When Connie Karry read a newspaper article about “how horrible the conditions were” at the Muskegon County Animal Control shelter in 1998, she knew things had to change.
So, she and a group of volunteers began offering their services at the shelter at a time when the facility was more an overcrowded holding cell for animals set to be euthanized than anything else: in 1998, the euthanasia rate at the county shelter was 67 percent of the animals brought there. For the four days dogs would stay at the shelter before being euthanized, they were crammed into cages—after which the shelter used a gas chamber to kill them.
It was, Karry said, horrifying.
“The conditions were horrible, and that’s an understatement,” Karry said.
But, as the years went by, this group of dedicated volunteers inspired change: they increased adoption opportunities, advocated for the humane treatment of animals, got rid of the gas chamber, significantly decreased the euthanasia rates, and more. Eventually, that group of volunteers became what we now know as Pound Buddies: the nonprofit officially launched in 2002 and, since then, it has gone on to provide care for the thousands upon thousands of animals—mostly dogs, though also some cats and rabbits—that have passed through its doors, connecting the animals with medical care, food, play time, and, ultimately, new homes.
“I used to lose a lot of sleep at night thinking about all the animals we should be saving,” Karry said. “I sleep much better now. We’ve come a long way.”
Today, Pound Buddies is a drastically different place than the shelter from 1998: there’s an entourage of volunteers, as well as a small staff, that takes care of about 1,500 animals every year; they work to connect the overwhelming majority of their animals with new owners, or the current owners who have been looking for their lost pets; and they ensure their animals have the medical treatment they may need. Plus, the organization now offers an ever-increasing roster of community programs—such as BARK, an initiative that partners the nonprofit with area elementary schools to teach children about safe encounters with dogs; Tell a Tale Reading Program, for which children are invited to come to the Pound Buddies shelter and read to the dogs and cats; and a collaboration with Muskegon’s Baker College, which offers shelter pets the chance to receive primary vet care at no cost to Pound Buddies.
Pound Buddies has assumed all contractual animal care and control responsibilities for Muskegon County until at least 2029 and is the only open admission shelter in Muskegon County—meaning it accepts all dogs regardless of age, disposition, breed, or health. Many of the animals come to the shelter after being abused or neglected and are nursed back to life by the Pound Buddies staff and volunteers. One such animal is Maddie, a dog that recently came to Pound Buddies on the brink of death.
“We found Maddie on the side of the road a month ago; if you saw pictures of her, you’d think she was dead,” Pound Buddies Executive Director Lana Carson said during an interview in mid-November. “The vet said she was within hours of dying; if she had been left alone that night, she would’ve died. We picked her up and got her to our vet.”
After round-the-clock care and days of medical treatment, food and water, Maddie began to heal. When she first came to Pound Buddies, she was 16 pounds—now she’s 31 pounds and is able to stand and even run on her own.
“She’s as sassy as can be,” Carson said. “Not every dog has a story like that, but there’s enough of them that you’re constantly on your toes.”
It’s these stories—the ones of dogs finding news chances at life, of animals connecting with families that will endlessly love them, of puppies once unable to stand on their own now running throughout Muskegon—that drive Pound Buddies’ small staff and team of volunteers.
“Everyone should care about how animals are treated,” Karry said. “Whether it’s their lost dog who wanders away and ends up with us or it’s some poor stray dog who’s been living on the street and we take it in, we care for them and give them a chance to find their home. People want to visit and live in a place where people respect life and take care of their animals.”
Now, after years of significant change at the shelter, Pound Buddies is turning to the community for help: the nonprofit works in a deteriorating, Muskegon Township-owned building, which is leased to Muskegon County, from the mid-1960s that staff and volunteers explain is far too small for the number of animals the nonprofit serves. To find a new home, Pound Buddies has launched a capital campaign to help raise funds to either purchase land upon which to build a new shelter or buy a different facility.
“The staff and volunteers here do incredible work in a really crummy building,” said Jan Jacobs, Pound Buddies’ new capital campaign director. “Right now, this building does not meet Michigan Department of Agriculture, which is our governing organization, criteria; the kennels are too small; there’s not enough outdoor play area for the dogs. We need about 20,000 square feet, and our building now is 8,000 square feet.”
According to initial figures from Pound Buddies, the nonprofit will need to secure between $2.5 million and $4 million to relocate or build a new facility that would both meet state mandates and be a community asset for the county, Jacobs said. The capital campaign, which is named “Unleashing the Possibilities” and launched this past summer, is expected to last for about 36 months.
“For me, with everything going on in Muskegon, it’s time our building reflects the remarkable care that takes place on the inside,” said Jacobs, who previously worked for 20 years in philanthropy at Mercy Health.
Should the nonprofit remain at its current location, it would need to demolish the existing building and build a new venue in order to meet state standards. Basic repair estimates for the current building stands at about $1 million, making it fiscally impossible for the nonprofit to take that on—and, even with these improvements, the building would still be far too small for the number of animals that come to them. Currently, the county provides $234,000 annually to supplement the state-mandated duties required of them, and additional Pound Buddies income comes through adoption and license fees, donations, and grants.
Since coming on board as the campaign director, Jacobs has been working to identify possible properties for the new space and is now “zeroing in on a couple places.”
“Building new is the most cost-effective way for us to go,” she said. “We would love acreage, but we’re finding that’s at a premium.”
The staff and volunteers are dreaming of the day their animals will have all the space they need—and when they won’t have to do something like move their dogs during a heavy rain that causes the roof to leak, Karry said.
“They spend a lot of time with these issues that they could otherwise be spending with the animals and adoption,” Karry said.
“Having a new beautiful, big building means people will want to support it and sustain it,” Karry continued. “They’ll want to volunteer and adopt. We’ll have more room to do the things we need to do. People will be proud to have a new shelter that reflects the kind of community where we all want to live, work and visit.”