Life

After theft at Last Hope Animal Rescue in Cedar Rapids, community generosity buoys spirits

Volunteer Linda Pisney of Cedar Rapids brings Ava back to her pen after time in the outdoor dog run at Last Hope Animal
Volunteer Linda Pisney of Cedar Rapids brings Ava back to her pen after time in the outdoor dog run at Last Hope Animal Rescue in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When someone broke into a donation box and stole cash at Last Hope Animal Rescue in Cedar Rapids overnight on Dec. 11, staff and volunteers at the animal shelter and affiliated business CR Grooming were unsettled and upset. A volunteer who arrived at the shelter’s building on the morning of Dec. 12 found a mess, with the box destroyed and a security camera covered with a flyer.

“It was just kind of unnerving to realize your building — someone’s been in there, covering your cameras, walking around,” said Amanda Rushton, director of development at the rescue.

But a wave of support and fundraisers in response to the theft has countered the negative feelings left by the break-in.

A fundraiser attached to the shelter’s Facebook post about the theft has raised more than $11,500, and additional donations have poured in from individuals and area businesses alike. Lefty’s Tattoo donated $3,371 from 94 tattoos, Thew Brewing held a yoga fundraiser, Raygun made a T-shirt and Fong’s Pizza, Big Grove Brewery and Don Hummer Trucking raised money. Other businesses called and said their employees wanted to make a year-end donation to the shelter, and still others said they wanted to donate anonymously.

“It’s been honestly overwhelming and humbling and amazing, all kind of wrapped into one,” Rushton said. “The donations that have come in have been wonderful. We have more than covered what was stolen ... It was a great thing to have everybody rally and come together.”

People filled the space under the Christmas tree in the lobby with donated food, toys and other items on the shelter’s wish list. That happens every holiday season, Rushton said, but this year it was taken to a new level.

“We had an open house immediately after the theft, and the number of people who came in and brought in one can of cat food or one roll of paper towels was just amazing; it was so heartwarming,” Rushton said. “They brought the Christmas spirit back to Last Hope.”

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The shelter, which has been operating for 15 years, relies on donations, with spending last year of around $250,000, said Executive Director Sonia Brandley. She’s not sure how much was stolen, but said they are diligent about taking the money out of the donation box weekly. The donation box contributions primarily come from people stopping into the shelter or CR Grooming, a business Brandley started and runs from the same building at 1823 16th Ave. SW.

No one draws a salary from Last Hope, she said, but CR Grooming has paid positions, which allows them to have someone at the front desk throughout the day. A portion of CR Grooming’s proceeds goes to Last Hope.

Adoption fees and grants also help with some of the shelter’s expenses, which include bigger projects in addition to daily needs.

They are currently planning a $27,000 improvement to the building’s cat area in 2020.

Most of the animals in Last Hope’s care are in foster placements throughout the community, but a small number live at the shelter. Those include newly arrived animals and those that are more difficult to place, such as animals with special medical needs or behavioral challenges.

Planned renovations include removing walls to increase available space and to create an area for new cat intake and housing for cats that need to be isolated for various reasons, usually medical. A state inspector told them this year they could not have cat housing and storage of cat food in the same room, so they also need to create a separate storage area.

Renovations will help keep up with community needs, Brandley said.

“Originally we were doing 20 to 30 cat adoptions a year, and now we’re up to 300,” she said.

The rescue also cares for dogs, with several that live at the shelter in addition to those in foster homes, and occasionally they take in small animals like rabbits.

Along with donations, Last Hope is always looking for volunteers to help at the shelter or events or to foster animals. People interested in volunteering or donating can visit adopthope.org or call (319) 200-4880.

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“Animal rescue is not easy. I’ve never been in a position that is more heartbreaking. Sometimes, seeing the abuses these animals suffer, it can really break your faith in humanity,” Rushton said.

Seeing people respond with such generosity restores that faith, she said. “It reaffirms you’re doing the right thing, and you’re doing it with the support of a community that wants you to keep doing what you’re doing and needs you.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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