F Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter

Inmates help rescue dog heal from life of trauma

After being rescued from an Onalaska home and participating in a prison dog program in Prairie du Chien, Ophelia, a 5-year-old Catahoula cur, is being adopted by a prison guard who worked with her.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune

5949990eb2dbf.imageThe 5-year-old Catahoula was one of eight dogs and dozens of other animals and rodents seized during an animal hoarding and maltreatment investigation at an Onalaska home last fall. The dogs were taken to the Coulee Region Humane Society as their previous owners, Linda and Carol West, awaited trial, and while they received plenty of exercise, biscuits and care during their extensive stay, the stress of long hours spent in a kennel can take a toll.

“It can be terrible for their mentality,” said Heather Hankins, executive director of CRHS. “We needed to get (Ophelia) out of here to gain life experience and learn love.”

Ophelia struggled during a two-week stay in a foster home, and when the shelter was given permission to adopt out the dogs in late April, Hankins knew Ophelia’s behavioral issues would hinder her chances of finding a forever home. However, the sweet but stubborn dog was an ideal candidate for the first ever WAGS — Working with Animals to Gain Socialization — program at Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution, a currently exclusive partnership with CRHS which pairs teams of four inmates, who must apply for the program and meet qualifications, with a dog in need of extra training.

On May 4, Ophelia and four other dogs from CRHS arrived at PDCI to learn basic obedience skills and commands, residing in the communal cell of their trainers, who were responsible for feeding, walking and cleaning up after the dogs 24/7, as well as taking them on two- to four-mile runs daily in the courtyard area. Volunteer Bev Pozega came in once a week to lead a training class, and during Hankins’ frequent check-ins at the prison, she witnessed an impressive transformation in Ophelia, both in her physique and mentality.

“When I took (Ophelia) down there, her tail was between her legs. She seemed depressed,” Hankins said. “When I came back week after week, her tail was always up and wagging. My biggest goal was to get her out of her shell and feel what it’s like to just be a dog. She’s a lot more easy going now and more trusting. She’s learned sit, stay, shake, roll over. She’s very food motivated — she’s put on a some pounds due to the motivation.”

In addition to the basics, the inmates, who nicknamed her “Puppychula,” taught her to high five and roll over, and made up creative commands such as “mama sit your booty,” an instruction to back up while seated. They learned her quirks — a love for ice cubes and possessiveness of toys — and how to soothe her during “dogmares.”

While some were initially cautious, the CRHS staff quickly embraced the program, which is of no extra cost to the shelter, after seeing photos of a somewhat plumper and much more content Ophelia wearing a pink flowered collar hand crocheted by an inmate.

“The inmates all said she’s the princess of the group (of dogs),” Hankins said. “Here are these big tough guys talking baby talk. I knew the experience would be amazing for the dogs, but I didn’t know how amazing it would be for the people. Watching the inmates from before the dog to after, they’re like truly different people. This doesn’t reduce their sentence or time — they want to give back and help someone or something else become better. One of them said, ‘She’s damaged, I’m damaged, and we’re going to help each other through it.’”

“Her scars tell a story — she was (raised) in such hell,” agreed prison staffer Ms. Mumm, who worked on the unit and prefers not to have her first name used. “She’s happier and healthier now, not as skittish. It’s made a huge difference on the inmates, positivity-wise. I think animal therapy is a great thing.”

Last Wednesday, Ophelia, clad in a tiny tasseled cap, was the first graduate of the WAGS program, a celebration with peanut butter frosted “pupcakes” and tears of both sadness and joy. And on Monday, Mumm officially adopted the dog who inspired both prisoners and staff with her resilience.

“When she came on the unit that first day, I saw her and I knew she was the one,” Mumm said. “She’s just lovable and she’s doing great.”

Hankins has high hopes that the other canine trainees will find happy homes, and is excited to continue the program, as are the inmates, who plan to start an internal fundraiser to help all the dogs at the shelter.

“They want to show they appreciate us, and we appreciate them,” Hankins said. “It really feels like a win for everyone right now.”

“I knew the experience would be amazing for the dogs, but I didn’t know how amazing it would be for the people. ... One of them said, ‘She’s damaged, I’m damaged, and we’re going to help each other through it.’” Heather Hankins, executive director of CRHS

Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter Tile Program

screenshot-www.brickmarkersusa.com-2017-06-06-08-39-20The movement to build a desperately needed animal shelter for the Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin area began in 2007. What started as a small group of citizens concerned about the welfare of stray and unwanted pets has evolved into an organization devoted to building Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter. After nearly 10 years of generous donations and constant fundraising, consisting of numerous community events, including dog swims, father/daughter dances, motorcycle poker runs, pasta buffets, chicken barbecues, used shoe drives, country music festivals and dozens of bake sales and food stands, the group broke ground on November 1, 2016. Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter is soon to become a reality.screenshot-www.brickmarkersusa.com-2017-06-06-08-39-08

Even without an actual animal shelter, this dedicated group of volunteers soon became a "force to be reckoned with." Through social media and a commitment to helping pets in need, the group has found "forever homes" for many animals over the past 10 years.

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Often times, donations were raised to help with necessary veterinary costs for animals with injuries incurred at the hands of former owners. Other times, Rivers & Bluffs volunteers paid for routine care and medical treatment out of their own pockets. Therapy Dog visits to the local hospital have brought joy and comfort to patients as well as an opportunity to forget about pain for a few minutes while petting a friendly dog. Children learn empathy and respect for animals while improving their reading skills through weekly therapy dog visits at area schools. Therapy Dog visits to nursing home and retirement centers inspire residents to relive happier times spent with their beloved dogs or cats in year gone by. Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter will strive to be even more involved in the community by providing education on the importance of spaying and neutering pets to prevent unwanted litters and offering volunteer opportunities to individual and groups.

Construction of Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter will be complete by mid-summer 2017. But, even though the building will be finished, there are many things still needed before we can open the doors and start helping pets in need. Kennels, cat condos, exterior canine play areas and "catios" as well as operating expenses for the first year will be necessary before we become functional.

Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter is proud to offer you a way to help us in our goal of an animal shelter that will serve Crawford and Grant Counties in Wisconsin and Clayton County in Iowa as well as to express your love for a beloved pet or important person in your life. We invite you to be a part of a very special commemorative opportunity by purchasing a personalized, engraved tile. Now is your chance to support Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter with a donation that will last a lifetime. Tile purchases will benefit homeless animals for years to come and will symbolize your commitment and love for animals. Tiles can be inscribed in honor of or in memory of an animal or animal lover, a donor's name. family or business name. The engraved tiles make excellent birthday, anniversary, Christmas or wedding gifts for the animal lover in your life.

This lasting legacy will be installed inside the animal shelter on a large wall in the reception area above a beautiful granite bench. Pictures of every successful adoption will be taken in front of this wall. Two tile sizes are available: a 4"x8" tile and an 8"x8" tile. A large black wrought iron Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter logo will adorn the center of the wall, surrounded by the memorial tiles.

Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter's Mission Statement: To be the passionate advocate that will provide quality care for companion animals in need as we seek their forever homes and educate the community about responsible pet ownership.

Rooster Andy’s Chicken Q to Benefit Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter

Mark your calendars for the first Rooster Andy’s Chicken Q of the season. Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter volunteers will once again be serving Rooster Andy’s delicious grilled chicken dinners to go at the Peoples State Bank parking lot - Blackhawk Avenue location - on Thursday, May 25th. Hours of the Chicken Q are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Dinners include ½ grilled chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and dinner roll. Advance tickets are recommended and are available by calling Jill Cipra at 326-4870 or Bev Pozega at 326-2914. People are welcome to purchase the grilled chicken dinners on a walk-up basis, but only those with advance tickets will be guaranteed. Rivers & Bluffs volunteers will also deliver to Prairie du Chien businesses that purchase a minimum of 10 dinners in advance. The animal shelter which is located on Cliffwood Drive, directly behind Country Inn & Suites, is nearing completion. Bev Pozega, one of the event coordinators, stressed that kennels, cages & cat condos are on order and should arrive by September 1st. The group is also hoping to have enough money for the 1st year’s operational expenses before they can open the doors to a functional animal shelter. “Once again, we are asking the community to support us in our efforts to finish and fund Rivers & bluffs Animal Shelter which will serve the Prairie du Chien area, including Crawford, Grant and Clayton Counties”, Pozega added.

Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter is a 501 (C) 3 non-profit organization raising money for an animal shelter in the PdC Area. Donations are tax deductible and may be mailed to RABAS PO Box 421 PdC WI 53821. For more information on the Chicken Q or Rivers & Bluffs, please visit our website at www.riversandbluffsanimalshelter.org or contact Bev at the number above.

Rivers & Bluffs Animal Shelter to Host Michelob 6 Pack Golf Scramble

Golfers, if you are looking for an afternoon of fun on the links as well as a way to support Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter, look no further. The Michelob 6 Pack Golf Scramble will take place on Saturday, June 10th at the Prairie du Chien Country Club, located just a few miles south of Prairie du Chien on Hwy. 18.

This 6-person golf tourney will kick off with registration and a luncheon at noon, followed by tee time at 1 p.m. The lunch, 18 holes, golf cart and a donation to Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter are included in the cost. A 50/50 Raffle will also be held and colorful Rivers and Bluffs tee shirts will be available for purchase.

Rivers and Bluffs volunteers will be on hand to answer questions about the shelter’s progress as well as other ways to help in the fundraising efforts.

If golf is not one of your favorite past-times, plan on coming out to the PdC Country Club at 4:30 to hear the stories from the afternoon’s golfers and sample some craft beers. An assortment of craft beers, provided by One Barrel Brewery of Madison, Wisconsin, will be available for a nominal charge.

Meet some of the friendly rescue dogs belonging to Rivers and Bluffs volunteers and see what great pets rescued dogs make.

Sponsoring a golf hole is a great way to remember or honor that beloved pet in your life. Your pet’s picture will be displayed on the hole of your choice.

For more information, to register in advance or to be a hole sponsor, please contact Brenda Wilson at 608-317- 7001 or Tori Iverson at 608-778—2537.

Rivers and Bluffs Animal Shelter is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible and may be mailed to: RABAS PO Box 421 Prairie du Chien, WI 53821.