For Susan Kroon, one of the many fulfilling aspects of her role at the Blue Earth Nicollet County Humane Society (BENCHS) is connecting homeless animals with loving families.
“The easy answer is just seeing cats or dogs matched with a loving home and watching them leave,” Kroon said. “That’s a very heartwarming thing whether I’m here personally or staff tell me about it.”
Kroon, President of the BENCHS Board of Directors, said this year marks the 50th anniversary of the independent, nonprofit organization’s role in south central Minnesota as a shelter and adoption service for animals. Relying solely on donations, fund-raising events and memberships for funding, BENCHS continues to find homes for animals in need of a caring family.
“Ultimately, that’s the mission,” she said. “Getting all these homeless animals to a home.”
In the last two years alone, Kroon said BENCHS connected nearly 1,300 animals with loving families. She said it’s an immense number of animals for the shelter to care for, and despite the large volume of animals passing through BENCHS, she said they don’t plan to expand their building and shelter facilities.
Rather than expanding their shelter, Kroon said BENCHS is focusing on how to grow their existing programs and connections with area organizations and businesses. She said they’re aiming to expand their existing programs into more robust and proficient operations.
One of those programs, which has volunteers walk dogs at the shelter, is a vital socialization tool BENCHS uses to introduce the canines to other dogs and people in the community.
Kroon said dogs at the shelter can meet up to 30 other dogs in a single week while volunteers lead them around Mankato. Through this socialization process, Kroon said they document what the dog and the volunteer walker were exposed to while on the walk and use this information to build a personality profile. They then use this information to match the dog to a preferred home setting.
“It’s a really important part of our program,” she said, “Not just because they need to go out and go potty, but it’s that socialization and that interaction that’s important.”
Kroon said BENCHS is also working to expand its foster care program that has animals at the shelter live in foster homes for short periods of time. She said this program exists for animals at the shelter who need a bit more time to adjust or even pregnant dogs that need a quiet environment. After people’s home are evaluated, they can open their doors to an animal.
In addition to the expansion of its animal care programs, BENCHS improved their operating procedures and how they keep track of all the animals residing there.
Two years ago, BENCHS upgraded from a paper filing system to a digital database that can store information on animals currently staying at the shelter and even animals who have already found a home. Kroon said the database holds all the animals’ medical history including time of vaccinations, date of deworming and even general comments.
“When you leave, we can print that off and give it to you if you’re adopting,” she said. “When you go to the vet they can log back on our system and see the full history of that animal.”
Kroon said BENCHS also performs daily check-ups on animals in the shelter and logs their conditions into the system. Once an animal has been adopted, owners and veterinarians have a complete day to day history of the animal’s medical history.
“We can communicate with the veterinarians in a more seamless manner than phone calls or a fax,” Kroon said. “That’s been one of our big, wonderful changes.”
BENCHS has also expanded into local businesses and organizations in Mankato. Kroon said PetSmart in Mankato has devoted a portion of their building to cat adoptions in addition to allowing BENCHS a space in the building to microchip dogs and cats.
Kroon said BENCHS wouldn’t exist without these types of partnerships, their volunteers or help from the community.
“It’s also really been an amazing journey for me because our program is embraced by the community,” she said. “We get great support from events and donations and gifts and activities – our fosters, all our volunteers.”
All year round, BENCHS hosts fundraising events in the community such as plant sales, community garage sales and their annual Running for Rescues 5K race in September. Some of these events, Kroon said, can raise upwards of $20,000 in a single day.
Kroon said BENCHS has seen a lot of growth in the expansion of its community collaboration programs – particularly with restaurants. On June 23, restaurants and bars in downtown Mankato will host “Yappy Hour,” where dog owners can bring their pets onto participating restaurants’ patios. Each bar will donate a percentage of their sales to BENCHS.
“It’s a collaboration between us and those businesses,” she said. “They want to let people know that their dog is welcome on their patio. With the nice weather it’s a wonderful thing to do.”
Andrew Burk, BENCHS Executive Director, said he can’t thank the community enough for the support they’ve provided to the shelter. He said the most fulfilling portion of his job is seeing people’s reactions when they meet animals at the shelter and the faces of the dogs and cats that leave with their new families.
Burk reflected on a couple’s recent visit to BENCHS to meet a dog in need of a home and to see if the dog was compatible with them. He said the dog, Jodi, a Pitbull terrier, and her reaction to the couple stunned him.
“We’ve seen [Jodi] react with other people before, but she went right up to the couple and literally laid on her back with her belly up just saying ‘pet me.’ She hasn’t done that for a longtime. We can see that it’s a good pair. That there is just fulfilling.”
Story and photos by Gage Cureton