Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Animal refuge on brink

Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter relies on public for support

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Carla Martinelli-Irvine (right), founder and director of the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter with long-time volunteer Susan Murray (left) and a couple little cuddly guys ready for adoption.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Carla Martinelli-Irvine (right), founder and director of the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter with long-time volunteer Susan Murray (left) and a couple little cuddly guys ready for adoption. Photo Store

Many children are given pets while growing up, but only one -- Musky, a corgi cross -- led to the creation years later of Manitoba's first registered charity no-kill animal shelter by his owner.

The Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter was the long-time goal of founder and executive director Carla Martinelli-Irvine.

And now it is the rescue shelter that needs rescuing.

Martinelli-Irvine said unless people start donating money very quickly, the shelter is in danger of having to close its doors.

"We don't think people are aware of the suffering, the neglect and the disease of these animals when they come here," she said.

"People will call and say, 'I don't want this thing.' They actually call it a thing. And we get animals left at our back door -- and in this weather too. It just breaks my heart."

Martinelli-Irvine said the shelter usually sees a drop in financial donations after the Christmas season, but this year it has dropped precipitously.

As well, the bitter and prolonged frigid temperatures this season have seen the dogs and cats come in with cold-related injuries that have to be treated at a veterinarian paid for by the shelter. There are now 85 animals in the shelter while another 200 animals are on their waiting list. About 1,000 animals go through the shelter annually.

The shelter is in so much trouble, it is now behind in several of its bills.

"We're here to help, but now we need help," she said.

Martinelli-Irvine said the shelter has a Helping Hero program in which people pledge amounts starting at $10 a month to come out of their bank account or off their credit card, but she's hoping more can sign up.

"We live in a city of 750,000 people and we only have 173 people giving $10 per month," she said.

"If I can get three per cent of the city to give us $10 per month, that would help us immensely."

Martinelli-Irvine is not only praying for numerous smaller donations, she is also praying for a deep- pocketed angel.

"I need $100,000 to pay off all the bills, get a fresh start and start a marketing campaign," she said.

"I think people have just forgotten us."

You don't have to convince our community's youth the shelter is needed.

Joanna Fultz, of the Winnipeg Foundation, says every year when it runs its Youth in Philanthropy program, in which student groups at city schools are given $5,000 to hand out to local charities, several of them donate to the shelter after visiting it.

"They're definitely always interested in donating to animal-service organizations," Fultz said.

"We had four or five donations sent to the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter last year."

Susan Murray, who has been volunteering at the shelter for about five years, credits it with helping her after the death of her husband.

"I was so fortunate," Murray said recently.

"They took me in when I was at my lowest point and they made me part of their family. But as they say, the shelter didn't just help me, I'm helpful to them."

Murray, who said she has always been a dog person, has found through volunteering she is now a cat person. Not only does she love volunteering to help cats, by cleaning their litter boxes and sterilizing the cages, she has even adopted one of the felines, a cat named appropriately, Kitty.

"She came in from a farm with her fur matted right to her skin," she said.

"We shaved her right down and that's when we found a huge lump on her hip. We took her to the vet and it was just a cyst. I've had her now for four years."

Murray said at first, when she was living nearby, she volunteered five days a week.

"Now I come less often, but I help with their fundraisers and I go around the city picking up the (coin bank) tins at restaurants and stores."

Martinelli-Irvine said it was Musky and her parents' advice that inspired her years later to found the no-kill shelter.

"I always remember the first day we got a dog. My mom and dad said, 'It is your responsibility. You have to look after him.'

"And then my dad said, 'This is a live animal. You can't return it. He is yours forever.' "

The shelter opened its doors in 1999 at 3062 Portage Ave. Before that, Martinelli-Irvine owned a traditional pet supply store, Pet Pals, where she sold only supplies not animals.

"I've been in this business for 28 years," Martinelli-Irvine said. "I've always wanted to help animals. I never believed in selling them for profit."

She said all of the animals in the shelter are adoptable.

"If they're sick, we'll fix them before they go out."

Martinelli-Irvine said since the day it opened, her shelter has not received government support, only private donations.

She said she hopes some money generated by the city's new cat-licensing program will filter down to it, but if so, it wouldn't start coming in until next year.

Martinelli-Irvine said people drop off their pets for myriad reasons, but for every senior who is moving into a senior centre that doesn't allow them to keep their beloved pet, there are other people with lesser reasons.

"We get a lot of people who say their life style has changed. We say 'what do you mean? All you have to do is feed them, give them shelter and love them?'

"But we also have people who say they have new furniture and their fur doesn't match the new couch."

To generate cash to keep the shelter going, it sells pet food, as well as an array of other things including dog and cat toys, leashes and litter boxes.

Other ways of helping include picking up a special Air Miles card at the shelter which, when using it, sends the points directly back to the shelter, or bringing in your old cellphone which, through the Charitable Recycling Program of Canada, ends up sending a monetary donation to the shelter.

Murray said she hopes Winnipeggers -- and Manitobans -- donate money to help the shelter continue its mission.

"There's such a need for it," she said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 A29

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