A puppy with massive neck wounds from being attacked by another dog.
A cat with burns and a broken leg from being caught inside a car engine.
An older dog, victim of abuse and neglect, suffering from dehydration and malnutrition.
When homeless and stray animals suffer from disease or traumatic injuries, who takes care of them?
In Eastern Iowa, Critter Crusaders comes to the rescue.
With a mission of returning these animals to health so that they can be adopted, the local nonprofit organization raises money to provide and guide advanced medical care to homeless and stray animals.
“They have no one — they’re discarded or considered throwaways,” said Jan Erceg, founder and medical coordinator of the organization. “But we’re all in for these animals.”
Years ago, as a volunteer at Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control, Erceg saw a need: Often animals would come into the facility with medical concerns beyond the reach of the city shelter’s budget. She and her fellow volunteers were heartbroken to see these animals euthanized. So they started stepping in themselves.
“We were paying out of our own pockets for medical treatments and taking animals to appointments,” she said.
Soon, volunteers pooled their resources. At first, the group called itself Friends of Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control, but in 2009, it became a 401(c)3 nonprofit and changed its name to Critter Crusaders.
“The name change opened up avenues to provide care to all local shelters and rescues,” Erceg said.
The organization has no shelter facility itself; it works with shelters and facilities throughout the area, providing and guiding medical treatment for animals in the care of those shelters and rescues.
“We treat cancer routinely,” Erceg said.
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Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation can often cure cancer in animals, just as they can in people. The organization also has overseen treatments for heartworm disease, endocrine issues and burns, not to mention traumatic injuries from being hit by a car, caught in a trap or attacked by another animal.
All these treatments can be expensive, so Critter Crusaders is constantly fundraising to support its mission.
“We spent close to $200,000 last year in medical care,” Erceg said.
Events such as an annual wine-tasting offer opportunities for people to make donations to assist in the care of homeless animals. The nonprofit also occasionally runs GoFundMe campaigns, which it shares through its Facebook page.
Critter Crusaders is able to make donations go a long way. Because it is completely volunteer-run, donated funds go directly to caring for animals. There are no salaries to pay and no overhead because the organization is run out of the homes of board members and volunteers.
The group works closely with local and regional veterinary clinics that support its work by discounting costs of procedures.
“We usually go directly to the larger institutions,” Erceg said. “We can avoid multiple appointments for diagnosis and referral that way.”
Stories of successful treatments fill the pages of the Critter Crusaders website, including Poseidon, the puppy attacked by another dog who underwent thousands of dollars worth of surgery, but now is recovering enough to play with the many toys donated to him. And there’s Justice, the cat burned by a car engine who now has been adopted and is a “purring machine.” And Digit, the abused and neglected older dog, is being treated and getting stronger each day.
Critter Crusaders always is looking for more people to help crusade for homeless and stray animals. Besides making donations and attending fundraisers, animal lovers can sign up to volunteer to help with fundraising, grant-writing, outreach and more at www.crittercrusaderscr.org.