Success that's One of a Kind
Ohio woman opens her wallet, home, and heart to animals
by Nancy Peterson
When their cat Ruben escaped in 2005, Lisa Toth made her husband, Mike, search the shelter every day. Back then, she says, her local facility in Ohio had bad conditions and a high euthanasia rate that were too painful for her to confront. But when Mike left town to attend a seminar, she had to go to the shelter herself. She ended up emptying her wallet and coming home with everyone she could for $90—a dog, an adult cat, and two litters of kittens.
Sadly, the Toths never found Ruben, but Lisa hasn’t stopped helping other animals since. She began privately rescuing in the fall of 2004, using her garage to hold animals, and opened One of a Kind (OOAK) Pet Rescue, a small adoption/retail center, in November 2005. Initially, OOAK operated out of a former Krispy Kreme donut shop, but after Toth incorporated as a nonprofit and opened a spay/neuter clinic in Akron, Ohio, in 2008, it was time to grow.
In 2010, the Toths bought and demolished a decrepit bowling alley near the clinic, and in its place, built OOAK Pet Rescue as a standalone adoption center. “My husband wanted the cats out of the bathroom,” says Toth. Moving into the new space allowed OOAK to take in more animals and provide grooming and doggy day care services that brought in revenue.
Toth wants people to know as soon as they walk into the shelter that the animals have value. The lobby is large and airy, and the focal point is a floor-to-ceiling spiraling tower with cubbies, platforms, and LED lights in a glass cat room for residents. Fosterers, including Toth, care for hundreds of kittens beyond the shelter’s feline capacity of 225.
OOAK pulls most of its cats and dogs from Summit County Division of Animal Control (SCDAC) in Akron and accepts strays. OOAK accepts owner surrenders when space is available, but ill or injured strays brought in by Good Samaritans get first priority, since the clinic’s medical director oversees the shelter animals’ care.
SCDAC has a great working relationship with OOAK, says Craig Stanley, director of administrative services. Six or seven years ago, his shelter was placing around 340 animals a year. Thanks to partners like OOAK, it now places around 2,200, and every year seems to set a new record. In addition to pulling cats and kittens from SCDAC, Toth’s organization sponsors heartworm medications and performs many free spay/neuter surgeries. “We’re really happy that they’re a partner of ours, and that they’re in our community, because we have benefited greatly from them,” Stanley says.
Although OOAK can’t focus on cats elsewhere until Summit County is under control, the group does pull dogs from other counties. There are times when the county’s municipal and nonprofit shelters do run out of cats—typically in January—and then, Toth says, OOAK sometimes pulls cats from other counties.
The shelter has about 25 spaces for dogs, and there are 25 additional spaces in the back of the clinic for dog quarantine. When they pass their quarantine period, healthy dogs are moved to another room and exercised in pairs in the yard behind the clinic. They’re walked within the clinic, and to and from the yard, on routes that are distinct from those walked by dogs still in quarantine. The clinic has 24 employees, including five part-time veterinarians who perform surgeries four days a week and provide a public vaccination clinic once a month. Many clients find out about the clinic from information on OOAK’s website, through social media, and by word-of-mouth. People are also referred by numerous area rescue groups that utilize OOAK for its rescue and foster animals, and county agencies.
The shelter is open seven days a week and has 20 employees, four of whom are full-time. One is Terri Nass Reeder, who was a defense lawyer before coming on board. “You can only make [large businesses and companies] so much money and feel good at the end of the day,” Reeder says. She started as a fundraising volunteer at OOAK, and now serves as executive director. She’s gratified by the clinic’s work, noting that there are many locals who need low-cost or no-cost services to care for their pets. Without OOAK’s help, Reeder says, they wouldn’t be able to spay or neuter their pets, or properly vaccinate them.
Thanks to her staff’s dedication, Toth has cut back from working 50 hours a week to 25 or 30. “I hope we’re educating—putting a different look on homeless pets,” she says. “We’re gonna do a thousand cat adoptions [in 2013]. It’s never been done in Summit County.”
It’s been a great growth spurt for the organization. But how has it affected the Toths’ home cattery issues? Lisa admits the truth: “We still have them in every bathroom, of course.”
Last summer, feral cat advocate Toby Franks—featured in “Beyond the Dumpster” in the Sep-Oct 2013 issue of Animal Sheltering—was hired as OOAK’s spay/neuter clinic manager.
Read the rest of this issue from Animal Sheltering magazine