A heart-wrenching, but right, decision: Dogs Unleashed magazine bids farewell


I am not Superwoman.

That realization came to me in the past couple of months. And with the realization came disappointment and frustration.

I thought I could do it all … manage a career, help manage a household and our three dogs, and manage my passion, Dogs Unleashed magazine.

Instead, I managed to wear myself down. But I had help. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the past year and will continue treatment well into 2016. While my prognosis is positive and I have made it through the most grueling of my treatments, chemotherapy and radiation, I am tired. I need to get healthy, and I need to reclaim my life.

Because of this, I have decided to indefinitely suspend publication of Dogs Unleashed, effective immediately. I couldn’t have picked a better issue on which to end – our current November/December issue features an incredibly worthwhile cause, Paws with a Cause.

Dogs Unleashed debuted in September, 2012 with a stunning photo of Seth Casteel's "Underwater Dogs."

Dogs Unleashed debuted in September, 2012 with a stunning photo of Seth Casteel’s “Underwater Dogs.”

In its 3½ years of existence, Dogs Unleashed covered many topics, from service dogs to senior dogs to lost dogs to mutts. We explained the danger and deceit that comes with puppy mills. We encouraged adoption, and I’d like to think we helped get a few dogs out of shelters and into loving homes.

I am incredibly proud of Dogs Unleashed and the many people and businesses who contributed to its success. We managed to survive in a time when print media is fading from the landscape and accomplished our goals of entertaining, educating and informing people about dogs and those who love them. There were many people behind the magazine whom I cannot thank enough.

Jennifer Waters of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography worked tirelessly to bring the best images to readers of Dogs Unleashed. She even wrote a few stories along the way. Her pieces on the stray dogs running the streets of Detroit and her most recent effort, on Paws with a Cause puppies, are exceptional. I can’t thank her enough for her contribution to the magazine as my right hand (paw?).

Kevin Kyser of Kyser Design Werks, whose career also included many years in the newspaper industry, was responsible for the design of Dogs Unleashed.  He created a format that presented material to readers in a way that was visually appealing and made sense.

Our final issue, available now, features Paws With A Cause puppies and dogs.

Our final issue, available now, features Paws With A Cause puppies and dogs.

So many veteran writers, most of whom I knew from our days as newspaper journalists before they lost their jobs in downsizing, worked for low pay to bring stories to Dogs Unleashed readers. They, like me, did it out of passion. Susan Harrison-Wolffis, whom I met as a kid starting out at The Muskegon Chronicle, approached The Tail End column and various other stories with the same professionalism she embodied during her decades of work at The Chronicle. And she’s a cat person.

Linda Odette, Tricia Woolfenden-Boot (another cat person), Paul Kopenkoskey, Dave LeMieux and countless other journalists contributed. So did non-journalists involved in the pet industry, who wrote columns in their areas of expertise.

Brad Uhl, with whom I worked at the Grand Rapids Press, helped get Dogs Unleashed off the ground before “retiring” because of his own health problems after the first issue. Kim Wood, one of the most enthusiastic women I know, came on board late as our advertising representative and helped keep Dogs Unleashed afloat for the past several issues.

Dogs Unleashed would not have existed without the many advertisers and businesses who supported it. I will be forever grateful to BISSELL Inc. and the Bissell Pet Foundation, whose full-page advertisement appeared on our back page from the start.  Their presence brought prominence and success to our magazine, and awareness of the importance of pet adoption to readers.

Many advertisers supported Dogs Unleashed through our entire 20-issue run. They saw a viable product that helped grow their business and was popular with readers.

We collaborated briefly with a couple of business partners, namely Pet Supplies Plus and Revue Holding Co., to help keep the magazine alive. When those partnerships fizzled, many of the responsibilities of producing a quality magazine, from production to distribution to advertising to billing and more, fell to me.

I happily accepted the challenge, knowing I had the support of photographers, designers, writers and advertisers behind Dogs Unleashed.  We managed to continue on for another year. But breast cancer brought me back to reality.

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the magazine as much as we have enjoyed producing it.

Mary Ullmer is an associate editor with espnw.com with more than 30 years experience in journalism. Since 2012, she has produced Dogs Unleashed magazine (now suspended indefinitely) and will continue to write occasional pet-related blog posts.



BISSELL Pet Foundation, Kent County Animal Shelter Team Up To Offer Free Adoptions

Did you happen to catch Good Morning America today? The popular morning program featured pets from the North Shore Animal League in New York to help promote pet adoption.

This family got a new addition during last year's free adoption event at the Kent County Animal Shelter.

This family got a new addition during last year’s free adoption event at the Kent County Animal Shelter.

By reaching oh, a few million viewers, it’s likely many animals at North Shore will find a home for the holidays.

A couple of weeks ago, a story aired in Chicago about an animal shelter in Akron, Ohio, that apparently adopted out all its animals – 93 dogs and cats in total – within the first 90 minutes of the shelter’s sixth annual adoptathon. More homes for the holidays for animals in need.

Now, thanks to a grant from the BISSELL Pet Foundation, pets in the West Michigan area can find their forever homes in time for the holidays, too. BPF has partnered with the Kent Count Animal Shelter for its second “Home for the Holidays” campaign.

To help the animals get home, 100 percent of adoption fees for pets at KCAS are covered. The only cost is $12 for a dog license. The pets come spayed and neutered, microchipped and up-to-date on vaccines.

Talk about paying it forward. The BISSELL Pet Foundation and KCAS are giving you a beloved family member. All you have to do is show up (well, OK, you have to fill out an application) and open your heart.

Animal shelter supervisor Carly Luttmann said 22 pets found new homes on Monday, the first day of the event. Last year, 270 pets were adopted through “Home for the Holidays.” That helped KCAS reach a record 1,028 adoptions for 2014. The animal shelter is zeroing in on that record, with 931 adoptions through the end of business Monday.

“We are looking forward to the second year of the adoption program because last year was so successful,” Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, said in a news release. “Last year, twice as many cats than the average per month were adopted. With the free adoption program, we’re helping to save two lives – your pet and the pet who gets that open spot in the shelter, out of the cold and elements. We hope our community will rally around this important cause by visiting the KCAS and help a lucky pet find a forever home.”

The free adoption campaign runs through the end of 2015, so if you don’t find the pet of your dreams on your first visit, check back. KCAS is available to take in a limited amount of transfers from other shelters in the area, but many of those shelters also are holding adoption specials.

“If every shelter around running adoption specials finds homes for all their animals and it gets to a point where we don’t have any transfers to take, I’m fine with that,” Luttmann said. “If we all adopt out all our animals, that’s a good thing.”

To expedite the adoption process, be sure to fill out a dog or cat adoption application and get pre-approved. KCAS requires a pre-adoption counsel and application. In lieu of the regular adoption fee, potential adopters are encouraged to donate canned pet food or new blankets.

The animal shelter is located at 740 Fuller Ave NE, Grand Rapids and can be reached at (616) 632-7300. Shelter hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 2-6:30 p.m. Adoptions are processed from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 2-5:30 p.m. KCAS will be closed for Thanksgiving through Sunday this week.


BISSELL Blocktail Party smashes previous fundraising record

There were an estimated 300 to 400 dogs at this year's BISSELL Blocktail Party, including this happy pup. (Photo by Jennifer Waters/Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

There were an estimated 300 to 400 dogs at this year’s BISSELL Blocktail Party, including this happy pup. (Photos by Jennifer Waters/Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

Just approaching the beautiful grounds of Mangiamo! restaurant in East Grand Rapids on Tuesday night, there was a sense the night would be special. The weather was perfect … 80ish degrees and blue sky, and the outdoor area of the restaurant, as well as the check-in area in the parking lot, already were abuzz.

To say the 10th anniversary of the BISSELL Blocktail Party was a success is a gross understatement. This year’s event for the BISSELL Pet Foundation that provides grants to West Michigan animal advocacy organizations not only broke last year’s fundraising mark of $250,000, it obliterated it.

When the early numbers were crunched on Wednesday, the day after the party, Blocktail had raised an amazing $500,000. An estimated 900 people and 300 to 400 dogs attended the event, with a private sponsors party the previous evening raising additional funds.

“The stars aligned for us this year,” said Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation and creator of the BISSELL Blocktail Party. “We had the perfect storm without the storm. We knew we wanted to raise more money, but never imagined we would double funds raised from last year.  We could not have done it without the amazing support from our volunteers and most importantly our community.”

it was a family affair for BISSELL Pet Foundation founder Cathy Bissell (right), who welcomed her daughter, Alissandra Kruer (center) and mother, Mary Jane McDonald (left) to the party.

It was a family affair for BISSELL Pet Foundation founder Cathy Bissell (right), who welcomed her daughter, Alissandra Kruer (center) and mother, Mary Jane McDonald (left) to the party.

Bissell said when online ticket sales stopped, 290 had been purchased. The event drew 100 walk-up ticket sales, and the rest were included in the sponsorship packets. If you’re interested in sponsoring the event next year, and attending the private sponsorship event, check out the Blocktail website for information.

Because it was the 10th anniversary of the event, Bissell opted to take a risk and add a private sponsorship event, including a concert by Kenny Loggins and his new band, Blue Sky Riders, the night before Blocktail. That event was a huge success as well, and something Bissell plans to incorporate into future Blocktails.

“We thought we might lose money on that part but we knew we had to so something special for the 10th anniversary, and we ended up making money,” Bissell said.

A live auction at the private event generated $60,000, and Loggins and his band played well beyond the hour and 15 minutes required in the contract. Bissell said she spent a year trying to find the right sound for the event, and fell in love with the band’s CD (the only one currently available). The name of the CD — “Finally Home” — was a sure sign Bissell had found the right band to play the event. The BISSELL Pet Foundation’s motto is “Until every pet has a home.”

“I worked all year to find the right sound, and Kenny Loggins loves animals,” Bissell said. “His new band has an amazing female vocalist, Georgia Middleman, and she and her husband, Gary Burr, are songwriters. … I started listening to their sound and I loved it. By the time I finished listening to the disk I was waking up and singing their songs and saying to myself, ‘They’re good. They’re really good.’ We decided to book them, and they were fantastic.

“When I talked to Shannon Reincke and Heather Garbaty, (committee co-chairs for Blocktail), they listened to the CD and came back with the same thought. And they loved the fact it was ‘Finally Home,’ because that’s our mission.”

Bissell said the band played for two hours, something Loggins himself said was unprecedented.

“They were just having fun watching people dance and kept playing,” Bissell said.

The lead-up to the Blocktail Party was a hit and the main event itself was spectacular. In addition to the cocktails for people and “yappitzers” for the four-legged guests, several local food vendors were on hand, offering guests a variety (yes, including vegan) of selections, all included in the price of a ticket. Bissell said by the time it was said and done, the vendors ran out of food — and that’s a good thing.

“It’s great for them because they don’t want to have to pack up leftover food, and it just shows the people loved their food,” Bissell said.

Chris LaPorte, grand prize winner at ArtPrize 2010, was on hand to draw caricatures of guests' dogs.

Chris LaPorte, grand prize winner at ArtPrize 2010, was on hand to sketch caricatures of party-goers’ canine family members.

Also on hand for the event was ArtPrize winning artist Chris LaPorte, he of the famed “Cavalry, American Officers, 1921” mural that won the grand prize at the 2010 event. LaPorte offered himself for a different type of work … he drew caricatures of guests’ dogs on site.

“For him to come and do caricatures, how cool is that?” Bissell asked. “It was his suggestion. And he offered a ‘Cavalry’ print that we auctioned off the night before at the live auction.”

As Blocktail continues to grow in popularity, the atmosphere at Mangiamo! remains fun and relaxed for people and their pets. With so many dogs on hand, that’s not easy to pull off.

“I think people are pretty careful,” Bissell said. “If their dogs aren’t going to mingle in a crowd, they don’t bring them. If they know if they have a dog that likes people, that’s how they play it out. Why stress out your dog?

“We haven’t had any issues, and you never know, because dogs on leashes can be more aggressive in that situation. But if you see a dog and yours doesn’t like it, you go to a different area. Thank god Mangiamo! is so big and beautiful.”

The best part of Blocktail is what it does for West Michigan pets in need. Grants from the event help organizations like C-SNIP, a low-cost spay and neuter services for low-income families, to animal rescue organizations large and small.

“This event has been part of our community for 10 years and we hope we can show a significant reduction in the number of pets in need of homes in the next 10 years,” said Blocktail co-chair Garbaty. “Everyone who attended the party or supported our cause came through to make a difference for pets. That’s why this party is so special.”



BISSELL Pet Foundation sponsoring free adoptions at West Michigan’s two largest shelters Saturday

Polar is one of the pets available for free adoption this Saturday. Polar is at the Kent County Animal Shelter, while many other dogs and cats also are available free at Humane Society of West Michigan.

Polar is one of the pets available for free adoption this Saturday. Polar is at the Kent County Animal Shelter, while many other dogs and cats also are available free at Humane Society of West Michigan.

It was purely coincidence last winter when the Kent County Animal Shelter and Humane Society of West Michigan both hosted adoption specials on the same Saturday, Dec. 6.

As it turned out, each facility ended up with a flurry of activity, combining to adopt out 100-plus animals that day.

Because of that success, the two organizations decided to purposefully hold events simultaneously. And thanks to the BISSELL Pet Foundation, adoptions at both will be free for one day, this Saturday. BPF is sponsoring 100 percent of the adoption fees at both facilities. In addition, BISSELL Homecare, Inc., will give a cleaning product to every family that adopts a new pet during “Adoption Day Grand Rapids.”

The Kent County Animal Shelter will be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, while the Humane Society of West Michigan’s event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. In place of adoption fees, families are asked to bring in donations of canned pet food or new blankets. Those adopting dogs will be required to purchase a Kent County dog license, which costs $12.

“We work to fund programs that will make the biggest difference for the millions of homeless pets available for adoption,” Cathy Bissell, Founder of BISSELL Pet Foundation, said in a news release. “Research has shown that free adoptions greatly reduce euthanasia rates by raising awareness for pets available in shelters.”

KCAS and HSWM are west Michigan’s two largest shelters and frequently collaborate, often via social media promotion, to help find homes for shelter animals here.

“They are all our animals” said Trudy Ender, executive director of the Humane Society of West Michigan, said in the release.  “By working harmoniously with our county shelter, we can make a significant difference for pets in the community.”

Carly Luttmann, program supervisor at KCAS, said she’s working to bring in dogs from other area rescues  to help fill the need she anticipates Saturday. Luttmann said the shelter currently has about 20 dogs available, and she hopes to have 30 to 35 on hand this weekend.

“I’d like to do 50 (animal adoptions),” Luttmann said. “We have about 20 to 30 cats right now but we under 20 dogs so I’ll be concentrating on transferring in dogs from some municipal agencies.”

Luttmann said while the goal is to adopt out as many animals as possible on Saturday, the bigger picture goal is to make potential adopters aware of the two facilities and the animals available.

“Our biggest goal is to raise awareness of pet adoption in our community,” Luttmann said. “Between us and Humane Society of West Michigan, we have lots of the animals available in our community. We want to get people out and into our facilities so they can see they’re good places to view animals. We have clean, well-taken care of facilities with nice animals in need of homes.”

Those planning to head to either KCAS or HSWM (or both) should plan ahead by filling out and sending in an application ahead of time. The administrative work to process applications is best done on weekdays, ahead of Saturday’s event. Renters hoping to adopt will have to have approval from their landlord, and calls to veterinarian offices for previous pets’ records are necessary.

“We want people to be prepared so when they come in, everything is ready to be approved and we won’t have to go to the next person (for a potential adopted animal),” Luttmann said.

Applications for the Kent County Animal Shelter can be found here. To fill out an application for the Humane Society of West Michigan, click here.


Happy Friday: Many step up to help neglected dogs, Peanut finds a home

Peanut, a terrier/Corgi mix who was part of a neglect case, was spruced up free of charge by Green Paws Unlimited and had much-needed dental work done (also free) before going to his "forever home" on Friday.

Peanut, a terrier/Corgi mix who was part of a neglect case, was spruced up free of charge by Green Paws Unlimited and had much-needed dental work done (also free) before going to his “forever home” on Friday.

We could use a little good news these days, and we got some Friday. We happened to meet a friend at the Kent County Animal Shelter, who was waiting before the doors even opened to adopt a little terrier/Corgi mix named Peanut.

Peanut, whose name was Harmony when he came to the shelter, was one of the 37 dogs seized in late July in a neglect case in Grand Rapids.

Our friend had wanted Peanut from the get-go, and she finally was able to bring him to her home on a lake Friday morning. As we met at the shelter’s doors, Lisa LaPlante, communications manager for the Kent County Health Department, wandered over to share great news.

Peanut waits in the adoption room at the Kent County Animal Shelter as his new owner listens to instructions from the shelter worker. (Photo by Yvonne M. Reames)

Peanut waits in the adoption room at the Kent County Animal Shelter as his new owner listens to instructions from the shelter worker. (Photo by Yvonne M. Reames)

Area vets in Grand Rapids were doing a remarkable job with the dogs from the seizure case, most of home had severe dental disease. And when the bill came to pay for all that dental work… well, it didn’t come. They donated their services for these special dogs!

Dr. Laurie Wright, Kent County Animal Shelter veterinarian, had put out a call to west Michigan area vets to “adopt” a dog to provide the care they needed, KCAS said in a news release Friday.

If you know Dr. Wright and the respect she has earned in this community, you know the vets answered her call.

“Within minutes, I had veterinarians offering to care for these struggling pets,” Wright said in the release. “They wanted to make a difference in the lives of these dogs.”

So far, 11 veterinary offices have provided free care or pledged care: Great Lakes Hospital for Animals in  Belmont, Animal Medical Center of Wyoming, Kelly’s Animal Hospital in Walker, Eastown Veterinary Clinic of Grand Rapids, Northland Veterinary  Hospital of Rockford, Westwood Hills Animal Hospital of Grand Rapids, Allendale Animal Hospital, Wyoming Animal Hospital, Safe Harbor Veterinary of Cascade, Animal Hospital of Kentwood and Weisner, Innis & Schoen, PC of Grand Rapids.

In addition, Green Paws Unlimited has provided grooming services for many of the dogs, also free of charge. And a wonderful job they have done. For before and after pictures of their remarkable work, check out the Green Paws Facebook page as well as this feel-good story by Barton Deiters, who has been following the story for MLive.com.

Happy Friday!


Sweet little stray benefits from kindness of strangers

The lucky little dog went to her new home in much better shape than when her new owners found her.

The lucky little dog went to her new home in much better shape than when her new owners found her.

I’m not sure how it happens, but it seems to happen often. I run into a dog who needs help. Or people who need help with a dog.

The other day, I attended a funeral visitation in Muskegon. Since I was in the area, I thought I’d stop by the Muskegon Humane Society to drop off some issues of Dogs Unleashed magazine. I knew they were closed on Wednesdays, but I also knew someone would be there tending to the animals.

An older couple pulled into the parking lot just after I had arrived. I informed them the shelter was closed, but that we could likely rouse someone. The woman had a little dog wrapped in a towel, so I inquired whether the dog was injured.

When she was found, the Shih Tzu mix was covered in fleas and dirt.

When she was found, the Shih Tzu mix was covered in fleas and dirt.

It was not, she said, but it did have issues. The little dog was found wandering up and down their street, barely avoiding getting hit by a car. She was covered in fleas and had no collar or tags. She was thin and clearly dehydrated. The couple wanted to keep the dog, but wasn’t sure what to do about the fleas. They were hoping Muskegon Humane Society could help.

Sure enough, Andrea Benes Bruce of MHS came out. She checked the dog for a microchip; there was none. She wasn’t able to help with the fleas, especially since their office was closed. I grabbed my smart phone and searched for a groomer. Turns out Kimmy’s Pampered Paws pet grooming was practically around the corner. Since I had magazines to deliver, I offered to have the couple follow me there, where we hopefully could talk Kimmy into an “emergency groom” for the poor little girl.

Kim Vanderberg, owner of Kimmy’s Pampered Paws, didn’t hesitate to take the dog in, even though she was busy grooming another dog. She told the couple it would take a few hours … a flea soak, shave down, etc., would be in order. She also advised them to de-flea their home since they had brought the dog in, attempting to bathe her themselves. She took their number and said she’d call when the dog was finished.

When the couple left, I slipped Kim some money to pay for the grooming. After seeing the condition of the dog, I figured it was the least I could do to help. The little girl (they hadn’t figured out a name for her yet) was going to need a visit to the vet. She also was going to have to be spayed — it appeared she may have been in season — and would need licensing and likely vaccinations.

A big thanks to Kimmy's for their willingness to perform an "emergency groom."

A big thanks to Kimmy’s for her willingness to perform an “emergency groom.”

There are some serious expenses awaiting the new owners, and I thought having the grooming taken care of was one less thing they’d have to worry about. I was so impressed and thankful that they took the time to help the dog that Ii wanted to help them.

And a huge thank you to Kimmy’s Pampered Paws for taking her in on a moment’s notice, and for making her look and feel beautiful. A good dog day, indeed.


Rescued dogs and puppies from South available at HS West Michigan

hswm puppies 1

The “Puppy Pipeline” to the Humane Society of West Michigan is now open! Potential adopters were lined up outside of HSWM a half hour before the facility even opened, hoping for a chance to adopt one of the 35 dogs and puppies that arrived in West Michigan Friday morning.

The dogs, the majority of which are puppies, arrived Friday morning from Dothan, Ala. They are of varying breeds, from spaniels to retrievers to huskies to Australian shepherds, and everything in between.

The Puppy Pipeline, out of southern states, connected with HSWM staff at the Humane Society of the United States national conference in Nashville, Tenn., in May. Since HSWM’s puppy room was virtually empty, the organization agreed to take this batch of puppies, who would have  been euthanized at their previous shelter because of overpopulation.

“Our number one priority is assisting the animal population in West Michigan,”  Trudy Ender, HSWM Executive Director, said in a news release. “In fact, we just transferred in 15 dogs from multiple shelters in West Michigan in the past few weeks. However, our puppy room has been empty the majority of the summer and we have the ability to adopt these puppies into loving homes rather than being euthanized due to lack of space in the South.”

The South struggles with spay/neuter programs as funding for shelters is scarce and they are facing an epidemic of dog overpopulation as a result.

“Our staff is excited about the chance to save these puppies’ lives while knowing we are helping to alleviate the overpopulation problems in the South,”  Nicole Cook, HSWM Marketing and Events Coordinator, said. “This transfer gives us an opportunity to stress the importance of spaying and neutering to our community and help West Michigan recognize that pet overpopulation is still a very serious problem in our nation.”

The puppies, ranging from four months to just weeks old, are being dewormed and vaccinated today. While potential adopters can fill out applications today for younger dogs, they likely won’t be available until the end of next week.

Here’s a glance at more of the dogs who arrived this morning.

A couple of the older dogs brought in on Friday wait in their kennel at HSWM. The dog on the left has only three legs.

A couple of the older dogs brought in on Friday wait in their kennel at HSWM. The dog on the left has only three legs.

Ashley Dahl of HSWM takes one of the puppies in for a vaccination.

Ashley Dahl of HSWM takes one of the puppies in for a vaccination.

Tiny puppies await their evaluations before they’re placed in the “puppy room” at HSWM.

Trudy Ender, executive director at HSWM, shows off one of the young puppies brought in Friday.

Trudy Ender, executive director at HSWM, shows off one of the young puppies brought in Friday.

Mike the puppy chews on his puppy medication after being examined.

Mike the puppy chews on his puppy medication after being examined.

One of the puppies seems curious about all the attention of the media.

Terry, an Australian shepherd mix, receives his oral medication.

Terry, an Australian shepherd mix, receives his oral medication.

Tiny puppies await their evaluations before heading to the "puppy room" at HSWM.

Tiny puppies await their evaluations before heading to the “puppy room” at HSWM.

One of the older puppies patiently awaits a turn at evaluation.


Potential adopters lined up outside the door a half hour before HSWM even opened on Friday.

A fresh look at some of the dogs in the GR seizure case


This gallery contains 14 photos.

When it was announced there would be an opportunity for media to meet some of the dogs forfeited to the Kent County Animal Shelter in the case against Kimberly Savino of Grand Rapids, Katy Batdorff Photography was on hand as … Continue reading

Dogs from Grand Rapids seizure case will need time, medical attention before adoption

Dr. Laurie Wright holds one of the puppies brought out to meet the media Friday.

Dr. Laurie Wright holds one of the puppies brought out to meet the media Friday.

The dogs seized in a Grand Rapids neglect case have been forfeited to the Kent County Animal Shelter. Now, it’s time to get them the help, the rehabilitation, the medical treatment, the loving homes they need and deserve.

Kimberly Savino, who faces criminal charges of neglect in the case involving the seizure of 39 dogs from her Grand Rapids home, did not pay Kent County the $106,430 required to hold the dogs until after her upcoming criminal trial. For the news story on the forfeiture, click here for Barton Deiter’s story on MLive.com.

The dogs, of varying breeds, mixes and sizes, became the property of KCAS on Friday afternoon. Dr. Laurie Wright, veterinarian at KCAS, and animal shelter staff brought some of the dogs, including 11-week-old puppies, out into the shelter’s play area to meet with the media. The dogs appeared happy and healthy.

The puppies will need to be spayed/neutered before they are available for adoption, Wright said. Other dogs still face an uphill road to recovery. Some of the dogs will be made available for adoption as soon as possible, likely at the end of next week. Many others will take longer.

But keep in mind, even those dogs available in the coming weeks will require patience from their new owners. They will need time to adjust to new surroundings. They have been in a kennel at the animal shelter since June 27, and can suffer from kennel stress as a result. As with adoption of any dog from a shelter, patience is the key.

All the dogs will be re-evaluated and it is likely many will be transferred to rescue agencies, some of which may place them into foster homes before they’re ready for adoption. Some have behavioral issues – they may show aggressive tendencies, anxiety or lack of socialization. They will need to be rehabilitated, and KCAS will work with individuals and rescue groups to ensure they get the training and behavior modification they need before they are made available for adoption.

“Some of the dogs have severe behavioral and medical issues that require treatment,” Kent County Animal Shelter Supervisor Carly Luttmann said in a news release. “We are working with partner agencies to help transfer these dogs to places that can best meet their needs. As dogs are treated and deemed ready for adoption, they will be moved from KCAS on-hold status to adoption kennels.”

The Humane Society of West Michigan is one option for the dogs. Trudy Ender, executive director of HSWM, said her staff would welcome some of the dogs.

“Humane Society of West Michigan will definitely partner and help to the best of our abilities in caring for these animals if the Kent County Animal Shelter needs us,” Ender said Friday. “We have a great relationship with KCAS and collaborate and partner in situations such as these.”

Most of the dogs need medical attention, particularly in the area of oral health. They came to KCAS with dental issues, some severe. Some have heart murmurs. Others have issues that will require daily medication. Medical treatment for these dogs will be expensive and will be ongoing, and I would caution anyone seeking to adopt them that they should be prepared to take on those expenses.

The animal shelter could be inundated with applicants once the dogs are put up for adoption. Again, patience will be required. The staff there will do its best to handle the influx of applications. They will take their time in deciding where the dogs in their facility will be placed. For dogs sent to other facilities or rescues, applicants will be screened by those groups once the dogs are available.

If you are interested in adopting an animal from the Kent County Animal Shelter, applications are available at ICPAWZ.com. Cost to adopt a dog, thanks to a grant from the Bissell Pet Foundation,  is $50, plus the licensing fee ($12 for one year, $30 for three-year license; $6/$15 for senior citizen adopters 62 or older).

Applications can be submitted to the animal shelter in person, via email or by fax. Getting an application in for pre-approval will expedite the adoption process. They may be emailed (Cathy.Hand@kentcountymi.gov) or faxed to 616-632-7324.

Dogs in Grand Rapids neglect case deserve a better life

Many of the dogs in Kimberly Savino's care were kept in small crates normally used for transport purposes.

Many of the dogs in Kimberly Savino’s care were kept in small crates normally used for transport purposes.

It is likely I’ll lose some Facebook friends over this blog post. I can’t be too concerned about that. Many of my friends on Facebook are mere acquaintances, people I’ve never met. Others already were my friends long before Facebook, or have become true friends the past several years. Those friends are the people with whom I surround myself.

Kimberly Savino, one of my friends on Facebook, falls into the “acquaintance” category. She is among a group of hundreds of Corgi owners to which I belong. Like many “friends” on Facebook, I have never spoken with her, never met her. I hadn’t seen her in person until Tuesday.

That’s when I sat in the courtroom in Grand Rapids listening to testimony at the hearing to determine whether dogs owned by Savino would have to be forfeited to Kent County. Savino has been criminally charged with neglect in a case involving 39 dogs seized from her home (or, more precisely, Sue and Ryen Strotheide’s home) by Kent County Animal Control. Kent County was seeking to have the dogs forfeited to them.

Savino, the defendant, wants the dogs returned to her. Savino testified she has, for many years, rescued dogs she said “other people didn’t want to deal with,” including those with special needs and medical issues. She moved to Grand Rapids from Massachusetts into the Strotheide home, in part because the city has no limit on the number of dogs allowed in a residence. She moved to their home in May 2013 as a temporary move. In June 2013, she said, she moved her permanently, but said the housing situation was temporary.

Yet the “temporary” arrangement had not changed by June 27, 2014, when animal control seized the dogs (including two dogs belonging to the Strotheides). Photos entered into evidence showed dog crates, the smaller plastic type in which animals are usually transported, stacked on top of one another in a room in the house. More dogs were in another room, also in crates. Yet more dogs were kept in the basement.

Animal control officer Joe Dainelis, who led the seizure, said many of the dogs could not turn around or stand up properly in their too-small crates. The house smelled of urine and feces and many of the crates (and dogs) also contained urine and feces, he said. Dainelis had visited the residence on previous occasions and had not filed any complaints, he testified.

Savino didn’t bring all her rescue dogs from Massachusetts at once. Some were rescued here in Michigan, from a Barry County shelter a few months ago. Savino’s own veterinarian who testified Tuesday said she saw only 10 dogs on an occasion in November 2013 and two more in December. The vet said she wasn’t aware Savino had 39 dogs until the news story came out and she was called to testify.

Kent County Animal Shelter veterinarian Laurie Wright was called to the stand and detailed the condition of each dog as they arrived at the shelter on June 27. She went through 37 dogs (the two dogs owned by the Strotheides are not included in this forfeiture), by name, and described their breed (or mix), sex, age (or approximate) and then condition. A video shown prior to her testimony showed the dogs upon intake and supported her testimony.

The majority of dogs were underweight and had dental diseases, overgrown toenails, ear infections and skin disorders. One tested positive for heartworm. Several had chronic eye problems. Most of the issues, Wright said, were to such a degree that the problems would have been easily recognized and are treatable.

Wright explained the dental health issues are rated on a grading scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being healthy and 4 on the other end of the spectrum. Of the 37 dogs presented (the Strotheide’s dogs were not included) into evidence, 11 had Grade 2 dental disease, 10 had Grade 3 and 10 had Grade 4. Five puppies were not included, nor was a Great Pyrenees who would not tolerate an oral exam because of pain and nervousness, Wright said.

Some dogs were missing teeth, including one with no teeth except the lower molars and another with exposed tooth roots and bone. Aside from the dental issues, Wright noted many of the dogs had feces matted in their coats (including one who needed a sanitary-area shaving in order to eliminate normally), urine soaked and stained feet, discharge from the eyes, and debris and hair in the ears, some of which were inflamed. A few had heart murmurs.

Savino testified the dogs were in fine condition before she and Sue Strotheide left for a trip to Massachusetts in late May. They were gone five days; Ryen Strotheide was in charge of the dogs. Savino said she found the dogs in distress and having seizures upon her return. They had not been fed or watered properly, she said. A door to the “dog room” was to be left open to allow for proper ventilation. Ryen had closed the door and opened blinds, causing overheating, Savino testified. Two dogs died within a couple of days of her return, despite her efforts to save them by rushing them to the emergency vet and performing CPR.

Shortly after the incident, and after he was served with divorce papers, Ryen Strotheide filed a neglect complaint against Savino. When asked why he hadn’t filed a complaint earlier, Ryen Strotheide said, “I thought things would get better. I thought we would develop a system. We were promised help and it never materialized.”

Wright said the condition of the dogs she witnessed was not a result of four or five days of neglect by Ryen Strotheide, but neglect that had built up over time. Judge James Robert Redford, in his ruling, agreed.

“I find the defendant’s testimony incredible,” Redford said. He said Savino’s claim that the conditions resulted from four days of neglect by Ryen Strotheide “is illogical and unsupported.”

“The defendant failed to provide adequate care and the manner in which the defendant chose to warehouse these animals (in transport crates) was completely inappropriate,” Redford said.

He offered two photos admitted into evidence, of the same room inside the home. One, admitted by the defense, showed the room in “perfect” condition, with a minimal number of crates, fresh paint, clean.

“I don’t know when exhibit G was taken,” Redford said, regarding the photo admitted by the defense. “But exhibit 7 (the peoples’ photo) was 24 days after Ryen (Strotheide’s) complaint and it is absolutely disgusting, the filth these animals were required to live in. “Thankfully, the dogs were taken out of the home.”

Redford ruled the county acted appropriately in seizing the dogs from the home. Savino was ordered to pay $106,430 by 4:45 p.m. Friday or forfeit the dogs. If she pays, the dogs will remain in the Kent County Animal Shelter until Nov. 30, at which point Savino’s criminal trial should be finished (a probable cause hearing is Aug. 28 in Grand Rapids District Court).

If she does not pay, the dogs will be turned over the animal shelter and eventually made available for adoption. It is likely west Michigan rescue organizations such as the Humane Society of West Michigan will offer assistance, as has been the case in the past with animals seized in puppy mill or hoarding cases.

After hearing testimony and watching the intake video, I couldn’t agree more with Judge Redford. These dogs deserve individual attention and love, not the kind of attention (or time) one person can give to 39 dogs under one roof. They need medical attention. They need to be free to run in their own yard, sleep in their own bed, eat outside their crates and drink water whenever they want.

They need to be dogs.

If Kimberly Savino truly loves these dogs, as she says, she will give them their freedom and not fight to keep them in the shelter until after her criminal trial for neglect.

It has been my experience that they will get that chance to be dogs once they are made available for adoption. West Michigan animal lovers certainly will line up with applications, ready to give the dogs the happy and loving homes they deserve.