'It somehow touched people:' High River animal shelter saved after public plea

By The Canadian Press
October 18, 2016 - 1:00pm

HIGH RIVER, Alta. — A southern Alberta animal shelter that provided a safe haven for four-legged refugees during the 2013 floods has been rescued itself.

The Heaven Can Wait Animal Rescue Foundation near High River was close to shutting its doors due to a lack of money.

"I did end up having to cash in the last of my investments that I'd made when I sold my house a number of years ago and I knew that we had about $5,000 left in the bank. We owed money everywhere," said owner Kim Hessel.

"I honestly anticipated we would have to shut down by December and probably sooner, honestly, because there wouldn't have been enough to keep going."

But a crowdsourcing campaign created by one of the shelter's volunteers has brought in $102,000.

Hessel said people have also been making cash donations in person, dropping off food supplies and sending money through e-transfers. She said donations came in from Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Montana, California, Florida and even the United Kingdom.

"It somehow touched people, and I'm going to remember that when I deal with the people I struggle with," Hessel said.

"It's restored a big chunk of my faith in humanity. You see a lot of ugliness in animal welfare and those are things I don't normally talk about. What I'm going to remember is those cases are isolated incidents. There's truly a lot of good in this community and this world."

Hessel's shelter provided a temporary refuge for up to 2,000 dogs, cats, birds and lizards that were left behind when a mandatory evacuation prompted by flooding forced people from their homes in High River in June 2013.

She said the shelter is now safe for at least a year, which will give it time to get charity status to make fundraising easier.

Heaven Can Wait has been open since 1999 and operates along with the Room to Run Boarding Kennel, which has helped to finance it for years.

Hessel said there are 172 cats and 32 dogs at the shelter right now.

The same sort of financial stress that nearly forced the shelter to close down has also led to an increase in people surrendering their animals, she said.

"I remember in December of last year when I really started to see the calls increase from owner surrenders: 'I can't keep my cat. I can't keep my dog. I'm moving because I have a better job opportunity or I've just lost my job and I can't afford this,'" Hessel said.

"We used to get, on average, 20 calls a week from people saying, 'Can you help me?' That's jumped up consistently to 75 or 100 calls a week. I think people are legitimately worried about the future and waiting for economies to change and their fortunes to increase."

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

The Canadian Press

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