For hundreds of Greater Cincinnati families and individuals each year, Valentine’s Day has become a holiday to treasure…as it represents the day their lives joined with a life of a furry (and even feathered) looking for a forever home. It happens because of what has grown to be the largest mega adoption event in the region, My Furry Valentine, that attracts over 1400 visitors and has more than 700 animals (dogs, cats, birds and some other species) from dozens of rescues. If you are looking to add a non-human friend to your household, you just may find your new companion Valentine’s Day weekend!
(More information on My Furry Valentine is below.)
Hers is a very important role that includes writing the application and vaccine requirements, communicating with the rescues, helping them set up on Friday, and coordinating the team of veterinarians and vet techs who check in every animal before opening the doors to the public.
The role is a perfect fit for Melanie, who, as executive director of UCAN (nonprofit spay and neuter clinic), already has a relationship with many area shelter and rescues. AND the heart for this cause. She herself shares a home with her son and five rescues – two dogs (Peanut and Blackie) and three cats (Katniss, Grayson and Calypso).
Melanie came into this line of work because it is her passion. Prior to joining the staff team at UCAN, she was a private practice attorney for 25 years working with nonprofit organizations. She and her son began volunteering at a no-kill shelter as a way of her teaching him the importance of giving back. It was a fateful activity that would change the course of her career – and he life.
“It got to be so depressing,” she told me. “We’d see the animals all get adopted and then the next week, all of the cages would be full again.”
She saw spay/neuter as a solution and began supporting UCAN financially. Then she joined the Board, having served as director, then vice-chair, and then chair of the Board before ultimately joining UCAN’s staff as executive director in 2012.
“People love their pets. Some say you should not adopt one if you can not afford the care but I don’t believe it. There should be community resources to allow them to have that animal,” she said. “There are so many benefits. Everyone deserves the love of a pet.
“Almost every day someone comes in and I have never had to say no. I enjoy getting grants to enable us to do free spay/neuter to help people who can not afford it,” she said.
UCAN was founded in 2001, to stop the endless cycle of unwanted births and euthanasia. The two main reasons people do not sterilize their pets are cost and lack of access to spay/neuter services. UCAN solves both of these issues. It provides low-cost spay/neuter services and free transports to its Colerain Ave clinic from several locations in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana. The nonprofit clinic performs over 13,000 surgeries each year and this past year began offering low cost vaccinations also.
Melanie and the rest of the My Furry Valentine team will be very busy February 10 and 11, doing their part to help hundreds of animals find their forever homes.
Looking for a dog or cat (or other small animal)? Plan on being there!
My Furry Valentine Facts:
Where: Sharonville Convention Center (11355 Chester Road; 45246)
When (and cost):
Early Bird Entry Saturday, February 10th 10am – 12pm: $25
Saturday, February 10th 12pm – 5pm: $5 ages 5 & up
Sunday, February 11th 10am – 5pm: $5 ages 5 & up
For a list of participating rescues and to see pictures of many of the adoptable animals, please visit www.myfurryvalentine.org.
Carol Sanger has been a lifelong champion for non-human (and human) animals. Her compassion has saved and enriched the lives of hundreds – if not thousands – of dogs and cats; and causes she has supported have been a lifeline for vulnerable people who cannot afford the necessary expenses of medical pet care.
Even during her long career as vice president of external affairs for Federated Department Stores (now Macy’s), she focused the company’s philanthropy on animal welfare issues. However, it was upon her retirement in 2005 that she was able to devote so much energy toward volunteer efforts.
I got to know Carol when I was contracted to do public relations for United Coalition for Animals (UCAN). For five years Carol served as its board president and led its $400,000 fundraising campaign to build the region’s first low-cost spay/neuter clinic. Later she helped establish (and served as its board chair for two years) the nonprofit Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati, a nonprofit veterinarian wellness clinic for pet caregivers with financial challenges. Now she is board chair for the League for Animal Welfare, and excited about that rescue group’s recent growth. The League just opened a mobile vet clinic that travels to rural communities where 90% of residents are supported with government assistance.
Of course, when you talk about Carol’s volunteer work, you have to include her work with Westie (West Highland Terrier) rescues. She and another woman, Sue Durkin, took over the rescue arm of the Westie Club of Indiana in 2002, developing it into a nonprofit, Westie Rescue Indiana, that serves three states and has cumulatively placed over 600 dogs since then. (They are in the process of dissolving it and merging it into Great Lakes Westie Rescue.)
Lisa: How did you love for Westies evolve?
Carol: We got our first Westie actually by accident in 1988. I went to a pet store with my brother Kenny to get booties for one of our Shih tzu’s. The store didn’t have booties but they did have a little, adorable white dog marked down for a quick sale. While I was reading a book they gave me on West Highland Terriers, Kenny was holding her. She came home with us and we named her Kippy. We were hooked and went to a breeder to get a puppy that we named Ditto. We thought all Westies would be mellow like Kippy but Ditto was very different and very busy.
Lisa: Tell us about your first pet.
Carol: I was probably in the 4th grade when my first pet was a little black cat that my uncle, who was a builder, found in one of the houses he was building. There were actually three kittens but that little black one was my favorite. It was the runt of the litter and the others were picking on it. Animals bring out your maternal instinct. I always swore since then that I would always have a black cat. Later I had a black cat who was with me 13 years. And I have a black cat now.
Lisa: Why is this volunteer work so important to you?
Carol: Several reasons. Being able to rescue and to watch those animals who have suffered some trauma to learn to trust again is like watching a flower bloom. Slowly it opens and there is a beautiful creature that feels safe for the first time in its life.
Also, on the other side, pets are really like surrogate kids for so many people. What society needs to recognize is the importance of pets in people’s lives. Animals are so important for seniors and those who don’t have much other reason to get out of bed. Pets make these people feel loved and appreciated. Helping people keep their pets is not a luxury, it is essential. It is a huge emotional connection to life and living for many.
Lisa: What meaning have pets brought to your life?
Carol: Kenny and I currently have 12 dogs, nine cats, three goats and a miniature donkey. I can’t imagine life without them. They are part of our family.