For 25 years, a lifeline for pets
For a quarter century, Last Hope has been making matches between lonely animals and families who can love them.
It's a service founder Bev Orr knows is needed more now than it was when she launched the organization in 1985. As families struggle with finances and lose their homes, more and more have had to give up beloved family pets.
Orr has always had a soft spot in her heart for animals. People frequently brought unwanted cats to the farm where she grew up, and she loved looking after them.
"I didn't know how to boil water when we got married, but I could sure take care of animals," Orr said. "They need someone to love them. To care for them. They can be the best friend you've ever had in the world. They don't care if you wake up looking funny. They love you anyway."
Orr continued to look after animals whether or not she had anyone helping her do it. She was on the board of Animal Ark when the group lost the lease on its shelter in the mid-1980s. Animal Ark looked for another facility, but in the meantime, people kept calling Orr looking for help. She did what she could to keep things running. She paid out of her own pocket to have animals spayed or neutered. She spent so much helping the animals that after a while, her husband, Leon, suggested she start her own organization.
Orr had never started an organization from scratch, but she jumped into the job. She found an attorney in town to help her with the paperwork. He charged her just $45, the amount his secretary charged to handle the typing. Six months later, she started offering memberships for $10. The group currently has about 900 members.
She also started looking for foster families who were willing to take in animals until Last Hope could find a permanent home. She started out with a couple in Farmington and Rosemount, but now Last Hope's network includes foster homes across the south metro.
She's also gotten a lot of cooperation from local veterinarians, who offer housing on a limited basis and help care for the animals that come in.
That help is needed now more than ever. Orr estimates that over the past 25 years Last Hope has helped 35,000 animals. Last year alone, Last Hope found new homes for 1,658 cats and dogs.
"The sad thing now, with the economy, our donations are coming in slower but the animals are coming in faster," Orr said. "It's horrible. We had a man with his little dogs. We still have the two little yorkies, because they want to stay together. That was a heartbreaker."
There are more sad stories all the time, like the family who lost their home and had to give up a beloved pet.
"His wife was crying. She turned around and left," Orr said. "The man, who's a truck driver, he's a tough guy. He broke down and cried. I'm not a huggy person, but I hugged him."
Those kinds of stories make running Last Hope difficult at times, but there are plenty of happy stories to help balance them out. Orr gets Christmas cards every year from families that have adopted animals from Last Hope. People send photos of the animals that have become beloved parts of their families. And when a Last Hope family is in the market for another pet, they know where to turn.
"I don't know how many people we've had come back," Orr said.
The shelter does the best it can to find good matches. Returns are rare, but they happen.
Last Hope only works with dogs and cats, and it doesn't take in pit bulls or other breeds that have a greater potential to be dangerous.
The shelter is going strong these days. It has about 120 animals currently seeking homes. There are regular Last Hope adoption days at a number of Dakota County pet stores.
After 25 years, Orr still loves the animals and loves helping them find homes. But she's also finding ways to let others get more involved in running the organization.
"We're trying to cut back, because I know I can't do it forever," Orr said.
Still, with or without her, Orr expects Last Hope to go on for many years helping lonely pets find loving homes.
"I've always referred to Last Hope as a chain of love," she said. "Every person who donates is a link in that chain. Every person who fosters is a link in that chain. I am only one link."