Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin to distribute first 'pet hero' awards
JANESVILLE—The Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin's cats and kittens spend most of their time in cages while waiting to be adopted.
Naturally, they get excited when the Washington Whisker Whisperers come around.
The group of Washington Elementary School fifth-graders visits for 30 minutes each week during the school year to read to the cats and play with them, said Kim Hayward, a Washington teacher who created the after-school program.
“I love to see the elementary schools get involved in community service projects," she said. "Kids at this age love to help. It's a good way to instill in them that they are part of their community and that they need to do something for their community. The hope is they'll grow up to be adults that are involved in their community."
The 3-year-old program helps the fifth-graders, too, by boosting their reading skills and confidence and building their compassion for animals, Hayward said.
Hayward and the Washington Whisker Whisperers will be among the humane society's first PetsGoHome Hero Award recipients. They will be recognized at the society's annual meeting May 6 at the Armory.
Hayward said she was shocked when she learned they were named Community Partner Honorees.
“I didn't think it was all that special. It was just something I do,” she said.
Others who will be honored are Volunteers of the Year Michelle and Anthony Weirich of Beloit and Foster Volunteer of the Year Faith Phalin of Beloit.
The annual meeting is open to the public and will feature a buffet dinner, casino games and bingo, raffles and a silent auction. Proceeds support the humane society's efforts to care for the thousands of lost and stray pets that come through its doors each year.
Humane society leaders will share recent achievements and plans for the organization's future during the annual meeting, said Brett Frazier, executive director.
In 2016, the society helped more than 4,000 pets, he said. Adoptions increased by 20 percent, thanks to the hard work of staff and more than 100 volunteers.
The Washington Whisker Whisperers, which involves at least 70 children, nearly didn't get an award. It almost ended earlier this year as Hayward struggled to find transportation funding.
She posted an initial plea on a Go Fund Me page. A few donations dribbled in, so Hayward posted on Facebook and Instagram that the program was in danger of running out of money.
A half-hour later, the Washington Whisker Whisperers got a $2,000 anonymous donation.
In an emotional post, Hayward let her followers know about the contribution. She was still $30 short.
“Within minutes, the other $30 came,” Hayward said.
“That was really a defining moment for me. Every year, it's been a struggle to raise the money for the transportation for the program.”
An anonymous donor saw its value.
“It's something I love. So if I can incorporate kids with animals, it's a win-win,” Hayward said.
Besides Hayward's program, the nonprofit humane society offers several other innovative programs.
It developed the first jail-based dog training program in the region, and it offers a pet pantry that provides pet supplies for low-income families, Frazier said.
Its efforts to care for cats include Vet Pets, a program that places feline families at veterinary clinics, where staffers care for them and help with adoptions. It also created the Backyard Buddies program, which places vaccinated, altered outdoor cats in loving homes with warm barns—at no cost to the homeowners.
“By adopting new technologies and employing advanced models of compassionate care that keep our animals healthy and happy, adoptions have increased by 90 percent over the past three years," Frazier said. "Today, the facility is credentialed as a no-kill shelter.”
He said those goals were accomplished with 11 full-time staffers, including a full-time veterinarian, 175 volunteers and donations from individuals, foundations and businesses.