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 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.


BISSELL Pet Foundation, Humane Society of West Michigan team up to expand cattery

This cat and all the cats and kittens at HSWM are about to get a huge upgrade in their temporary living conditions.

This cat and all the cats and kittens at HSWM are about to get a huge upgrade in their temporary living conditions.

The cats and kittens in the care of Humane Society of West Michigan are about to get a huge upgrade on their digs.

If you’ve been to HSWM, you know the cattery there is filled with felines awaiting adoption into their forever home. Unfortunately, the cat population there has outgrown the current space (spay and neuter, people!) and cats are being housed in areas of the facility, not an ideal situation for the cats or the staff at HSWM.

Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, scoops up the first shovel of dirt at HSWM where the cattery expansion will take place.

Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, scoops up the first shovel of dirt at HSWM where the cattery expansion will take place.

Tuesday, HSWM held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the BISSELL Cattery Expansion Project. Cathy Bissell, director of corporate affairs at BISSELL Inc. and founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, was on hand to celebrate the event.

She even dug out the first shovel of dirt where the expansion will take place, heels and all.

“If I can vacuum in these, I can dig dirt in these,” Bissell said, laughing, as she dug in her heels to break ground on the cattery.

Mark and Cathy Bissell created a matching gift challenge for the cattery expansion, calling for $25,000 to be raised by HSWM donations. So far, HSWM has raised $20,500, less than $5,000 away from the goal set by the Bissells.

When complete in the fall of 2014, the cattery expansion will create spacious and low-stress environments for the kittens and cats in HSWM’s care.

In addition to the BISSELL Cattery Expansion, funds raised through the campaign will:

  • Create a window in the cat holding area to provide natural light
  • Construct cat meet and greet rooms (currently, these rooms are right next to the dog kennels, where barking dogs can put stress on the cats meeting their potential adopters)
  • ·Purchase Crijo climbing structures for cat enrichment
  • Expand cat housing in the medical room
(left to right) HSWM's Andrew Aulgur, HSWM executive director Trudy Ender, BISSELL Pet Foundation's Cathy Bissell, Vander Kodde Construction's Jack Jolman and Walker Mayor Mark Huizenga were on hand for the cattery ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday.

(left to right) Architect Andrew Aulgur, HSWM executive director Trudy Ender, BISSELL Pet Foundation’s Cathy Bissell, Vander Kodde Construction’s Jack Jolman and Walker Mayor Mark Huizenga were on hand for the cattery ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday.

The campaign’s completion will provide cats and kittens with more space, which reduces stress and enriches their lives until they are adopted, HSWM said in a press release. The expansion also allows adopters to better interact with the cats and kittens in a more natural state as they will have room to climb, jump and play.

Also on hand for Tuesday’s groundbreaking were representatives from Vander Kodde Construction, which is providing the work on the expansion, Walker Mayor Mark Huizenga and board members, volunteers and staff from HSWM.

Several naming and donations opportunities are still available if you’d like to contribute to the fund and help match the Bissell’s generous offer. If you’re interested in helping out, get in touch with Tammy Hagedorn, HSWM Director of Development, at (616) 791-8138 or

Congratulations to HSWM Executive Director Trudy Ender and her staff on this wonderful news, and a big thank you, once again, to Cathy Bissell and the BISSELL Pet Foundation.


BISSELL Blocktail Party continues to set records

Among the activities at this year's Blocktail Party was a temporary color treatment that turned dogs into walking works of art. (Photo courtesy of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

Among the activities at this year’s Blocktail Party was a temporary color treatment that turned dogs into walking works of art. (Photo courtesy of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

The numbers are in, and the annual BISSELL Blocktail Party once again has broken its previous fundraising records.

The annual event celebrated its ninth anniversary on June 11 on the lawn at Mangiamo! restaurant in Grand Rapids. Despite rainy weather much of the day, the party drew nearly 700 guests, many of whom were accompanied by their dogs.

Armed with a new silent auction app in which guests – and even those who couldn’t make it to the party – could wander about the event and make bids on items via their mobile device, this year’s BISSELL Blocktail party raised more than $250,000 to help West Michigan animal advocacy organizations.

Bidders were able to make and track their bids via their devices without having to circle back to crowded auction tables. The convenient app also meant non-party goers could get in on the bidding for great auction items or simply make a donation for the event.

While we weren’t able to attend this year – our Jack Russell terrier, who is deathly afraid of thunderstorms, kept us at home – we were able to make a donation to Blocktail from home thanks to the new system. Since we usually come home from Blocktail armed with artwork, local services or other goodies we “won” in the silent auction (including the computer on which this blog is written), we figured we would at least donate an amount we’d normally spend at Blocktail. It was our way of contributing to such a wonderful event from 25 miles away!

And we know our contribution will be well spent. Monday, the event’s committee announced the recipients of Blocktail grants through the BISSELL Pet Foundation. The organizations help West Michigan pets in a variety of ways, from spay/neuter programs to microchipping, adoption and rescue, care for senior pets and medical care of victims of cruelty and neglect.

“The BISSELL Pet Foundation exists to provide support to shelters and rescues so that they can ultimately find a loving family for the millions of homeless pets in our country,” Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, said in a news release. “We are very proud to support these 14 local organizations with funds from this year’s party and have been thrilled to see how collaboration between many of these groups is changing the face of animal welfare in our community. I am so thankful that through the BISSELL Blocktail Party our community can show their support for these progressive and compassionate groups. Together, we are working to save lives!”

We’ll be back for next year’s Blocktail Party – we missed seeing all the dogs and people and, of course, the food. And we can take comfort in knowing we were able to contribute to this year’s event and help those who help animals in our community.

A list of the BISSELL Blocktail grant recipients from this year’s event (“Blocktail Buddies” each received an additional $1,000 gift earlier in 2014 to recognize their dedication to animal welfare):

• Community Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership (C-SNIP): $45,000
• Humane Society of West Michigan: $40,000
• Vicky’s Pet Connection: $27,000
• Pound Buddies (Volunteers for Muskegon County Animal Control): $19,500
• Kent County Animal Shelter: $18,845
• West Michigan Spay & Neuter Clinic: $18,000
• Crash’s Landing & Big Sid’s Sanctuary: $12,500
• Safe Haven Humane Society: $10,000
• Lake Haven Rescue: $10,000
• Reuben’s Room Cat Rescue: $6,750
• Carol’s Ferals: $5,000
• Kelley’s Heart to Heart: $5,000
• Focus on Ferals: $5,000

DaVinci Foundation food drive nets two tons for Detroit-area pets in need

"Big D" DaVinci, spokesdog of the DaVinci Foundation for Animals. (Candilynn and Michael Lockhart photo)

“Big D” DaVinci, spokesdog of the DaVinci Foundation for Animals. (Candilynn and Michael Lockhart photo)

By Mary Ullmer

I’ve never met Candilynn and Michael Lockhart, yet we’ve formed a bond. That bond is based in our love of pets, and in efforts to help pets in need.

The Lockharts, who write and shoot photos for the “Doggy Destination” stories in Dogs Unleashed magazine (a product of U.S. Retail Inc.’s Pet Supplies Plus franchises), are co-founders of the non-profit DaVinci Foundation for Animals.

Together with their dog, Big D DaVinci, they’ve raised funds for pets in need in the Detroit area. Their latest effort, a food drive that ran through the month of April, resulted in two tons of pet food being donated to Detroit area rescues, shelters and low-income families to ensure pets do not go hungry.

The foundation teamed up with, and Pedigree for the DaVinci’s Detroit Initiative Food Drive.

Through the AAAR Paws for Life program, the food will be distributed throughout Detroit to any family or person with pets in need of assistance as well as to several rescues, shelters and food banks. Because of the success of  the food drive, Paws for Life, Detroit’s second largest food bank, will have food available to assist families and help feed homeless dogs in Detroit throughout the summer.

“We believe that no dog should to go hungry, all we need to do is band together,”  Candilynn and Michael said in a press release.

If you live in Michigan, you’ve no doubt been made aware of the stray pet population in Detroit, and the organizations working to do something about it. Candilynn and Michael are just getting started, and they’ve already done a world of good for pets in need in the Detroit area. Their organization’s motto is “Creating a better world for animals one city at a time.” I encourage you to learn more about the DaVinci Foundation for Animals by checking out their website,

The organization’s official mascot, DaVinci (aka Big D) also has a Facebook page to keep supporters up to date on their many activities aimed toward helping pets in the Detroit area.

Mary Ullmer is editor and creator of Dogs Unleashed magazine. To subscribe to Dogs Unleashed, go to or visit the website, Be sure to “like” the magazine’s Facebook page!

New west Michigan animal welfare alliance debuts Saturday at Grand Rapids event

A terrific event is happening on Saturday that will benefit animals in need all over west Michigan.

Thanks to a collaborative group of animal welfare advocates, shelter animals in west Michigan will have a better chance at finding a loving home.

Thanks to a collaborative group of animal welfare advocates, shelter animals in west Michigan will have a better chance at finding a loving home.

The Subaru of America “Share the Love” event takes place at Delta Subaru, 6025 28th Street in Grand Rapids, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Subaru of America has joined with several charities, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to donate $250 from the purchase or lease of every new Subaru. The buyer can designate which of the participating charities, including ASPCA, gets the donation.

But Saturday’s event is about more than just getting a slick new Subaru. It also marks the “coming out party,” if you will, of the West Michigan Network of Animal Protection. The WMNAP is a collaboration of six area animal welfare organizations working to increase pet adoptions and put an end to pet overpopulation and euthanasia through education, advocacy and spaying/neutering of animals. The six organizations forming WMNAP currently represent care for 95 percent of west Michigan’s homeless pet population.

Many in west Michigan already are familiar with the organizations that make up WMNAP: Kent County Animal Shelter, Humane Society of West Michigan, Community Spay and Neuter Initiative Partnership (C-SNIP), Vicky’s Pet Connection, Carol’s Ferals and Reuben’s Room Cat Rescue. The groups began meeting in late 2011 and WMNAP has been busy planning throughout 2013. It was awarded a $5,000 capacity building grant from the Dyer-Ives Foundation in May.

As part of Saturday’s festivities, WMNAP and Delta Subaru have created an off-site adoption event at the Grand Rapids dealership. If you’ve been thinking of getting a new dog or cat for the holidays, come by and meet some of the shelter animals available.  There also will be free pet ID tagging, dog licensing and appointments for low-cost spay and neuter.

Attendees also can help “Stuff the Subaru Outback” with donated pet food and supplies for homeless pets under the care of WMNAP partners.

The logo for the new group dedicated to helping animals in west Michigan.

The logo for the new group dedicated to helping animals in west Michigan.

If you’ve had interaction with any of the organizations involved in WMNAP, you no doubt are aware of the struggles they face every day. By joining forces, the groups can brainstorm new ideas, share resources and simply help one another out. West Michigan is fortunate to have such a dynamic and dedicated group working on behalf of the homeless animals in our area.

“Nearly 10,000 pets are still entering the two largest shelters servicing our community each year,” Jennifer Self-Aulgur of HSWM said in a news release. “The bleak reality for these animals is that there simply are not resources to find all of them a home. In 2012, positive outcomes were achieved for 43 percent of the animals entering the shelters.  Working together and sharing new and innovative ideas is the only way we will be able to help solve the problem of pet overpopulation and homeless pets in our community.”

I urge you to take the time to stop by the event Saturday. You can meet the folks behind the WMNAP, discuss how you can be a part of their efforts and help the homeless animals of west Michigan. Don’t forget to bring some dog or cat food to “Stuff the Subaru Outback,” which has a direct impact on our homeless cats and dogs.

Vocalist and ArtPrize artist Martha Cares sings the praises of adoption

Martha Cares and her dog, Poppy, at the contemporary art and sculpture gallery in Sawyer, Mich.

Martha Cares and her dog, Poppy, at the contemporary art and sculpture gallery in Sawyer, Mich.

Editor’s note: This story appears in the September/October issue of Dogs Unleashed magazine.  


Poppy is bounding about her fenced-in yard like a bunny. Her white ears flop as she chases colorful plastic rings thrown for her, like Frisbees, by owner and professional singer Martha Cares.

The Glen of Imaal Terrier – a breed that originated in County Wicklow, Ireland – stops only to pick the rings up with her mouth. She then flips each circle, letting it fall around her neck. Some of the rings have worked their way down around her belly. The 22-pound terrier bounces on spring-like feet, collecting rings on her compact body until she resembles a Slinky.

Cares watches Poppy and smiles, speaking in the tone animal devotees reserve for their pets.

“Come on Poppy,” she coos, before tossing another ring.

As Poppy navigates the grass and trees, Cares describes a few of the large stone sculptures made by her artist husband, Fritz Olsen. The fluid figures populate the garden-like area behind the Sawyer studio and gallery space they’ve established inside a former azalea nursery. Olsen and Cares restored the structure – originally built in 1939 – and converted it into a regional arts destination.

Poppy, a daily visitor to the gallery, is in her element. The July evening air is heavy with humidity and mosquitoes, but neither Poppy’s nor Cares’ spirits flag. They’re a good match and it is clear that Poppy has inspired Cares, both as an artist and as an animal lover.


Those who made the trek last year to downtown Grand Rapids for the fourth annual ArtPrize may very well be familiar with Poppy’s form. Cares used the dog as the model for her first-ever ArtPrize entry “My Rescue.” The large-scale piece consisted of five inter-locked silhouettes of a dog. As is typical of Cares’ work, it struck a chord with audiences.

Martha Cares' ArtPrize exhibit this year features cats and kittens. She blended the cats with her "My Rescue" for these creations.

Martha Cares’ ArtPrize exhibit this year features cats and kittens. She blended the cats with her “My Rescue” for these creations.

“I had no idea how well-loved the sculpture would be,” Cares says of the piece. She frequently sells smaller versions in her gallery and through online sales.

The simple steel sculptures of “My Rescue” were each painted in a primary color – red, orange, yellow, green, and blue – with no other details, save for three black dots to represent the eyes and nose. The four-foot-tall dogs – created from a sketch of Poppy and carved and cut by Olsen – were lined up in a neat row in front of the fountain at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

“I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to work with,” Cares says of the museum staff, including museum Deputy Director Jim Kratsas.

Cares will return to the same venue for ArtPrize 2013. This time she will present “Homeward Bound – Happily Ever Rescued!” The piece is similar in size, scope, and style to “My Rescue,” but uses larger-than-life cats in place of dogs.

The animals have changed, but the message is the same. Cares aims to start a dialogue about pet rescue and welfare in the United States. To quote her artist statement from 2012: “In America, six to eight million animals are taken in by rescue organizations and shelters each year. Saving the precious life of an animal through volunteering, adoption, or donations moves well beyond rescue of a fellow living creature, for through these generous acts of love, we too are rescued.”

Cares became familiar with the issue of animal rescue and adoption when she met Kathryn and Jack Scott through Save A Stray in St. Joseph. The couple (who now work with animals via Paws of Hope in Buchanan) had acted as Poppy’s foster parents.

“Their dedication and commitment to finding the right homes for their animals and their love and care was inspiring and wonderful,” Cares says.

Cares has teamed this year with Trudy Ender and Tammy Hagedorn with the Humane Society of West Michigan. She is working with the organization to promote animal rescue through her ArtPrize entry. She also hopes to raise funds for the animal rescue organization.

“There are some special things in the works for this,” Cares says.


Visual art is something of a new public platform for Cares, who is known professionally for her vocal talents. She appeared in more than a thousand performances of the national Broadway production of “Phantom of the Opera” and has loaned her voice to national commercial campaigns, including for McDonald’s and United Airlines. She still regularly performs in Michigan and beyond.

Martha Cares poses with one of her full-size "My Rescue" sculptures outside the gallery.

Martha Cares poses with one of her full-size “My Rescue” sculptures outside the gallery.

But even as she made a career using her voice, Cares enjoyed painting during her downtime. She even occasionally contributed her works to charitable causes: “I liked to do something quiet.”

“Art encompasses everything I do,” Cares says. “The arts enrich our lives and they can change our lives.”

Cares finds a parallel between what the arts can do for society and what an unwanted pet can do for an individual: “Rescue dogs can change our lives in a positive way.”

Certainly, Poppy has been a force of change in Cares’ life. After losing her beloved Peachy more than a decade ago – the Lhasa Apso was 16 when she passed away – Cares was reluctant to get another dog. It took meeting Poppy to help her finally get past the pain of losing Peachy.

“It took me eight years to be ready,” Cares says.

Olsen and Cares have made their Sawyer gallery a dog-friendly place where people routinely stop in just to say “hi” – both to the couple and to Poppy.

As Cares talks about art and animals, Poppy half-heartedly pursues a small flying insect that has followed her in from the yard. After a minute or two of chase, Poppy drops to the cool cement floor and relaxes into a pile of fur.

“Poppy is surrounded by art, music, and good people,” Cares says.

It’s the kind of life Cares would like to see for all of the unwanted, forgotten, and otherwise overlooked pets in the country: safe, simple, and forever.

About the author: Tricia Woolfenden recently returned to Grand Rapids after living in South Florida for four years. She writes about the environment, wildlife, music, art, and culture for a variety of publications and is researching and writing a nonfiction book about wild birds. Though she’s a devoted “cat lady,” she loves all animals and hopes to one day welcome a golden retriever into her family. Contact Tricia at

A little giving goes a long way for dogs at Kent Co. Animal Shelter

Mindy Smith Pierman isn’t much different from the rest of us when it comes to shelter pets. When she walks in a shelter, she wants to take every animal home and give them the love they deserve. But the reality is, she can’t adopt them all.

Mindy Smith Pierman showed off the various sizes of Thundershirts donated to KCAS.

Mindy Smith Pierman showed off the various sizes of Thundershirts donated to KCAS.

Still, Pierman was able to make a difference for the dogs at the Kent County Animal Shelter. Tuesday morning, she delivered 55 Thundershirts to KCAS in hopes of relieving the dogs in their care from a bit of the stress and anxiety they face every day.

If you’re unfamiliar with Thundershirts, they’re the snug-fitting wraps that many dog owners have sworn by. It’s based in part on the work and research of Temple Grandin, that constant gentle hugging pressure can calm an anxious pet’s nervous system.

Side note: If you’re not familiar with Temple Grandin, you should read up about this amazing woman. And if you get a chance to see the HBO movie on her life, for which Claire Daines won a Golden Globe, do it!

Pierman’s own dog, a golden retriever named Murphy, was adopted from a shelter. Murphy, like many dogs, gets anxious around loud noises and thunderstorms.

“Last Fourth of July, my neighborhood sounded like Kabul,” Pierman said. “My golden retriever has storm anxiety and noise anxiety and she will literally pace around where I keep her Thundershirt if she feels a storm coming on. I get the shirt and put it on her, and she calms right down.

Mocha 1

“On Fourth of July it was so loud and so bad, and all I could think of was all the dogs here (in the shelter). They’re already under stress and they’re already scared, and there isn’t anybody to comfort them. So, I thought, they need Thundershirts.”

Because the animal shelter is a government organization, it can’t solicit funds like rescue groups. So Pierman solicited some help via Facebook and email and got friends to donate items for a garage sale.The proceeds would go to purchase Thundershirts for dogs at KCAS. Once her neighbors found out what the mission was, they brought items to put in the sale, too.

In all, Pierman raised $1,300 that weekend. And with help from Pet Supplies Plus on Alpine NW and Chow Hound at Breton and Burton, who ordered and sold the shirts to Pierman for a discounted price, it was enough to buy seven Thundershirts in every size to outfit the shelter dogs.

“It was just one long weekend, and this was a girlfriends’ kind of effort. It wasn’t a singular effort… I might have had the idea, but it took a whole lot of people to make it happen.”

Mocha was rewarded for her modeling efforts with a spoonful of peanut butter and cream cheese.

Mocha was rewarded for her modeling efforts with a spoonful of peanut butter and cream cheese.

Pierman points out that Thundershirts aren’t just for thunderstorms, and she hopes they go beyond keeping the dogs at KCAS calm and relaxed.

“They’re for anxiety … separation anxiety, barking issues, thunderstorms, loud noises, that kind of thing,” she said. “And it’s just a stressful situation for these dogs, just the fact that they’re here. Some have been abused or neglected or are in a bad situation. I kind of hope in the end that they may be a little more adoptable because they won’t be acting out and barking and jumping because of stress and anxiety. That’s where this kind of took us on this journey.”

Adam London,  Administrative Health Officer of the Kent County Health Department, was on hand for the delivery Tuesday.

“The shelter really is a community shelter,” London said. “The animals here belong to us and it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to take care of them and do what we can to give them a forever home and a second chance. This sort of thoughfulness is important to us because we can provide for basic care and do what we can to make their time with us as enjoyable as possible, however we also know this is stressful for them.

“This helps get them that second chance … when people come in here they are seeing dogs as relaxed and calm as possible.”



Take time to consider the message of ArtPrize entry ‘Hope Dog’

If you live in West Michigan, you’re probably aware that the wildly popular ArtPrize gets under way next week, from Sept. 18 to Oct. 6.

The international art competition, featuring installations all over downtown Grand Rapids, is free and open to the public. In fact, the public is invited to participate by voting for their favorite pieces, and the top prize is $200,000. For all the information you’ll need on visiting the annual event, including a search function to find entries by artist name, subject matter or location, be sure to check out the ArtPrize website.

An up-close look at Hope Dog reveals it's made of thousands of photographs of dogs.

An up-close look at Hope Dog reveals it’s made of thousands of photographs of shelter dogs.

I ran into one entry this morning as I was delivering copies of Dogs Unleashed magazine, a publication of Pet Supplies Plus. I stopped in to the Riverview Center, an office building at Sixth and Front downtown, to distribute magazines to Tommy FitzGerald‘s restaurant, Cafe Stella.

The restaurant is located inside Riverview Center, and just outside the cafe is an ArtPrize entry called Hope Dog. (Yes, it’s already installed, but you can’t vote yet). I snapped a few photos of the piece, a sort of papier mache-like dog sculpture made up of a collage of black and white dog photos. It has faux fur for the ears and tails, and big brown eyes.

The statement from artist Mercedes Keller accompanies Hope Dog.

The statement from artist Mercedes Keller accompanies Hope Dog.

I also snapped a quick photo of the artist’s statement, figuring I’d take time to read it when I got home (yes, I was in a rush, as usual). I did read it when I got home, and it nearly brought me to tears.

While it may not win the grand prize, I applaud artist Mercedes Keller for her work and especially for her statement. I hope those visiting take the time to read it and feel the same emotions I did. At the very least, I hope all those viewing Hope Dog take time to think about the thousands of shelter pets at the same crossroads.

Hope dog 2

Hope Dog is roughly the size of a medium-sized dog.

Here’s the statement that accompanies Hope Dog:

I bark my greeting as I hear the familiar steps on the concrete floor. The man stops at my kennel and my tail wags in anticipation as he walks me down the rows of my comrades. I bark my goodbyes, feeling a little sad for those I’ve left behind. As I walk I dream of a life with a new home where I can run and smell all the old familiar smells and feel the love of a human again. A tinge of fear lingers as we approach the two doors. To the right, to the right, I plead silently. I remember the cries of anguish from the left door that came creeping out from beneath its darkened chambers. My feet buckle as I stare up, my eyes pleading to the man who now holds my future in his hands. We reach the crossroads …

Only we can write the end to stories like these, with passion, with knowledge, with HOPE.

Mercedes Keller


Mary Ullmer is editor of Dogs Unleashed, a lifestyle magazine for dog lovers. Contact her at To subscribe to Dogs Unleashed, visit, and be sure to “like” Dogs Unleashed Magazine on Facebook.

Teaching the next generation about shelter animals through photography

Kimberly Garrett poses with her photograph from the collaboration with HSWM and WMCAT. The dog she photographed for the exhibit has since been adopted.

Kimberly Garrett poses with her photograph from the collaboration with HSWM and WMCAT. The dog she photographed for the exhibit has since been adopted.

By teaching youth about responsible pet ownership and exposing them to the life of shelter animals, Jen Self-Aulgur is hopeful the lessons will resonate as the youth become young adults.


Mikal Pichot captured this image of a cat with stunning green eyes.

Mikal Pichot captured this image of a cat with stunning green eyes.

Self-Aulgur, the director of education and community programs at Humane Society of West Michigan, reaches more than 5,000 children and teens annually through visits to classrooms, community programs and the many week-long and “mini” camps HSWM conducts throughout the year.

“Education is the key to anything,” Self-Aulgur said. “If we want animals to stop going to shelters and being euthanized, we need to do it through education and reach the generation of future pet owners. Getting them excited about being advocates for animals is what drives me.”

A recent outreach program was on display at HSWM last week, and the results will be on permanent display at the shelter’s facility in Walker. HSWM teamed up with West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology on a project with inner city youth enrolled in the WMCAT Teen Arts program.

The kids, of high school age, made several visits to HSWM, cameras in tow. Their months-long assignment was to capture animals in the shelter environment, showing through photographs the daily life of dogs, cats and even bunnies who spend their days in kennels, awaiting adoption.

The WMCAT project required several trips to HSWM since animals don't exactly "pose" for photos.

The WMCAT project required several trips to HSWM since animals don’t exactly “pose” for photos.

Dennis Grantz, the lead photography instructor at WMCAT, attended last week’s reception with the students, whose work was unveiled. Most of the photographs were presented on a slide show, while 10 of them were matted and framed for permanent exhibit at the humane society.

Grantz said he had no trouble getting students to enroll in the photography class at WMCAT once they learned the project involved animals. In the past, the class has done “day in the life” projects with various other subjects, including the police department.

“Any time we can involve youth at a level where they can see what day-to-day life is here and what the animals experience is great, but this was an opportunity for them to show that through their photographs,” Self-Aulgur said.

The WMCAT students captured daily life -- and soulful eyes -- of shelter animals awaiting adoption at the humane society.

The WMCAT students captured daily life — and soulful eyes — of shelter animals awaiting adoption at the humane society.

“The quality of the photographs is better than I could imagine gives us a lasting display.”

To find out more about WMCAT, check out their website, If you’re interested in having Self-Aulgur come to your school or organization to talk about responsible pet ownership or other programs at HSWM, email her at or call her at (616) 791-8066.

Those outside of West Michigan can contact their local humane society or animal shelter to learn about humane education programs in your area.