Northwoods Humane Society facing financial crisis

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

The black lab standing at the side of a rural road north of Lindstrom looked out of place on a 95 degree day earlier this month. There were no homes anywhere close and the dog did not move.

As the man pulled over and stepped from his vehicle, the dog approached him slowly, wagging its tail. Then the dog turned and trotted down into the ditch, glancing back, perhaps to see if the man would follow.

The man noticed and followed. In a culvert, not far from where the dog waited alongside the road, the man found the female with a litter of 12 puppies, Three had perished in the blistering heat.

The female and her pups were taken to Northwoods Humane Society on US-8 in Wyoming, just a mile northeast of Forest Lake.

It’s just another example of the heart-tugging animal stories that are handed to the staff at Northwoods almost daily.

It’s another reason why the animal shelter can’t be allowed to close, said Brenda Farr Zelinka, executive director, and Charlotte Ihrke, general manager, in an interview last week.

But close the shelter may if funds can’t be generated in a capital campaign announced earlier this month. The drive has a goal of $60,000 which is needed to cover estimated expenses for the remainder of 2012.

The drive is needed, Zelinka said, to offset growing expenses faced by the animal shelter and a decline in donations. Without a successful fund-raising drive, the animal shelter is at “high risk” of closure, the two staff members said.

Public Appeal

“We have seen so much economic strife,” Zelinka said. “This is the worst economic climate of our lifetimes. We’ve been at war for how many years?”

With the nation’s tough economic times hitting people hard, it’s only natural that donations for animal shelters like Northwoods will suffer. Donations are down and the demand is up, Ihrke says.

“It [the center’s financial crisis] has been coming on the last five to six years,” Zelinka said. Operational expenses are $300,000 a year and of that amount, about two-thirds comes from public donations and fund-raisers. Animal adoptions bring in $100,000 in revenue each year.

The two women are the center’s only full-time employees. One part-time worker was recently laid off in a belt-tightening move.

“It was tough before and it’s even tougher now,” said Jack Felix of Forest Lake, a Northwoods volunteer since 1996 who has served as board president for the past dozen years.

The economic downturn has hit not only individuals but local governments. Northwoods receives no government assistance, Felix said.

There was a time when Chisago County and Wyoming provided funds. The combined $3300 that at one time came to Northwoods is no longer available. “Every little bit kills you,” Felix said.

Felix is one of the many volunteers who continues to donate time and money to help the cause. “I just love animals,” he said. “I love the philosophy of helping animals.”

Since 2000

The animal shelter opened in 2000 on land donated by Jerry and Joyce Winnick of Wyoming. The facility is still paying off its mortgage and building improvements and repairs are added expenses.

Zelinka and Ihrke believe Northwoods is often confused with other animal agencies. And even after 12 years of operation, many in the public are still not aware of the shelter nor where it is located.

In 2011, the facility placed 1500 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens in homes. “We want to keep doing that,” Zelinka said. “We don’t want to close, obviously.”

The animal adoption total is likely to hit 1500 again this year as the center is often at full capacity with 80 animals in the house.

How to Help

Since launching the capital campaign this month, Northwoods has received numerous calls expressing concern and offering help. New fund-raising ideas are also being suggested.

In the first two weeks of the drive, some $20,000 in cash and pledges have been received. That’s encouraging, but such capital drives often have their most success in the first days of a campaign. Ihrke and Zelinka are optimistic the drive will continue to gain momentum.

Some of the cash has come in form of sustaining pledges where donors offer a specific dollar amount each month.

It is such pledges that will help lock in funding stability, Zelinka said.

Beyond financial pledges, volunteer help is also in need. Shelter volunteers are needed to help with daily tasks.

There is also a need for area residents interested in serving on the board of directors.

For more information, contact Ihrke at 651-982-0240, Ext. 12, or Zelinka at 651-982-0240, Ext. 14. The Northwoods web page at will have more information about the facility and how to help.

Tax deductible donations may also be mailed to Northwoods Humane Society, P.O. Box 264, Wyoming, MN 55092.

Shelter hours are 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and noon to 4 on Sunday.

Lab an Example

The black lab and her pups that made their way to the shelter on July 16 will join the ranks of animals up for adoption later this summer.

The staff believes the pups will all survive. “We think someone dumped them,” Ihrke says.

Fortunately, a man with a kind heart could not drive by the lab standing alongside the road.

It was touch and go for the pups after they came to the shelter. The pups were treated for heat-stress. All were open-mouth breathing, but began to recover after being placed on cool, damp towels that helped lower their body temperature.

During a visit to the shelter last week, the pups were nursing at mom’s belly and napping in their isolation kennel. The eyes of the puppies were just starting to open.

The female is thought to be three to four years old. She wore a collar, but had no tags. Giving her a name will be another task for the staff.

“She’s a good mom,” Ihrke says.

There are lots of good animal moms and kids without homes who call Northwoods home. Many are tough-luck stories who arrived at the shelter after being abandoned, given up or simply dropped in rural areas.

Where would they go if a place like Northwoods did not exist, Ihrke and Zelinka ask?