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Lily is a 3-year-old hound mix. As an unclaimed animal at Milwaukee's animal control facility, she was scheduled to be put down.

Milwaukee Pets Alive keeps pets alive


Lisa Grabowski believes that the morality of a community is defined by its treatment of helpless creatures. So when she learned that 6,500 animals are killed every year while in the custody of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control (MADACC), she felt that something had to be done about it.

"That's more than 50 percent of animals taken into animal control," she said. "What does that say about us as people if we can't take care of creatures that are totally dependent on us?"

To that end, Grabowski and 50 other dedicated animal-lovers are now dedicating more than 40 hours a week to their new non-profit charity Milwaukee Pets Alive, which identifies at-risk animals in the system and seeks to find them foster homes and eventually permanent family placements.

"It was really a collective agreement amongst a core group of volunteers to start this organization," Grabowski said. "One person could never succeed at an endeavor of this magnitude, so without the 'I'm in' from the rest of the volunteers, Milwaukee Pets Alive would have never been."

The group is an approved rescue partner of MADACC, who takes in strays and surrenders. MADACC waits seven days for owners to claim their animals.

"After that point, these animals are on borrowed time," she said. "They're relying on rescue organizations such as ours to come and pull these animals out and give them another chance at life."

David Flagler, executive director of MADACC, agrees.

"These rescue organizations are the salvation for animals in our community," he said. "We are so dependent on them."

Flagler points out that MADACC is beginning to approach the point where the number of placements equals the number of pets euthanized, and he credits organizations like Milwaukee Pets Alive for that.

"We have hopes that Milwaukee Pets Alive will be a major partner for us," he said. "They just got off the ground, but I've got a long list of projects I hope they will grow into."

Milwaukee Pets Alive began rescuing animals in May. Unlike most other organizations, they focus solely on Milwaukee animals. "Our volunteers and our supporters want to end the problem in our own community," said Grabowski.

The team at Pets Alive fear that the public is not educated as to how high the "kill rate" for seized animals is. Grabowski estimates that nine out of 10 Milwaukee county residents have no idea where MADACC is located, what its mission is and what happens to system's unclaimed animals.

"They don't know these animals are dying," she said. "They don't know they need us."

Flagler agrees that the problem – and solution – begins in the community.

"We have a lot of people who fail to see the value in spaying and neutering their pets, or who see their pets as an additional source of revenue," he said, describing so-called "backyard breeders" whose pets reproduce at a high rate, resulting in strays and abandoned animals.

Grabowski also fears that the public has the wrong impression about the necessity of killing the unclaimed animals.

"That's not euthanasia," she said. "Euthanasia, if you look it up in Webster's Dictionary, it says it's 'the act or practice of killing hopelessly sick or injured individuals or domestic animals in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.' These animals are healthy. They're not suffering. That's killing."

Pets Alive focuses primarily on animals that have been retained at MADACC the longest and have already been passed up by other rescue organizations. Their aim is to prevent as many animal deaths as possible, and so they begin with those who are immediately at risk.

"When they're with us, they're safe," Grabowski said. "But there are dozens – hundreds – we need to leave behind at this stage of the game. When we have more people, when we have more supporters, we can take more animals. So the animals that are at animal control that don't have someone come for them – they die."

A longtime animal lover and the proud owner of a domestic shorthair cat named Barbie, Grabowski has been active in animal rescue for years. But she believes that the cause should not be limited only to fellow pet owners, and she is looking to the community for help. Foster homes, volunteers, financial donors and potential adoptive families are always needed – and always in short supply.

"All of us are working full-time jobs and we do this as a second full-time job," said Grabowski, who herself is a doctor of physical therapy. "Our common thread is that we are passionate about animals and it's what we think about all day. This is our passion and our heart. But we are limited by the number of human volunteers we have working towards achieving our mission. The more we have, the quicker we'll be able to save all healthy, treatable and rehabilitable animals in Milwaukee.

"We have people who donate 40 hours of their time every week on top of their other responsibilities," she said. "But it's going to take so much more than that. We're all kind of at capacity right now, which is why we want to get the word out. We need people to help us."

For now, Grabowski and her fellow volunteers take heart in their success stories – particularly that of a 3-year-old hound mix Lily, who Grabowski affectionately calls "our girl."

"Lily is probably the example of why we do this and how we're different from other groups," she said.

Lily was kept in a backyard for her entire life before being taken into MADACC custody. Pets Alive rescued her the day before she was scheduled to be killed.

"When we took Lily out of animal control of course we were all excited and happy, bringing her out to our car, taking her to the vet," recalled Grabowski. "But Lily didn't want to get into the car. Our assumption is that the last time she was in a car was when her family – or whoever loved her – dropped her off at the shelter."

But once they did coax her into the vehicle and completed her vet check, "you could see she knew she was safe," said Grabowski. Now placed in a foster home, Lily has been given special attention because of her limited prior interaction with humans and fellow dogs.

"She's made great strides and she's actually going to be ready to do her first adoption event this weekend," said Grabowski. See a video of Lily here.

Lily's story has a happy ending. But Grabowski and Pets Alive fear for those left behind.

"A life is a life," she said. "This is a crisis. These creatures have a nervous system. They feel pain. They can feel scared. They can feel joy. Once you hear that 6,500 animals are dying, once you know that – you can't help but do something about that."


Talkbacks

quickened | Aug. 23, 2012 at 10:45 a.m. (report)

Marie, I have a small correction. The bible states that man is judged in comparison to a Just and infinitely Holy God. It's not limited to the individual infractions solely. Man was at odds from the start. As for the quote perhaps I should have elaborated more as to why I objected to it. I don't want to downplay how man treats animals. But no one defines morality solely by that action alone. I thought it was poorly worded but I am sure that is subjective. Either way you slice it I would argue that we barely have any morality since everything is up in the air for the general populous.

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D-man | Aug. 22, 2012 at 11:29 p.m. (report)

@MKE DMB Fan www.facebook.com/NoKillMilwaukee Jumped ship when things got too hot to handle and tried to deny any involvement.

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MKE DMB Fan | Aug. 22, 2012 at 9:35 p.m. (report)

@D-man I'm unfamiliar with this.....what happened?

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D-man | Aug. 22, 2012 at 6:01 p.m. (report)

Hopefully Lisa Grabowski does not end the Milw Pets Alive organization like she did for the No Kill Milwaukee one.

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tjhughes | Aug. 21, 2012 at 1:42 p.m. (report)

I did not see any information on how to contact this organization to offer help...did I just miss it?

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