Animal shelter finally open after decade of fundraising

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Above: Weston Cejka, his younger sibling and their mom stopped by the Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter in Prairie du Chien a few weeks ago to visit with the dogs and cats. They were interested in taking a pet home.

Several dozen cats and kittens are currently living at Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter, playing and looking cute, in hopes of finding their “furever” home.

Shelter Manager Staci Roth plays with some of the animals while talking to a potential adoptive family.

By Correne Martin

As the adage, “If you build it, they will come” implies, the Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter facility has been 10 years in the making, but it’s finally complete and open in Prairie du Chien, and volunteers have shown up. So have the cats and dogs.

Two months after the shelter officially opened Dec. 4, an average of two dozen cats and kittens along with about 10 dogs and puppies are living at the shelter. It seems, when some are adopted, others often arrive. Most have been surrenders thus far, though a few cats have been strays.

The important thing is that, now, if people have to give up a pet, there’s a place for them to go, be cared for and treated with love.

“I didn’t anticipate that we would be helping people, not just pets,” RABAS Vice President Bev Pozega shared. “These are like our pets. They’re not just animals in a cage.”

The kind treatment animals receive at Rivers and Bluffs is apparent the second the front door opens. Visitors walk into a big, open reception area, oftentimes greeted by not only the manager, Staci Roth, or volunteers, but also a friendly dog ready for petting. That physical interaction is instantaneous. On either side of the room, there are large glass windows behind where adoptable dogs and cats roam, play or rest among their friends, with murals of comfy outdoor scenes as the backdrop.

“This place is pretty awesome,” Roth acknowledged. “There’s plenty of space for the animals to run around and be social. There’s a daily rotation where, even the animals that aren’t as social with others have the opportunity to get out and run around. The more we can interact with them, the more people who come in here will want to take them home.”

The way the shelter works is that dogs and cats are either surrendered by their owners or brought in as strays. Other types of animals, such as birds, bunnies and guinea pigs, as well as feral dogs and cats are not accepted.

The animals are held in an isolation room for 48 hours for the purpose of disease prevention, Roth said. They’re checked for fleas and ticks and given tests for conditions such feline leukemia, distemper, rabies and heartworm. They receive vaccines and are scheduled with a local vet clinic for spaying and neutering. If they are found to be contagious, wild or aggressive, they may be kept in a kennel or cat condo separately from the other animals until the perfect home is found. According to Roth, these protocols were determined by RABAS’ board of directors by way of veterinarian advisement.

The shelter is a “low-kill” organization, meaning animals are only euthanized for certain medical reasons.

“We will work with aggressive animals to improve their temperament or try to find someone who has knowledge about working with such issues,” Pozega stated.

Currently, strays from the city of Prairie du Chien are taken to Southwest Vet, per a contract between the two. However, Roth noted that RABAS intends to take over that contract once approved by the city. The shelter has a separate side entrance for police and animal control officers who may bring animals from emergency situations after hours. Aside from that, Rivers and Bluffs is not staffed 24/7, it does not have a veterinarian on staff and it is not an on-call facility.

Thanks to an outpouring of support and volunteers since the shelter’s opening, supplies are well-stocked, daily duties are done on schedule and adoptions are happening regularly. Certainly, Roth said, RABAS believes the newness surrounding this long-awaited facility has attributed to the forthcoming of assistance in the beginning.

“Initially, we got on a list to receive a pallet of dog and cat food and cat clay litter but we’re going to go through that fast,” Roth said. She said the shelter is  always going to need those things in addition to dog and cat treats, paper towels, disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, dish soap, laundry soap and bleach.

Roth and RABAS Secretary Donna Heilmann explained that they would appreciate “scoopable cat litter.”

“It’s easier and will help us to be less wasteful,” Roth said.

“Cash donations are probably also atop our list,” Heilmann added to the perpetual needs.

Over 25 rotating volunteers have stepped forward already. Most have agreed to be scheduled to address the site’s morning, afternoon and evening animal accommodations. These activities include walking the dogs four times a day, cleaning and sanitizing condos and kennels, mopping, feeding the animals, doing laundry, cleaning dishes and other light housekeeping. Volunteers not on the schedule can simply stop in during regular hours to play with the cats and dogs, because that’s necessary too.

“There are responsibilities but it’s also a lot of fun. Everybody who’s there enjoys being there,” Pozega pointed out.

In fact, there were five well-attended volunteer trainings prior to the shelter’s opening.

Heilmann said many of the volunteers have even joined the Friends of RABAS membership.

“We’ve been so very impressed with the outpouring of support we’ve gotten so immediately,” she commented.

In total, 17 kennels including two double kennels, two cat rooms with 24 condos in each, cat and dog viewing areas, cat and dog intake rooms, an exam room, two outdoor play yards, a kitchen and an office make up the layout of the facility. Architecturally, the set-up is meeting RABAS board and volunteer expectations. They hope that the public takes the time to stop in and check out the new space.

“We wouldn’t have a building right now had it not been for the donations from area community members,” Pozega said.

That includes all contributions, from the tens of thousands of dollars in personal gifts to the small purchases and participation at RABAS fundraisers.

“Just the other day, we had a little girl bring us some treats and blankets she made herself,” Heilmann mentioned. “That, to me, is just as fulfilling since it came from her heart.”

Pozega agreed that this organization has taught kids, and adults too, to give back and learn how to volunteer, all while having fun. “Even if it is just to play with the kitties,” she said.

The first Rivers and Bluffs fundraiser was held back in 1997. Since then, bake sales, food stands, poker runs, rummage sales, dog walks, basket raffles and a few tried-and-true events have become key parts of the journey. Some of the upcoming fundraisers are among the favorites, like the Pet Expo at Nelson True Value, Pasta for Pets, Princess for an Evening and others.

“We’ve got quite a following. People have come to know the quality of what we offer,” Heilmann stated. “Now, when you adopt an animal from us, you know you’re getting a healthy, friendly pet ‘furever.’”

“The reward has made it all worth it,” Pozega affirmed. “After all these years, we’re finally making a difference.”

Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter hours are Mondays, noon to 7 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and Thursdays; Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to stop by, behind Country Inn and Suites, during these times or call the manager, (608) 380-1559, to set up an appointment. Watch for animal features and adoption success stories on the shelter’s Facebook page, and visit to sign up for RABAS’ newsletter.

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