TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – After saving more than 13,000 dogs and cats in and around Northern Lower Michigan over the past 28 years, June McGrath, co-founder, director and president of AC PAW, has decided to change the direction of the animal rescue organization that she co-founded along with her life partner, Brian Manley.

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Back in April of 1995, Manley had lost about 80% of his vision due to retinal degeneration and McGrath would regularly read stories in the local paper to him. One letter that kept nagging at Manley was a letter from a local physician about not wanting to take a stray dog to the Antrim County shelter. He didn’t understand what the problem was. A few days later, Manley asked McGrath if they could visit the shelter to check it out. What they found there was alarming. The building was shabby and poorly financed by the county with no amenities. Dogs were howling and whining and begging to be walked. It was depressing.

On their way out, McGrath and Manley spoke with the part-time animal control officer and when they returned to their vehicle, McGrath said to Manley, “I wonder why they have so many dog collars on the wall?” Because Manley wasn’t able to see them, she explained that she saw a lot of collars, some with tags still attached, hanging from nails on the wall. “Think about it,” Manley said to her, waiting for the realization of the moment to sink in. She gasped when it hit her – after they euthanized the dogs, they put the collars of the dogs on the nails. The next time that Manley and McGrath visited the shelter, the previous collars were all gone.

After those visits, they promised themselves to do something about the situation. In the beginning, they took photos and made posters of dogs who needed homes. They were hopeful but realized many of those animals had been killed because no homes were able to be found for the many dogs entering the shelter. That led to them doing their own rescue of a Doberman named Keil and her five puppies who they saved.

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They noticed that when the dogs were taken out of the shelter, a new dog came in to fill the space. That’s when AC PAW was conceived. It came to be in July of 1995 and was officially incorporated January of 1996. The “always-filled” space in the shelter was a big factor in their decision that an organization was needed so that they could work with others to help them try to fix an overwhelming problem.

Because they had no money or space, AC PAW used the foster care system and then adopted their cats and dogs out of the Traverse City PetSmart and adoption events. Over the years, the cats and dogs in their system were taken care of medically if they were sick or injured, given their shots, spayed and neutered and they received needed socialization in their foster homes. In doing so, AC PAW has been able to save the lives of thousands of cats and dogs since 1995.

AC PAW has always been a “Shelter from the Storm” as they helped to save the lives of homeless, sick, and injured cats and dogs in Northern Michigan but as time marched on, changes in McGrath’s personal life led her to reevaluate things. Coping with the death of Manley’s brother, who she was the caregiver to for a long period of time, in addition to other changes, pushed McGrath to take a good look at AC PAW, her position in the organization and how she thought they could best serve the needs of the community.

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As a result, instead of rescuing cats and dogs, fixing them up medically, fostering them to get acclimated to a good home life and re-homing them, AC PAW will be transitioning into a full spay and neuter assistance and education program.

The announcement about the organization’s change in direction was announced on their Facebook page on Thursday. It said, “An important part of that mission has also been focusing on the spay and neuter of pets to help control the pet overpopulation problem. Through The AC PAW Spay & Neuter Project, we assist pet owners by subsidizing the cost of spaying and neutering their pets. To date, we have helped to sterilize over 1,000 family pets, preventing thousands of unwanted pets from being born. Through community TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) programs, hundreds of community cats have been sterilized, helping to stop reproduction, suffering and the spread of disease.”

They added, “The AC PAW Spay and Neuter project will continue the current voucher assistance program along with an added focus on holding spay and neuter clinic days with local veterinarians who share our vision. We will expand public outreach and educational programs will also be expanded as we move forward.”

AC PAW announced that gradually, over the next few months, they will begin the process of transitioning to becoming a full spay and neuter assistance and educational program. And although McGrath plans to fully retire from the organization at some point in the near future, she has promised to stay on the board until the transition is complete.

The new organization of the group will no longer require a “physical” designation for the group which has been McGrath’s garage since the organization’s inception as the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) Shelter program requires a location that serves as a shelter and quarantine area for pets. In many of the previous years, the choice for a foster-based rescue to be considered a “shelter” was a voluntary decision but now the state regulates foster-based organizations as animal shelters. This situation will make it difficult if the organization ever decides to go back to operating as a rescue as they would need to have a physical base of operations and probably have to purchase a building to pursue any efforts that include adopting out animals.

McGrath believes that with AC PAW focusing on spay and neutering, there will be, over time, far less cats and dogs to worry about finding homes for and she hopes that other groups in the area will be able to fill the gaps that will be needed now that AC PAW will no longer be taking in and adopting out animals. Because of the transition, effectively immediately, AC PAW has a permanent hold on animal intake and will focus on doing what they have always done – finding loving homes for the animals that remain in their care.

Other local groups in the area that take in animals and adopt them out include the dog rescue organizations, HANDDS to the Rescue and the Great Lakes Humane Society and groups that re-home cats including Cherryland Humane Society, Kelly’s Kritters and The Munchkins’ Mission and well as several others in surrounding counties.

McGrath wants everyone to know that AC PAW is very grateful to their many volunteers and supporters over the years who have helped save so many animals and she hopes the community will remain by their side to carry on their spay and neuter efforts on behalf of the animals of Northern Michigan.