How did a Caledonia woman with a martial arts studio and a background with horses get involved with the non-profit, no-kill animal shelter Orphan Kanines?
It started with an attempt to give back to the community, a principle Deb Gray holds dear because of her family’s commitment to martial arts.
“It’s also important for Caledonia businesses to support Caledonia,” said Gray, who owns the Northside Martial Arts studio with her husband, Scott, and runs the Orphan Kanines shelter, both in Caledonia.
That’s why Gray, 52, asked to hold a fundraiser for the shelter, which deals mostly with rescued and abandoned dogs, first in 2006 and again in 2008.
After both fundraisers, Gray said she was surprised to be asked to take a larger role with shelter, which was founded in the 1970s by Grace Krenzke, who died in April 2006.
At first, Gray said, she resisted, worried that she couldn’t juggle what was already on her plate, including her more than 70-hour-a-week job at CASE, where she worked in telecommunications.
When that job was eliminated in 2006, Gray took it as a sign that she might be able to embrace change. Eventually, after she got more and more entrenched with Orphan Kanines, Gray joined the shelter in 2008.
She’s never looked back.
“It’s been probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
From Orphans to Pets
The results Orphan Kanines gets from the unwanted animals they get from dog auctions, as the result of home foreclosures or because owners simply no longer want their pets, is what Gray finds so rewarding.
Nothing, she said, compares with the moment that an animal that once cowered, cried and shunned human contact “comes out of his shell and is adopted to the right home.”
Getting there often starts with embracing animals who have been abused or neglected, as was the case when Gray took a group of 13 beagles collected from a hoarding situation in Tennessee.
“I must have looked horrified when they opened the truck, because they said, ‘If you don’t want ‘em, we’ll take them back,’” Gray said.
Despite the smell and the sorry state of each dog, Gray said there was no way she could turn her back on the dogs, including one 28-pound dog the shelter later named Charlie.
“His nails were so long they were curled down into his pads,” Gray said. “And he had fungus on his feet from standing in his own feces and urine.”
Helping dogs like Charlie starts with a medical assessment, which includes a 14-day quarantine, a medical evaluation, updated shots and spaying or neutering for each dog. Gray and her crew of 15 volunteers, which includes dog walkers, then focus on learning the personality of each dog.
The goal is to make sure each dog is matched with the best possible home, so owners don’t bring animals back because they jumped in too soon.
It’s that commitment that attracted shelter staff member Tiffany Hall, who not only cares for the dogs but adopted two puppies – siblings Bella and Tuscan – after her beloved family dog Sabbeth died in April.
“It makes me feel better just knowing you’re doing something for animals that are less fortunate,” said Hall, 24, of Racine.
The Adoption Process
Adoptions cost from $275 to $425. For puppies, adoptions run closer to $300 or $325.
“I know some people think that’s really high, but it costs anywhere from $450 to $1,000 to get a dog ready for a home,” Gray said.
The shelter, located at 1922 Kremer Ave., relies on donations from community residents, local businesses and dog supply chains, including IAMS, which gives the shelter a discount toward feeding the 35 to 45 dogs usually housed at the shelter.
In the future, Gray hopes to open a veterinary practice, which would include a low-cost wellness center and a spay/neuter program. Both would be available for other area shelters and lower income pet owners.
Any fees charged for those services would support the shelter and fund Gray’s ultimate goal of buying a larger property for the dogs.
- What: Orphan Kanines
- Where: 1922 Kremer Ave., Caledonia
- Contact: (262) 681-1415, or www.orphankanines.org