The power of love between a rescue dog and a local woman has placed Appanoose County on the brink of opening its own humane animal rescue shelter.
It was the year 2013, words like ‘twerk’ and ‘selfie’ were being introduced into pop culture. The color orange was still three years away from being recognized as a Presidential flesh tone. Breaking Bad was in its fifth season.
Inside Ottumwa’s Heartland Animal Shelter, a scared little five-pound Yorkshire terrier-mix needed a break of her own. They had found the chestnut brown dog walking a ditch-line, just outside of Ottumwa. Likely the young dog was tossed out like so much garbage, left to fend for herself in this new, big, unforgiving world.
The little dog’s stomach was empty, but the loyal, forgiving beats of her big heart never dipped.
Meanwhile, Tammy Wells Cassady was enjoying life with her husband Brad in 2013. The couple, although living near Numa, considered Centerville their hometown. Tammy and Brad both worked split-shifts for the same local factory. Tammy was punching-out a solid 18-year career with the same employer.
Tammy took pride in the longevity of her work career while still finding time for herself and Brad, “Brad and I used to enjoy leaving town and going to different places,” recalls Tammy. “Or I could be happy staying home, looking forward to my favorite tv show, The Closer. I walked a lot for exercise back then and had a gym membership.”
Who can explain such things? Who can explain the injustice of an unwanted, unloved dog, alone, sniffing for answers in the sticky weeds of a Wapello County ditch? How could that unloved dog ever find the unconditional love of a woman 50 miles away? The little dog dreamed big.
Tammy remembers that day six years ago, “The summer of 2013 my husband and I wanted another dog. It was actually Brad’s idea. We decided that if we would bring a dog home, we wanted it to be a rescue.”
“We knew our home, Appanoose County, didn’t have a place where we could adopt a dog. That’s when we began looking for animal shelters in the area. During an online search, I found the Heartland Humane Society in Ottumwa. It was there we found our forever dog. We didn’t choose a dog so much as she chose us,” smiles Tammy. “We brought home a brown Yorkshire terrier-mix, and we named her Bella.”
“Before that day six years ago, when we adopted Bella at Heartland in Ottumwa, I had given no thought to becoming active in animal rescues”, states Tammy.
In for the penny, in for the pound
A rescue dog wasn’t the only thing that came home with Tammy six-years ago.
“After adopting Bella, I kept thinking about the needs the Ottumwa Animal Shelter had. I wanted to give back to them because they had provided the place and opportunity for me to bring home my wonderful dog,” remembers Tammy. “I would make trips to Ottumwa, taking the shelter supplies that I knew they needed, such as a case of bleach, dog food, just anything that would help them.
“Then as I got to know the staff, they began involving me in fundraising for the shelter. They asked me to take part in the animal ‘meet and greets,’ all the various shelter activities, including several of their fundraisers.”
Tammy, while paying for her gas and giving up free time at home, drove the two hour, 86-mile round-trip to Ottumwa time after time over the next two years.
Cassady’s previously untapped passion for the work and function of a humane animal shelter was not to go unappreciated.
“I received a letter from Heartland asking me to be a board member. I accepted and I serve on their board as a trustee to this day,” explains Tammy.
Tammy Cassady unknowingly had put herself in the position of learning everything about owning and operating a humane animal rescue shelter.
“As a board member I help to oversee the financials,” Tammy explained. “I took part in hiring a kennel manager. I helped to create an employee handbook, and I help to create fundraising opportunities, and managing the volunteers.”
Once Tammy latches on to a project, some may say that she’s like a dog with a bone.
For the next two-plus-years, Tammy was beating a trail back and forth contributing to another county’s animal shelter. The woman on a mission was gaining invaluable experience and knowledge of both the volunteer work and a board member’s responsibility.
If Tammy had looked in her rearview mirror, she would have noticed the solution for Centerville’s homeless animals was closer than it appeared.
Three years into working the cause of a lifetime, Tammy began to untangle her own city’s and county’s homeless animal menagerie. What the animal shelter whisperer dug-up was that Appanoose County and Centerville was not working together with the handling of homeless dogs and cats. A litter of puppies found in a ditch near Brazil had nothing to do with a stray dog walking through a yard in Centerville.
Tom Beck has been synonymous with this area’s homeless animals for over a decade. From 2003 to 2017, he served as the city’s animal control officer. From 2003 to the present day, Beck leases a five-kennel de facto dog pound on his private property.
The problems arise though when dogs outstay their welcome at Hotel Beck. “The dogs are supposed to be moved out of the kennels within seven days,” states Tammy.
There is no location, anywhere in Appanoose County for wayward dogs and cats to be housed, spayed and neutered, while be prepped for adoption.
It was because of Tom’s kennels that eventually Tammy would meet the former animal control officer.
“I first met Tom when he called to see if Ottumwa had the room in their shelter for our kennel dogs needing to be relocated. Since I was already making trips to Ottumwa, I said I could take them,” explains Cassady.
Tom and Tammy both transported dogs to Ottumwa then. The city was paying $35 per dog, the county nothing at the time.
The bandaid solution of Cassady and Beck driving local dogs to Ottumwa finally came to a stop.
“Centreville and [Appanoose] county dogs couldn’t go to Heartland anymore because their shelter was full,” said Tammy. “Heartland’s priority is to serve Wapello County, which is their donation base.”
“People in Centerville and the county began to understand that I was helping the animal rescue in Ottumwa and taking our local dogs and cats there,” said Tammy. “Little by little, I began getting phone calls from local people to help them out with a stray dog or a cat.”
Through the rest of 2014 and throughout 2015, Tammy worked with anyone who was involved with the notification, capture, housing, transporting, and treatment of city and county homeless animals.
Like a ship at sea, Cassady was changing course, turning her attention and efforts away from Ottumwa to her hometown’s stray animal problems.
Cassady was developing a local network of her own. Tammy would meet with city police officers, city and county supervisors, local veterinarians, and political leaders attempting to solve the unwanted dogs and cats quagmire.
Tammy’s visibility throughout the local stray dog and cat community began to have unexpected consequences, “I was becoming known around the city and county when a stray or abused animal was discovered. Anyone who was being called with a stray animal problem was now being forwarded to me,” explains Tammy.
“Once my number is given out, the call goes away for whoever was being forced to deal with the animal.”
It was during 2017 that Tammy met with the city’s new compliance officer Brandon Clark.
“Officer Clark and I work well with each other. But people have to remember Officer Clark is only involved with the city’s homeless animals, which does not include the county’s strays. And the dogs still need to be transported out of Beck’s kennels in seven days.”
Working with Clark earned Tammy the compliance officer’s backing.
“We definitely have the need for an animal shelter,” Clark said. “We have too many strays. In a typical week, we can average 14 stray dog calls. We don’t have a facility to shelter cats as they require air condition in the summer and heat in the winter. I hope Tammy is successful.”
Furever Friends Gets Board
During 2016 in the lead-up to becoming a serious contender for a local animal rescue shelter, Cassady needed two things to happen. First, Tammy had to become a legitimate nonprofit charity. Second, a formal board had to convene to take the work Tammy had done and help her push it over the goal line.
Tammy’s contacts began to pay dividends.
“It was at the beginning of 2016 that I came in contact with BJ Towe,” Tammy said. “Although BJ is a writer by trade, she is also very knowledgeable in starting a business and helped us to apply and receive our 501(c)(3). We had to have our tax-exempt charity, a nonprofit status which is the 501(c)(3) to accept donations.”
Now declared a nonprofit, Cassady’s next order of business was to create a governing board. Tammy talks about how her relationship with Towes continued to pay off, “From there BJ, myself, and three others created our original five-member board. It was that board who came up with our name, Furever Friends.”
Tammy says, “Our original board of five has grown to today’s board of nine diverse individuals We meet once a month as TD&T allows us to use their very nice boardroom.”
Furever Friends Rescue Of Appanoose County Board: Tammy Cassady, President; Sabrina Wells, Vice President; Lora Jones, Treasurer; Jessica Lennick Secretary; Dustin Bozwell, Fundraising Chairperson; Mike Miller, adoption and foster coordinator, Clint Housh; Construction Coordinator; Krystal Fowler, Communications; and Sara Jane Douglas, Advertising.
Location, Location, Location
Excitement builds as milestones needed for a local animal rescue shelter are completed. The final box to check is finding the shelter’s location.
“There are several locations we have either looked at or are looking at,” explains Tammy. “Everyone agrees we need this. For us to be successful in dealing with a community problem, the community has got to be part of the solution.”
Continuing, Tammy explains, “Our location needs to be close enough to our base-community, here in Centerville. Close enough for the volunteers and for people to bring us the animals.” “Even if a person is not a dog or cat lover, even if people consider them a nuisance, then they should want this. We want the shelter to be a community center where everyone can come to get help with a stray, to get help with your animal or to take a forever dog or cat home as I did,” she said.
“If we can just secure our location, put our stake in the ground, and say this is the forever location of Furever Friends, then we’ll have an animal rescue for Appanoose County,” concludes Cassady.
Bella was back at her forever home, napping on her favorite chair. The chair where the afternoon shadows fall. The little dog who six years ago faced down her mortality as a castoff. Alone, walking the edge of a dangerous world. Paws now twitch in dog dreams.
Appanoose County’s solution to an animal shelter began the day Tammy rescued Bella, six years ago. An amazing story of perseverance, networking, rescuing, and a never-say-die attitude has brought Tammy and Furever Friends to the brink
“There is hope for the animals and the people,” Tammy says with conviction.
And her little dog, too