By: Beth Browne
In August of 2005, Denise Bitz was enjoying a much-needed vacation on a cruise in Alaska when news reports began coming in of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. A lifelong dog-lover, Bitz came to a sudden awareness that her life path needed to change. “In addition to all the human suffering, I remember seeing pictures of dogs hanging on to rooftops, suffering, swimming for their lives, or chained to a doghouse with not even a chance to get away. I knew at that point that I would definitely be spending more of my time helping animals.”
All her life Bitz had volunteered at animal shelters, starting when she was sixteen. In 2007 Bitz moved to Asheville to take a job as a traveling nurse at Mission Hospital. As a volunteer she found the need to help the many homeless animals so overwhelming that she decided to start her own rescue. At first she was just fostering a few dogs in her own home, along with some of her colleagues from the hospital and friends. After a while, every available foster space was full and Bitz started renting space in various boarding facilities to house the dogs that needed homes. They were racking up bills just trying to keep these dogs safe.
Then fortune struck: One of the facilities where she’d been boarding some of the dogs went out of business. Just three days later, they opened their doors at the current location at 31 Glendale Avenue. At first they continued offering boarding and grooming services to pay the bills so they could keep the rescue animals. But as they got bigger and bigger, they realized the need for shelter space outpaced the need for paid boarding and grooming services and they dedicated all the space for the rescue. The need for shelter space is so great that they currently have 150 dogs and 200 cats on waiting lists. Every day people show up with animals and they have to turn them away. They also show up with other animals: guinea pigs, pet rats, birds and even fish.
There are a number of reasons for the problem of unwanted animals in this area. One obvious reason is that not enough people spay and neuter their pets and there is a lot of open land in this area where the animals can hide out and reproduce. The large population of elderly people is a factor too. Often times older people do not plan for their animals in case of their demise, even though they love them so much. Sometimes they assume their families will take them, but they don’t always, and the animals end up in shelters.
Another issue is the transient nature of the population in this area. Sometimes when people move they either can’t or won’t take their animals with them and they end up at a shelter. Bitz says sadly, “We see a cycle of people surrendering a pet in one town and moving to another town and getting another pet, sometimes over and over. Unfortunately, some people think that animals are disposable.” Even more sadly, Bitz says behavior problems are the number one reason for abandonment. But she adds, “Most people don’t realize that there are wonderful resources out there to help people with their pets when they are facing challenging issues. One of my favorite organizations is Pet Behavior Aid (www.petbehavioraid.org) which formed specifically to offer people access to low-cost help and training solutions so they can keep their pets instead of having to relinquish them to our already crowded shelters.”
In the past some of the dogs at Brother Wolf were rescued from shelters in Georgia where they were still using the gas chamber to euthanize animals. Bitz says, “The gas chamber is terrible. It is so inhumane. They have this little room and they throw in dogs of all sizes, cats, so they’re all in this one tiny room. The stress level is incredible. And you can imagine the amount of gas to kill a Chihuahua is different than the amount of gas to kill a Great Dane. It’s a terrible way to die. And some of them don’t die. We are fortunate that our community embraces the method endorsed and approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, which is lethal injection.”
To combat the problem of unwanted animals Buncombe County has an ordinance requiring pet owners to spay and neuter, but it’s only enforceable on complaint. And not everyone can afford even the low-cost clinic price of $55 to have a pet fixed. To address this problem, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue applied for and won a $36,685 grant to spay and neuter 445 dogs in a targeted area of Asheville, courtesy of PetSmart Charities®. The program offers free spay/neuter services for residents of dogs with a 28806 zip code, an area identified as being particularly in need. But even for free, not everyone wants to do it. According to Bitz, “There is definitely resistance out there, but for the most part people are pretty receptive. Although our community has come a long way and has become a much more humane place for animals to live, as long as we are still euthanizing even one animal that could be saved, that is too many.”
Fundraising is a 24/7 job for Brother Wolf. Keeping the shelter open seven days a week for twelve hours a day is expensive in addition to veterinary care, food and labor to maintain the place. Searching for other fundraising opportunities, Bitz discovered that other shelters had opened thrift stores with great success. Initially, they opened Second Chances Thrift Store in the same building as the shelter, but they found it was difficult for people to shop in the midst of all the noise of barking dogs. So, when the building next door to the shelter came available, they jumped in and signed a lease. The shop takes all kinds of donations and Bitz says, “They have a lot of great stuff. I love to shop there on my day off!” One full-time employee runs the shop with a cadre of dedicated volunteers.
Even with the success of the thrift shop, the shelter still needed funds. Again, Bitz took a look at other successful shelters and found that a lot of them had retail stores as well. She says it was a no-brainer because all these people were coming into the shelter to adopt animals and they were sending them somewhere else to buy supplies. So, when the building across the street serendipitously became vacant, they moved in. Now, they sell dog food, cat food, leashes, collars and crates, everything people need to get started with their new pet. It’s also an opportunity for people to ask questions and get information about crate training or other issues in a quiet environment, away from the cacophony of the shelter.
Adoption counselors are available at the ReTail Store, as well as in the shelter and adoption center, to talk with potential adopters. These counselors are trained in how to best evaluate a potential adopter and to try to match the best dog with every family. They also try to make sure people have realistic expectations, for example not putting hound dogs in apartments or puppies with elderly people. Potential adopters fill out applications and undergo a personal interview. “A lot of these animals have been through hell and back when they come to us and we want to make sure where we’re putting them is really a good place.” Even if an adoption doesn’t work out, Bitz is pragmatic about it. She takes it as an opportunity to learn more about the animal and its needs. For example, they might find out that a particular dog is too active to be happy with just leash walks and really needs a home with a fenced yard.
Fundraising for the shelter is an ongoing effort. In April they did a 5K and raised $13,000 and they also raffled off a brand new Subaru Forester. They sold five hundred tickets at a hundred dollars a ticket and the lady who won had only bought one ticket and she got a brand new car. Their next big fundraiser will be a golf tournament in September. For the first time this summer they are offering a summer camp for kids, which will raise funds and offer a fun and educational environment for the kids. Over the years, the staff at the shelter noticed that people would often drop their kids off at the shelter in the summer, sometimes unsupervised, causing problems for the staff in addition to safety concerns. Bitz says she truly believes that her summer camp will help teach kids that kindness to animals makes a better world for everyone. “When kids and people are kind to animals, it often extends to the way they treat other people in their relationships and also helps to promote an overall sense of respect for our planet.”
Bitz says she gets thank you notes from all over the country, since many of their animals are adopted out of state. One woman posted on the Facebook page to say that her daughter had been tragically murdered and all she had left of her child was the dog, which had been adopted from Brother Wolf. She said that having the dog to remember her by had saved her own life. In another case a dog alerted a woman that her husband was having a stroke. Bitz says, “Dogs are really amazing.”
Bitz says her biggest challenge is balancing her personal life with her work life. She hasn’t had many days away from the shelter in the past three years. She says it’s challenging financially too, providing top-notch medical care to all these animals. But she says her dedicated staff and volunteers have made lots of sacrifices as well and she says they’ve made Brother Wolf what it is today. In addition Bitz has eleven dogs of her own at home. She says they were in the shelter for a long time and no one wanted them. So she keeps a sanctuary for them with a fenced acre, good food and excellent veterinary care.
Having had so much success in her dream job, Bitz offers this advice for people out there who might be stuck in a job because they are afraid they might lose a good salary or benefits. She says, “Life is too short to be unhappy in what you do. Even though I make a third of what I made as a nurse, I feel richer in so many ways. I work harder and I have more stress but for some reason I’m happier than when I was a nurse. It doesn’t mean everyone has to start an animal shelter but I’m sure there’s something that people want to do. Don’t wait until you’re old to do what makes you happy.”
You can find Brother Wolf on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Brother-Wolf-Animal-Rescue/59965249874
Photos for this article were provided by Sheryl Mann of Flying Dogs Photography:
Beth Browne writes because she just can’t stop herself. Her two kids wish she liked cooking as much as writing. In her spare time she enjoys sailing with her salty mate, Eric, and blogging at: http://bbwomenswrites.blogspot.com.
Facilities and Locations:
Our community adoption center, located at 31 Glendale Avenue in Asheville, is open seven days a week (Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, Sunday 8am-6pm) for you to visit with cats and dogs who want to meet you!
Second Chances Thrift Store is located at 49 Glendale Ave, next to the shelter, is open Mon-Sat 10-6 and Sun 12-6.
Our ReTAIL store is located at 38 Glendale Ave, across the street from the shelter and is open Mon-Sat 10-8 and Sun 10-6.
Garden Party at WhiteGate Inn on July 21 (Tentative) We are still working out all of the details and will have them ironed out by the end of the week. This will be an evening garden party with heavy appetizers, beer/wine, classical band and a tour through the garden under the night sky. Tickets are $25 and will be available for purchase online.
Drag Queen Bingo
Enjoy a girl’s night out at our popular Drag Queen Bingo held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Asheville. The fun will begin on August 31 at 5:00pm. Tickets are $15 and will be able to be purchased online! Guests will play 8 games and be entertained with performances by some of the best local drag queens. Bid on a variety of local items in our large silent auction. Bidding will begin at 5:00pm and ends at 9:30pm. Items will be posted online on August 29th. A kiddie care room with puppies, popcorn and soda will be available for children 6 and older. Refreshments provided by the Renaissance Hotel will be available for purchase during bingo.
Golf Tournament September 14th beginning at 11:30 with a catered lunch, shotgun start at noon, Pisgah beer, water and soda on the course, hole-in-one BMW challenge, contest and prizes, and beer/wine and appetizers after tournament. Tickets $110 per person.
2012 Masquerade Furball
You are cordially invited to Brother Wolf Animal Rescue’s 2012 “Masquerade Furball”. Ring in the New Year in style on Monday, December 31, 2012 from 9pm to 1am at Céline and Company “On Broadway”, 49 Broadway Street in downtown Asheville. This fabulous evening of heavy appetizers, drinks, music, local entertainment, and silent auction will be one you don’t want to miss. The silent auction items will be posted on the Brother Wolf Animal Rescue website by November 1, 2011 for early bidding.
Tickets are $75 each or $130 per couple. Dress code is semi-formal: ladies, cocktail attire; men, suit and tie. Wear a stylish mask or one will be provided at the door. All proceeds benefit homeless animals.
Critter Camp is a series of week-long half-day camps starting June 11th. Age-appropriate activities, field trips, and guest presenters teach young people about animal care in a fun, hands-on environment. Go to www.bwar.org/crittercamp for details or to register today. Fee is $200 per camper, additional siblings $175.