In the age of “so-ugly-they’re-cute” clickbait cats, it’s no surprise Sergeant became a local celebrity when his photo was posted on the Wyandotte Animal Adoption Center’s Facebook page. But when the tattered old tomcat was brought into Downriver Central Animal Control, his condition was bleak, to say the least. Severely matted fur pulled at his tender skin, ear infections caused him to scratch until he bled, and his left eye was in pretty rough shape.
Sergeant was lucky to have landed at the Downriver shelter, where a group of volunteers helps fill critical gaps in the municipal animal control system. Founded in 2006, the nonprofit Pound Pals Downriver provides vital volunteer hours, funding, and resources for a tri-city system that encompasses Wyandotte, Southgate, and Allen Park. Because of the group’s efforts, a hard-luck cat like Sergeant isn’t an automatic candidate for euthanasia.
As part of its partnership with the cities, Pound Pals provides services like dog walking, spay and neutering, and emergency vet visits while the municipalities handle management of animal control officers and processing of citations and violations. Together, they operate one animal intake center in Southgate and an animal adoption facility in Wyandotte, which is almost entirely staffed by Pound Pals volunteers.
Their teamwork has had a huge impact: When the three cities merged their animal control programs back in 2013, euthanasia rates collectively were close to 80 percent. Today, that number has dropped to less than 10 percent.
“When we get the vet care done, we pay for that, because most cities wouldn’t be able to afford it,” says Pound Pals founder Kimberly Skidmore. “Our vet bills run about $40,000 per year, but it gives animals that are friendly and nice and adoptable the opportunity to be adopted.”
Pound Pals’ guiding philosophy is, “happy animals get adopted faster,” explains director Tom Abraham. And they aim to make the adoption facility a happy place: Daily walks, hands-on playtime, and toys and treats help keep the furry tenants’ spirits up — increasing the likelihood of adoption.
The facility also has a powerful secret weapon: downright adorable photos taken by photographer Jennifer Watkins.
“Honestly, good pictures like the ones that Jennifer takes are key because they really catch people’s attention,” Abraham says. Watkins even gets the pets to pose with props and accessories like bow ties, showcasing each animal’s unique personality.
“It almost makes them look like the regular house cat or family dog they really are, instead of looking like a scary stray with an unknown history,” explains shelter manager Alyssa Stafford.
An updated spay and neuter program, implemented by the nonprofit, is also having an impact. Today, all animals are either spayed or neutered before they can leave the shelter, and the total cost is included in the adoption fee. The nonprofit works closely with the Paws Clinic in Taylor to keep costs affordable.
The group is working to make even more improvements to the tri-city program. As it stands now, all animals must be taken in through the facility in Southgate, which is only open two hours a day during the week and closed on weekends. There is simply no system in place for residents who find stray or injured animals after hours.
“There’s still a need out there; it’s just a matter of having the resources to help meet that need,” Abraham explains.
Good thing Pounds Pals clearly isn’t afraid of a challenge.
Two days after our interview, and after months of rehabilitation, Sergeant was adopted into his forever home — though he did lose his left eye. For more information on Pound Pals and the Wyandotte Animal Adoption Center, visit wacshelter.com.