A Voice for AnimalsPublished 10:14am Wednesday, November 13, 2013
The idea to establish an animal shelter in the twin counties of Wilkin and Richland didn’t start as any one person’s dream, but finding a volunteer caretaker like Gabi Lezon was a dream come true for the Richland Wilkin Humane Society and their furry friends. Gabi will downplay her role as President of the Humane Society and full time volunteer at the shelter, but her co-volunteers will readily clamor that “it takes a team effort, and Gabi is our leader”.
Gabi’s love for the feline frenzy and canine clamor that constitute her every day are a remarkable testament to her generous, empathetic and caring nature. But leadership and management skills evolved out of necessity: when it comes to animal rights, Gabi’s quiet and gentle demeanor can be superseded by a strength and determination she never knew she possessed.
“These animals need an advocate and that is a role I can comfortably play,” says Gabi. “I grew up in a German society where women where seen and not heard. That was the rule I followed for many years after arriving in America: I was content to raise a family and take care of the home front while my husband was working on the road. But I did it subversively, without question and without confrontation. It’s not that I didn’t have conviction, I just didn’t know that it would be acceptable for me to voice my opinions and stand behind them.” “Today I have no problem taking a stand and projecting an opinion, because I had to in order to protect the shelter and what it stands for.” “After becoming so involved in the project, I realized that I could take a stand because decisions had to be made. Today, my husband, Elton, tongue in cheek, will be the first to say, ‘Don’t bother disagreeing with her, she will always win.’” Gabi makes me think she lives up to the motto, “you’ve come a long way, baby”. So what if the impetus was animal rights? We all have our causes, some personal, some more public and communal.
Anyone fortunate enough to have ever meandered thru Gabi and Elton’s personal yard through the years are already aware of the animal menagerie closely resembling a setting out of Disney’s “Bambi”. Birds chirping, squirrels climbing, rabbits nibbling and stray dogs napping among feeders and fountains and lawn ornaments, including Gabi’s collection of “garden dwarfs” originating from her home country.
Gabi grew up in the black forest (ie Snow White) area of Germany where she fell in love with a young American soldier who brought her to America as his wife. Gabi spent most of her childhood as a fatherless, single child, having lost her father before she knew him, at only a few months old. She knew he was a farmer by trade and tradition and perhaps she inherited a love for all pets and animals through him.
What many of us might consider a huge rodent, Gabi sees as one of God’s living creatures – an animal to be sustained, cher-ished, and appreciated. Which may explain how Gabi has become caretaker to such species as Opie, the Opossum she found in her neighborhood and fed, cared for and befriended for several months. Or how she developed a fondness for a young kangaroo from the local zoo who had developed West Nile Disease and had to be taught how to “hop” – yes, Gabi actually spent a summer, along with other volunteers, helping the kangaroo regain its’ lost balance and learn to be mobile. “All of the animals are special, but these unusual species sure make the job interesting!” sighs Gabi.
Gabi says the shelter came to fruition after a farmer called a public meeting to ask if others were tired of having pets dumped in their yards/fields. These animals needed shelter, care, loving homes. “Oh, we still get unusual requests”, says Gabi, such as, “I’d like to donate a horse,” or “There’s a hummingbird in my garage,” or “Can you catch the rabbit in the daycare yard?” “Once I had to rescue a three-legged cat from a neighbor’s basement duct work – no one knew where the animal came from or how it got inside”.
Patrons may donate a pet for a surrender fee of $50 that will cover the cost of a veterinary visit and shots, etc. – but only if there is room available. Currently, there is a waiting list for surrendering pets. Adopting a pet can be
accomplished for a fee of $60 per cat and $100 per dog.
The volunteer staff is a special breed itself. Some of those pictured are: Brigette Holkup, Pam Stenslie, Nancy O’Hearn and Millie Glenn. These animal lovers get extremely attached to their charges. They spend hours watching, walking, feeding and interacting with the animals. The facility has a “no kill” policy of protection but if they lose one due to illness and death, it is a very emotional time for all of them.
The shelter was created by an extremely generous donation from Glen Ista, and is sustained by regular fundraisers and the contributions of local veterinarian Tim Matz. And as long as Gabi is able to speak, she will be a voice for the protection of all stray and neglected animals through the Richland/Wilkin Humane