photos: Mark Luinenburg
author: Robin Raven, Contributor
If you are dreaming of traveling to volunteer once the pandemic is over, you may plan to visit this midwestern sanctuary where you can play and even swim with rescued cats and dogs who will delight in your company. Home for Life® is an internationally recognized animal sanctuary that provides care for the life of each animal it takes in. When an animal is rescued by this organization, it will have its happily ever after. No animal is ever given less than fully loving care for the rest of their life at Home for Life®. It was founded by Lisa LaVerdiere in 1997, and its sanctuary facility is situated on 40 acres in Star Prairie, Wisconsin, near the Apple River.
The idea behind the organization is simple and sweet. LaVerdiere explains that they offer “a life-saving and life-affirming alternative for dogs and cats who have not been able to find a home or keep the home they had and for animals who have lifelong special care needs.” Since most adopters are unable to take on the expensive care for animals with a lot of medical care needs, this sanctuary can give these animals that crucial care along with the happy home they need.
“We call our idea the Third Door® in animal welfare which gives at risk dogs and cats, animals who might have been passed over for adoption, an alternative to an undeserved death. The dream of a home should be an opportunity that is available for all dogs and cats, and now with Home for Life® and the innovative model we have created at our prototype sanctuary in Star Prairie, Wisconsin, we think it can be.”
Lisa LaVerdiere is still heavily involved in the organization she started, serving as its executive director and being hands-on with the animals it cares for. She spoke with us about this special sanctuary and what she is doing for animals in need.
What kind of animals do you take in?
We take all kinds of dogs and cats: they mostly fall into one of four categories and often overlap categories: the elderly, the disabled, those with medical conditions – such as diabetes and epilepsy – and those with behavior issues. We have animals from all over the United States and other countries that include China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Korea, Japan, Thailand, and Mexico.
What inspired you to start Home for Life?
When I was about age 8, I was the typical animal-loving kid and volunteered at a local humane society, where I witnessed many animals who were euthanized, only because they were unable to find new homes when they had been given up by former owners. I witnessed many heartbreaking situations that were seared into my memory and which continued to haunt me as I grew older, went to college and graduate school, and started my career as a lawyer. Despite many distractions and obligations, I never forgot those first animals I encountered at the shelter who had no one to care about them. Later, as a young professional, I volunteered at a no-kill shelter and was even on their board. I thought the no-kill philosophy would be the antidote and the answer to what I had witnessed as a child. However, what I learned was that many animals are overlooked for adoption when they fail to appeal to potential pet owners. Old animals, those with medical conditions, and animals with behavior issues or disabilities are often left behind. The first animals that came to live at a Home for Life® came from this no-kill shelter where the dogs and cats had previously gone months or even years with no adoption prospects.
What sets Home for Life® apart from other organizations?
We believed that a new approach to help animals was needed if an animal was not getting adopted. Was there any other alternative for them but premature euthanasia? We thought an innovative option was possible and would save the lives of many animals in need: we call our option the Third Door® in animal welfare which gives animals who are overlooked for adoption an alternative to euthanasia and a quality life. The Third Door® is actually a trademark we obtained to describe the work of Home for Life® Sanctuary!
What is your favorite thing about Home for Life®?
The happiness of our animals and that we can share that with the public. Also, although things are on hold right now due to Covid-19, our Peace Creatures® programs.
Our Peace Creatures® programs are innovative, cost-effective model programs that bring solace and joy to at-risk kids and adults in our community through healing pet therapy. This year our sanctuary animals, staff and volunteers will reach over 7,000 vulnerable children and adults through the Peace Creatures® programs and provide nearly $900,000 worth of pet therapy benefits to those vulnerable people, many who are populations who often don't receive this service.
These accomplishments would not be possible without our sanctuary. All that we accomplish starts with the belief that led to the founding of Home for Life® 22 years ago. Animals who need us are not a problem to be solved but an untapped treasure. We believe in the significance of every life we care for, and that the life of each cat and dog counts.
That perspective is transformative, a premise that creates miracles. As we like to say, “Each animal matters. One sanctuary can change the direction of animal welfare, and one person can make a difference. Let that one person be you!”
Once the pandemic is over, will you be conducting tours? When they are available?
Yes, we love to have people visit Home for Life® because seeing is believing and we love to have people meet our animals, see our facility and learn more about the unique role we fulfill in animal welfare. Tours are by appointment and guided, keeping in mind that we are welcoming visitors to what is the animals' home. We are not open to the public as with a municipal shelter but before the pandemic and when it is over, we welcome visitors year round - most prefer to visit us in the summer and fall but all seasons are beautiful at Home for Life®. Generally, we ask that visitors arrive early afternoon so the majority of the heavy work which is done in the morning is completed- feeding, medicating the animals and taking care of the paraplegics, and so our staff can spend time with our guests and answer any questions
During the pandemic, we are in the process of instituting video or virtual tours oriented for school groups, scouts and other organizations, or even for families doing home schooling.
How do people reserve a tour in advance?
Please call our toll-free number at 1-800-252-5918 or send us an email at email@example.com.
Do you have any etiquette tips for visitors?
You will do a lot of walking, so comfortable shoes and also since the facility is spread out on 40 acres we encourage people to watch the weather forecast to choose a day to visit when they can walk outside and enjoy a beautiful day and the natural beautify of the sanctuary. Our property features prairie land, hardwood forest, a wetland and river frontage so much natural beauty as well as the wonderful animals of the sanctuary.
How can your supporters best help you?
Sponsoring an animal! Sponsorship gives our supporters an opportunity to witness the transformative power that their generosity can have on an individual animal living at Home for Life® sanctuary. As a sponsor, your monthly or annual donation will help us to continue providing a secure, healthy environment where animals who were formerly abused, neglected, and rejected can thrive and begin again to participate in the joy of being that is the right of all living things. All of the animals at our sanctuary receive the same high-quality care, whether they have sponsors or not.
You can sponsor an individual cat or dog for $25 a month, or $300 a year. (For pet owners wishing to surrender a pet, different sponsorship rates may apply).
You will receive regular written updates about your sponsored animal's well-being and experiences, along with photos taken by professional photographers who donate their time in support of our sponsorship program. You may even wish to visit the sanctuary and meet your cat or dog "in person". During the pandemic, we are offering our sponsors, virtual visits using Google Meet and Zoom, in addition to the photos and updates.
What’s your favorite compliment that Home for Life® has received so far?
As a supporter said to me in an email message this year. "Home for Lif®e is a sanctuary for us too because you show that there is still kindness and compassion in the world.” That message made 22 years of hard work, trials, and tribulations, worth it.
Visit the Home for Life® website to learn more about their work or sponsor an animal.