Originally Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2012, 5:35 pm
Last Updated: Nov. 22, 2012, 12:36 am

Giving thanks: Animal Aid finds blessings in tragedy

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By Sarah Hayden, shayden@qconline.com

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Photo: John Greenwood
Animal Aid Humane Shelter secretary Jan Rice and president Vickie Sanders are joined by Karma, a four-year-old pit bull in giving thanks. The shelter in Moline suffered a fire January 30 in which 12 cats perished. The facility has remodeled and continues to be active. Karma is available for adoption.

This is a time for giving thanks, and Vickie Sanders is doing just that.

The president of Animal Aid Humane Society is particularly grateful the society's no-kill animal shelter at 239 50th St. Moline, is again in operation after a Jan. 30 fire that killed 12 cats and sent others fleeing into the surrounding neighborhood.

The four dogs living at the shelter were safely removed, and more than a dozen cats fled into the surrounding neighborhood as firefighters struggled to contain the fire, which started near a vent in a room for cats with feline immunodeficiency virus. Twelve of the 14 FIV cats died.

Amid the chaos of heavy smoke, firetrucks and frightened animals, people pulled over in their cars and neighbors came out of their homes to help.

"I saw at least 20 to 30 cars parked up and down the street, with people offering to help find cats," said Ms. Sanders. "They were volunteering to take cats home with them, and a few adopted them."

Jan Rice has been secretary at the shelter for four years. She said several people gave cash donations on the spot. "I tried to get their names, but they walked away," she said.

That night and the following days, more than 40 people came out to search for lost cats. As a result, all but two were recovered.

"We found one cat four months later living in the mulch pile with the raccoons," said Ms. Sanders.

After the fire, the animals were kept at the Rock Island County Humane Society for a week and then moved into Various Video, the Moline business Ms. Sanders owns with her husband, Ken.

The shelter was reopened in mid-June after repairs and renovations were completed. The building sustained extensive smoke damage. Each of the seven animal rooms was remodeled, and video cameras were installed, making it easy for Ms. Sanders and Ms. Rice to check on the cats and dogs from any computer.

Ken Sanders said he is most grateful for the time and services donated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 145, who replaced outlets with safety covers to ensure curious cats don't get shocked.

There were many things to be thankful for after the fire. Cash donations increased, people stopped by with animal cages and crates, pet food, bedding, cleaning supplies, and, most important, new volunteers joined the staff.

"We all do it for a labor of love, no one on staff is paid. All the money we get goes toward building maintenance, pet food, supplies and vet visits," said Ms. Rice.

The shelter depends on unpaid volunteers who feed the animals, walk the dogs, clean the rooms and transport animals to and from veterinary visits.

"We gained two new volunteers after the fire, but we're always needing new ones," said Ms. Rice. The shelter is in need of at least ten more volunteers to help take care of animals, she said. "Everyday the shelter gets cleaned, whether it's a holiday or a blizzard."

Sometimes blessings come from tragedy, and this was no exception.

Eagle Ridge Elementary School in Silvis organized a penny drive and donated more than $400. Two other elementary schools toured the shelter and donated items.

Since the fire, the shelter has seen an increase in adoptions, including three cats with FIV. One of them, Louie, is a survivor from the fire. "He has some lung damage and a cough, but he has a new home," said Ms. Sanders.

One dog and 16 cats have been adopted this month. Prior to adoption, all pets are spayed or neutered, examined, vaccinated, and fitted with microchips. The adoption fees help cover these costs. The fees are: $150 for puppies, $100 for dogs, $65 for kittens and $40 for cats one year and older.

People are asked to keep cats as indoor pets, and dogs must have fenced-in yards.

"I'm most grateful the fire was not more damaging than it was. I'm thankful for the lady who saw the flames and called the fire department. Every day we look at the room where it happened and we're grateful that we're still here," said Ms. Rice. "We miss our cats a lot. They'd been with us a long time and had become family."

"I'm most thankful we were able to retrieve pets. We could have lost everything," said Ms. Sanders. "You do learn how much people care at a time like that. Every day is a new day at the shelter."

How you can help:

In addition to cash donations, the Animal Aid Humane Society needs dry and wet dog and cat food, kitty litter, laundry detergent, paper towels, cleaning supplies and clean bedding. It also needs a new washing machine.

The shelter is always in need of volunteers.  There will be a volunteer signup meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Gold Room at Moline Public Library, 3210 41st St.

For more information, visit Animal Aid's Facebook page or molineanimalaid.org, or call (309) 797-6550. Donations can be accepted through the website.