attack without treatment. They gently informed me that this treatment is $400 per animal ... in addition to the $2,000 that Asher estimates the shelter will spend housing Walter until he is one day adopted. Each animal living at Prairie Paws costs $40 to $50 per day.

Readers might find this story distressing but feel, like I did, that the problem is out of their hands. You might even imagine all animal shelters to be heart-breaking and overwhelming, also like I did. What I’d like to communicate to Ottawa residents is that there is something important, and heart-warming, you can do. As a true Christmas miracle, Prairie Paws and loved ones from all over the country helped me raise the $400 for Walter’s treatment. Walter is adoptable now, and this month receives his treatment as we pray for a positive recovery.

If you just want to dip your toe in the water, check out Prairie Paws’ website or stop by in person.

If you can give, monetary donations of any size always are needed, or a monthly gift for those able. Prairie Paws is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization (providing receipts to donors for tax time). And you can visit to see the faces of the animals who are receiving food, shelter and medical care because of your generosity.

Dropping off pet care items is an easy way to give back. Think about essentials, like dish soap (for hand-washing hundreds of pet bowls).

If you can give your time, that’s a gift that costs nothing and pays dividends. Shelter animals can go “kennel crazy” without exercise or one-on-one affection, and become happier and healthier through interaction with people. Volunteering only requires your time and energy.

If you can adopt, Prairie Paws adoptions are exceptionally low-cost. Many medical expenses are non-issues for adoptive owners because the shelter has already covered them, like spaying/neutering and Walter’s heartworm treatment. There is no one type of shelter dog or cat: if you have a specific breed in mind, chances are that Prairie Paws has a match waiting for adoption.

Molly Mellinger is an Ottawa University student and Prairie Paws Animal Shelter supporter.

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