A shelter dog’s impact. The story of how a dog like Milwaukee affects the lives of so many.

A shelter dog’s impact. The story of how a dog like Milwaukee affects the lives of so many.

“Where to begin? I started working at Harbor Humane towards the end of the summer and I remember meeting Milwaukee for the first time. To be completely honest, I was very hesitant and cautious around her during the first couple of interactions we had together because I’ve never really been around pits before. As unfortunate as it is, the negative stereotypes around pits got in the way of me developing a bond with her sooner than I wished to. But when I got through the training process and was able to interact more with the animals on my own, I truly got to see the amazing dog that Milwaukee is. I always noticed her to be so incredibly patient every time I’d let her out after she got done eating. Every day she would go into her assigned kennel outside and would pee or poop in the same exact spot and then afterwards she would just sit there patiently waiting for us to bring her back in. She didn’t pay much attention to the other animals and was so incredibly loving towards me. Every time I’d come into work, I looked forward to seeing her and would pass by her kennel just to tell her that I’d take her out for a walk after I got done with working. So, then it began. Maybe 2-3 times a week, I would try to find the time aside from school and my other job to take her to a park nearby because it broke my heart seeing her stuck in her kennel all day. Seeing how happy she was to be able to go on these walks filled me with an indescribable amount of joy. We built a bond together that I will forever cherish. I had hoped to adopt her because I got to build this incredible bond with her, and I wanted to be the person that could provide her the wonderful life that she so deserved. Before working at Harbor, my parents told me that I could work here only if I didn’t bring home any animals. So, it was incredibly difficult trying to convince my parents to adopt Milwaukee. But they knew how much I loved her, so they gave it a chance. On some of the walks that we had, I would have my mom or dad meet us there, and then eventually I had my parents bring my dog Shelby to meet her as well. Unfortunately, as soon as they met, my dog didn’t react well. It was incredibly important that they’d get along but unfortunately it didn’t work out and I was completely devastated. So, after that, I continued to set time aside to spend with Milwaukee. I talked about her to as many people as I could and posted about her on my social media. It just simply didn’t make sense to me at all why she wasn’t adopted yet because I knew that the Milwaukee I got to know, and love would bring so much love into another household.
After several weeks passed, I got the news that she was adopted. I was filled with excitement and selfishly, with sadness at the same time. I was overjoyed with the fact that her adopters were good people but a part of me wished that I was able to share that story with her. I found out who her adopters were and sent them a message just to express how thankful I am that they found her and were willing to give her a chance. I still keep in contact with them and they even allowed me to meet her sometime soon! I am forever thankful that I got to spend the time that I did with her before going to her forever home.” – Len, Harbor employee and BFF to Milwaukee.


So… where is she now and how is she doing? Her new family fills us in!

“Milwaukee is doing absolutely amazing and is the love of our lives! After we lost our last dog at 15, who was deaf and blind, we decided to foster senior and disabled dogs instead of adopting (though we did a great job of getting family members to adopt our fosters, so we didn’t actually have to say goodbye). When we moved back to Grand Rapids after living in Scotland, UK we knew it was time to add to our forever pack. When we said we wanted the most perfect imperfect dog, they immediately suggested Milwaukee, and we are so glad they did! She loves fetch, belly rubs and being little spoon on the couch for naps. She is perfect with my fiancé, Thomas, and I and we have started teaching her commands like down, place, and shake and she loves learning. Her little piggy noises crack us up and her snores can be heard from the other room. Her only issue is a little bit of stranger danger, but we are working on it as we continue to train. She also had an infection in her eyes that we are treating, and she is so good at letting me put eye drops in, even though she hates it. Her eyes are barely pink anymore and look so much better.

Milli has become the main face of my bandana business, KokoBean Pet Accessories, which is perfect because she absolutely loves her collar. If I take it off, she cries and wants me to put it back on. If I set it down, she brings it to me at sets it at my feet. We love her so much; words can’t even describe it. ” – Milli’s new family.


It doesn’t stop there! Some words from our volunteers and staff who were impacted by Milwaukee.

“I love it when adopters send updates on progress. I think we all knew Milwaukee (Milli) had it in her. She is a sweet girl and we believed in her and she needed a family to see that and believe in her. She looks amazing, she is smiling. She knows exactly what it is like to win the lottery!! She won BIG! Thank you for the update and give her a hug and belly rub from all of us at Harbor!”

“I knew when I met them, that the three would be a perfect pair  she can live her best, happiest life now. I love the update and all the love everyone has for her!”

“I’m not crying, you are! This is wonderful.”

“I’m so glad that sweet Milli (I called her that also) got her forever home. It makes me so happy to see the amazing transformation that happens after they go home. Sad Milli is gone but happy Milli is there to stay!”

“So happy for Milli. I called her that sometimes! She was one of my favorites. Her eyes look so much better. Thank you for rescuing her.”


As you can see, Milwaukee affected so many. These shelter animals’ second (or maybe third or fourth) chances at life start with us here at Harbor – but most often, they don’t stop there. Our connection to these animals is strong and withstands time and distance. Whether staff who works with them daily, or volunteers who give of their time and energy to make the small differences that count. To finally, adoptive families and of course – adopted pets. The impact, and the feelings involved, are HUGE.  Thank you to all who play a part in saving lives like Milli’s, and for continuing to help us move our mission forward for more.

You can keep up with Milwaukee on Facebook and Instagram at @kokobeanpetacceasories!

“Animal Jail”

“Director Of All Things NOT Glamorous”, The Tale of an Operations Director

“If I won the lottery, I’d open an animal shelter.” That was a thought I used to have, before I actually worked in one. It seemed like such a simple thing: I’d save animals, spend my whole day around them, and help them find new homes. It didn’t seem that complicated. Well, spoiler alert – as I quickly learned, it’s not that easy.

My title at Harbor is Operations Director, but it could be “Director of all things not glamorous”. I handle all of the finances, Human Resources, and manage a lot of the facility operations, all things I certainly would have never considered in my younger self’s fantasy of opening an animal shelter. In the simplest terms, my job is to account for every single dollar that Harbor receives or spends, handle the administrative side of staffing, and oversee the general operations of the building. I won’t bore you with the accounting side of things (for some reason no one was excited at the idea of a non-profit accounting blog post!) but the facility and the people who run it are a huge part of what makes Harbor, and any animal shelter, work.

Harbor has a 10,000 square foot facility, which has to be heated or cooled (except for those three magical days in May and October when the temperature is a perfect 68 degrees) and have running water and electricity to function. Those basic utilities: electricity, gas, and water cost on average over $40,000 a year. To put that in perspective, that is about how much money we raise at our annual Ales for Tails fundraiser- our largest event of the year.

And those are just the basics, when you add in other necessities like trash service, telephone and internet, building repairs, staffing, and insurance… well I think you get the picture that it adds up pretty fast. And that’s before you even add directly caring for the animals into the equation! I know this isn’t an exciting topic. I know that when folks donate, they aren’t thinking, “Hey my donation will fund the animal shelter’s trash service for a week!” But the general operations of our facility are so important. They allow us to do all the of things that excite us about being in animal welfare like adoptions, re-uniting pets with their owners and providing community services like humane education, or our low-cost veterinary clinic.

However, one of the most important basic ingredients to Harbor’s recipe for success is the people that work here. We have over forty-five employees between the shelter and our offsite resale store, and they are what truly makes our shelter succeed. You may not realize this, but animal welfare is its own niche in the non-profit world, with its own experts, philosophies and culture. Much like a realtor may go to a national conference to network and find the best strategies to sell a home, our staff go to conferences to learn the best ways to run our shelter and to network with animal welfare professionals all over the country. We collaborate, problem solve, and are constantly working on new programs and ways to reach pets and people. I think a common assumption in for a lot of non-profits, and animal shelters especially, is that anyone can do it. And yes, in theory anyone can start a non-profit. But to do it well, it truly takes a village of dedicated professionals. We aren’t just a bunch of folks who love animals (although of course we do), we are a team that is trained to care for the needs of the animals and community that we serve.

This is just a small peak behind the curtain of what it takes to run a shelter with the size and scope of Harbor. When people think of shelters, they automatically think of the animals- and rightfully so, that’s why we are all here, after all! But to run all our animal related programs, it takes a solid foundation. And like any good foundation, you may not see it, you may not think about it, but at the end of the day, it’s holding everything upright.

Allison Deters, Operations Director

2019 In Review