When Sylvan Lake’s Melanie Crehan inadvertently hugged a wolf as an oblivious young child, her lifelong love of animals was already well beginning to flourish.
When she grew older, her mother told her, she’d be able to care for as many animals as she wanted.
And that’s exactly what she did.
Crehan is president of the Sylvan Lake and Area Serenity Pet Shelter Society – a volunteer-run non-profit group dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing dogs and cats that have been abandoned, neglected, abused or surrendered.
Her involvement with the shelter has allowed her to make the most of her love of animals, and in a way that’s both meaningful and exceptionally worthwhile.
“(Helping animals) has just been a lifelong passion,” she said. “There’s a lot of animal cruelty in the world, and it’s everywhere. We want to contribute to the relief of the suffering of the voiceless ones, because after all, if nobody advocates for them, how will this ever get stopped?”
Though not Crehan’s first foray into animal care, Serenity has been around since late 2009 and was incorporated as a non-profit society in March 2010. She and the shelter’s dedicated volunteers work not just in Sylvan Lake, but around the entire Central Alberta area.
It’s in that vast area that the shelter’s animals are fostered before being adopted out permanently.
“We have a system of foster homes in Lacombe, Innisfail, Red Deer – all over,” said Crehan, adding the shelter’s fostering system is beneficial in its absence of a standalone facility. “Our goal was originally to build such a facility or renovate something, but we really prefer our animals to be cared for by families because it makes them more ready for adoption.”
Heather Bartzis, a Serenity volunteer and animal foster carer, can attest to the benefits of providing such care – benefits that apply not just to the animals, she feels.
“It’s amazing how much they can give back to you,” she said.
Fostering provides the opportunity for people considering becoming a full-time pet owner to experience life with an animal before making a commitment, she added, and for people whose schedules or life obligations make them incapable of full-time ownership.
Owning and caring for a pet is a major responsibility after all, according to Crehan. That’s why Serenity’s volunteers complete a thorough process of ensuring potential owners are both suitable and capable of doing so.
Crehan said the shelter receives plenty of generous support from both local businesses and community members. With monthly vet bills in the thousands, however, further funding and support is always needed.
“In February, our vet bill was $4,198 and in previous months has been over $3,000,” said Crehan. “We continually supply spay and neuter services to all of our rescues, plus any care that they need, and that involves anything from orthopedic surgery to medical care for some condition. They get what they need.”
Yet not everyone is supportive of the work carried out by the shelter’s volunteers. Crehan said she’s been “hassled and harassed” over the years by people who feel the care she provides animals is disrupting to certain residential areas of the community.
But while the ongoing negativity and criticism from some has forced her to consider leaving Sylvan Lake, she said she won’t let detractors affect her involvement with the shelter.
“I don’t want anybody to ever have control and power like that,” she said. “We get so many grateful people, and so many people who call because they don’t know where else to call, and there are many hundreds of examples of that.”
Nonetheless, she admits some negative feedback has made continuing her volunteer work “very difficult.” Certain individuals, she said, have branded her “the worst evil person that you could ever meet.”
“I don’t like that at all,” she said. “Nobody likes that.”
For every person opposed to the shelter’s work, however, there are plenty of others who feel the opposite way, she added. And to them, she’s grateful.
“We get a ton of stuff donated to us (by local businesses) and people are generous monetarily as well,” she said. “People are extremely generous to our cause, and we really appreciate it.”
For information on helping Serenity by donating money, becoming an animal foster carer or volunteering in other ways, visit the shelter’s website at sylvanlakeserenitypetsheltersociety.blogspot.ca, or contact Crehan at 403-505-2925.