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TODAY IS THE Almost Home Animal Shelter’s 50th anniversary of caring for animals. The facility at 5060 Lincoln St. in Quinnesec will celebrate with an open house from 11 am to 3 pm Saturday. Here, Shelter Manager Diane Luczak takes 2-year-old Max, who is available for adoption, to the exercise yard. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

QUINNESEC — The Almost Home Animal Shelter today marks a half-century of being the area’s bridge that connects homeless animals to adoption.

The shelter at 5060 Lincoln St. in Quinnesec will host an open house from 11 am to 3 pm Saturday to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The public is invited to tour the facility, as well as enjoy a cookout and cake.

“We want to share this significant milestone with the community,” said Shelter Manager Diane Luczak, who has been with Almost Home for 32 years. “Without the support of donors and volunteers, we couldn’t do what we do.”

Since its inception, the shelter has been committed to nurturing lost, abandoned and surrendered pets, while seeking loving caregivers who will provide them with a “forever” home; being a community educator for the benefit of the pet population; and provides support to the pet owners.

The animal shelter has evolved over the decades. The first area Humane Society opened in June 1969, after a group of concerned residents sought funds to establish the much-needed service. The leased building on US 2, between Quinnesec and Norway, could house up to 10 dogs and 10 cats — which maxed out in the first day, despite five adoptions. By September, it was forced to close due to limited space and being unsuited for the winter months.

THE 10,000-SQUARE-FOOT Almost Home Animal Shelter opened at its current location, 5060 Lincoln St. in Quinnesec, in May 2012. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

Determined to build a larger and more adequate facility, a group of dedicated volunteers launch an intensive fundraising campaign. In June 1970, Robert and Alva Johnson of Iron Mountain offered a land-lease option — 999 years for a $1 a year — on a property just off M-95 near Spring Lake. Construction was a cooperative effort of the society’s directors, Blomquist and Associates Architects, and the vocational students and instructors at the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District.

The Dickinson County Humane Society opened on June 24, 1972, and was accredited by the American Humane Association in July.

“This was the first of its kind to open in the Upper Peninsula or northeastern Wisconsin,” Luczak said.

The 2,000-square-foot facility had a capacity for 14 dogs and nine cats.

Yet over three decades the Spring Lake Animal Shelter began to show its age, so in the early 2000s the Board of Directors decided it was time to start considering a new shelter.

RUTHIE IS THE Almost Home Animal Shelter’s mascot cat who resides in the community cat room at the facility.

After successfully meeting their financial goal, they were able to purchase land and start preparation for the build.

Construction of the 10,000-square-foot facility took a couple of years, Luczak said, with the Almost Home Animal Shelter opening in May 2012 at the Quinnesec location.

“The new name was chosen from a contest,” she said, noting it was the third name change over the years.

The large structure houses 16 dog kennels for adoption candidates and eight for stray dogs that might have owners still out there, as well as an exercise yard. This area was dedicated in honor of Gina and the late Burt Angeli for their unconditional love of dogs, Luczak said.

The adoptable cat room has 30 cages, with another 30 cages in the cat intake room for strays and/or surrendered felines.

ALMOST HOME ANIMAL Shelter Manager Diane Luczak, who has been at the facility for 32 years, checks on two guinea pigs available for adoption. (Terri Castelaz/Daily News photo)

“We also have five to six cats that reside in the ‘community cat room,’ including our mascot, Ruthie,” she said.

Those looking to adopt are now able to spend time with the animals in the meet-and-greet rooms. “We have a separate one for dogs and cats,” Luczak said. “This has worked out great.”

Having a larger facility has been a blessing, Luczak added.

In addition to more space and being air-conditioned, the new facility has many other significant features, including a maternity area and sick bay.

“We never had this before and it has helped out tremendously,” Luczak said.

They also are able to provide separate rooms for small animals such as guinea pigs, hamsters and birds.

Vulcan’s Shelly Gunville of Paws to Train has provided dog obedience and agility classes in the basement area since 2016.

“This is done with the goal of keeping family dogs in their home by fixing undesirable behaviors,” she said. “This has been a great asset to us.”

The shelter takes in an average of about 1,200 animals each year, Luczak said.

In addition to rescuing and arranging adoptions of animals, the Almost Home Animal Shelter provides veterinary care, spay/neuter procedures, behavioral training, and no time limits on keeping animals in its care.

“Nothing leaves here without getting fixed — this includes rabbits,” Luczak stressed. “We have seen less animals come in because of adopted animals being fixed prior to them going to their new home.”

They have found homes for all types of animals. “We have had almost everything from small mice to potbellied pigs,” said Luczak. “We don’t turn away an animal.”

She also noted their adoption costs haven’t changed over the years. “We are not here to make money — the small fee doesn’t even cover the cost to have them spayed or neutered,” she said. “We just want them to find good homes.”

During the pandemic, they were forced to close the shelter’s doors to the public and switch to being by appointment only.

However, this turned out to be very beneficial for the facility, she said. “We noticed a lot less stress on the animals and it cut down on the spread of the diseases between the cats,” Luczak said.

This policy also had no effect on adoption numbers — they are as busy as ever.

Anyone who needs to surrender a pet can do so with no questions asked, Luczak stressed. “We have had terrible outcomes from people dropping animals off in boxes along side of roads or parks,” she said. “There is no reason to leave them like that — we don’t turn anyone away.”

Costs to surrender pets is $10 or $20 for mother and litter.

They not only serve Dickinson County, but surrounding northeast Wisconsin towns.

Volunteers play a vital role in the operation of the Almost Home Animal Shelter.

“We have about 50 volunteers that alleviate the daily workload of staff to ensure the animals are well taken care off,” Luczak said. “I can’t stress how important they are to us.”

Anyone interested in giving of their time at the shelter can contact Volunteer Coordinator Joan Recla.

In addition to Luczak, who is the only full-time staff member, they have two part-time and three “irregular” workers.

The Almost Home Animal Shelter has an eight-member board of directors, all volunteers as well, and separate fundraiser and building maintenance committees.

Monetary donations are always greatly accepted, as well as items from their “wish list.” Those needed items, from food to cleaning supplies, are posted on their website and Facebook page.

Its biggest annual fundraiser is the ValenTails event each February, which is open to the public to enjoy dinner, raffles and silent auctions.

In addition, the shelter has two “continuous” fundraisers — the returnable/recyclable can and bottle drive and the grocery receipt program.

“This is easy, clear money for the shelter,” Luczak said. “Thanks to the volunteers who take the time to do this — it’s not a fun job and is very time-consuming, sorting and totaling slips.”

The Almost Home Animal Shelter’s newsletter “The Companion,” is another fundraiser that comes out twice a year.

Luczak said all these add up to help keep its doors open, pay for veterinary care and able to care for hundreds of pets each year until they find their forever homes.

“The shelter continues to be successfully largely due to the endless outpouring support of donors and our great volunteers,” she said.

The shelter at 5060 Lincoln St. in Quinnesec is open by appointment from 9:30 am to 2 pm seven days a week, excluding major holidays. Appointments can be made by calling 906-774-1005 or by message on the shelter’s Facebook page.

For more information, go to the website at https://www.almosthomeanimalsheltermi.com/

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