Spring Lake resident Diane Valk, co-founder of the rescue shelter Heaven Can Wait Animal Haven, had become accustomed to receiving calls asking for help in finding homes for cats. So, she didn’t hesitate to go to the Lakewood Club home and help round up some cats.
No one was home when Valk arrived. But she left a note that she would return the next day.
What she discovered on that Friday was something out of a horror story. Valk found numerous cats at the home. The organization Pound Puppies already had taken 25 of the cats to the animal shelter, so Valk was not expecting to find too many more.
All told, there were 92 cats at the home. Valk was told that all of them had to be removed by Monday because the trashed home was going to be demolished.
Valk and her friends — Tina Nichols, Cathy Bracey and Carol Gardner — immediately began the task of rounding up all of the cats. Some of the wilder ones had to be live-trapped.
They also worked the phones, calling other rescue shelters to help find homes for the cats. The other rescue shelters told the women that they were full and couldn’t take in any of the 92 cats.
So, the cats were put in cages and temporarily placed in a friend’s garage. A few days later, Heaven Can Wait Animal Haven rented a building on a temporary basis until they could find homes for all of the cats.
Then the difficult task of finding new homes for the cats was launched. Not all of the animals survived — 23 died.
On weekends, Valk would be a familiar face at the Petco store in Muskegon County, trying to find new homes for the homeless cats.
Fast-forward to this month, and Valk and her organization have found homes for all but nine of the cats. The last nine are more suited for farm life, living in barns.
“It was lots of heartache, tears and financial drain for our small nonprofit rescue, but we see how many cats we helped (and) it was all worth it,” Valk said.
There was also a valuable lesson to be learned from that experience last fall.
“No one was prepared for what happened,” Valk said.
Now, area rescue shelters are more prepared. They have formed the Lakeshore Alliance — an organization in which area rescue shelters get together once a month to talk about such scenarios as the one this past October.
“We can now look back and pray this will never happen again,” Valk said. “But, if it does, we will be there.”
Valk works full-time at her husband’s (Dr. James Valk) dental office, and is a mother to a son and daughter. She spends many hours of her free time rescuing stray animals. It is an endeavor that comes with both joy and sorrow.
You see, if Diane Valk had her way, there would be no more stray animals in the world.
“It is a community problem,” she said. “We need to make life better for these animals.”
Valk is a strong advocate of having pets spayed or neutered. Twice a month, she transports cats to C-Snip, an organization that offers low-cost spaying and neutering services.
Her organization is currently involved in a program to trap and neuter or spay feral cats. After the animals are fixed, they are released.
Valk is the first one to tell you that she has had plenty of help in trying to hold down the animal population or to find good homes for them.
“We all can do something to help these animals,” she said.
Valk said it is imperative that pet owners have their animals spayed or neutered. Her goal is to see a “No-Kill Nation” in which no animal has to be euthanized or abandoned.
We can all learn a valuable lesson from this. It is important for all of us to have our pets neutered or spayed. We owe it to our animal friends.
— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist