When PHNX Sports began highlighting dogs for adoption and foster care last year at the Eastern Animal Care and Control shelter in Maricopa County, Mesa, I braced myself for the frustrating conditions at that overcrowded, underfunded, understaffed, and notoriously outdated facility. .
When I walked inside Heidi’s Village for the first time this summer, I had an ad for The Wizard of Oz.
You are not in the province anymore.
Instead of rows of tiny kennels housed by deteriorating dogs who hadn’t been walked or spoken to for days, I entered a bright, open campus with eight separate buildings for dogs and cats, play areas outside each of those buildings, a spray canopy, an on-site vet clinic, and a groomer. on-site, training rooms and guides to what the staff calls enrichment activities for dogs; Paw paintings include smiling pictures of the artists in the corners of the panels.
It was like going from a maximum security prison to a Marriott.
I met two friendly dogs who were walking.
I met Tito, a stray Chihuahua, who was desperate and scared when he arrived two weeks ago, but was now hopping at the fence of his play area to meet passing strangers.
When I entered one of the cat buildings, I noticed a big screen TV. I wondered what it was for until I turned around to discover a cat pinned to that screen showing scenes of active birds.
“There really is no model like Heidi’s Village,” said founder Virginia (Jenny) Gonz, who began conceptualizing the facility in 2017 and opened its doors in April 2020, at the start of the global pandemic. “I’d like other countries to embrace it and come and see it, and maybe that’s something to focus on in the future.”
Heidi’s Village offers:
- Low cost accommodation for rescued cats and dogs
- Low cost veterinary services
- Newborn kitten nursery
- Personal care room
- Behavioral training
- About 80 employees
- Enrichment activities for animals
- Shaded play areas for each building and central splash pad
- It can accommodate up to 200 cats and 264 dogs. Each kennel has individual indoor and outdoor spaces that are screened from nearby kennels to give dogs a space where they can enjoy a private area that is distraction-free and safe, thus de-stressing.
Heidi’s Village provides a safe haven for rescue groups throughout the state of Arizona.
“Our mission is to help rescues; 501(c)(3)s that I have a relationship with,” Jontes said. But we will accept animals from any of the rescue groups. Did not matter. ”
Like many states, the number of homeless animals in Arizona has risen for a variety of reasons, whether it be its economic woes, domestic issues, failure to spay or neglect or abandon pets altogether. When captured or surrendered, these animals often end up in eastern and western county facilities, or overflow rescue facilities that can’t keep up with demand, despite their noble intentions.
If someone applies to adopt an animal that is in Heidi’s Village, the shelter that rescued them can take them back for adoption. Meanwhile, Jontes doesn’t want animal life to feel like a depressing waiting room.
“When I work with rescue groups myself, I’ve seen that most of them are full and have animals in the garage, in the backyard, in kennels,” said Jontz. “I wanted to create a fun place to work and a fun place for the animals; a happy place where the animals can come and play. If they don’t get adopted right away, I want them to learn that life isn’t just a struggle; that there is a higher power that comes to help them have fun in life and give them the love they need.” deserve it.”
Jones grew up in Ferguson, Missouri, in a neighborhood where she says everyone has animals. Her grandfather was a farmer who had cows, chickens, pigs, and sheep that she helped tend in the summer, which deepened her love for animals.
When she moved to Arizona two decades ago, she worked in real estate, buying homes and renovating them before selling them, but she also became increasingly involved with the rescue community, which included helping dogs escape from homes where domestic violence was a reality.
One day, a woman calls her to ask if the Juntz can sell her house. She visited the house and learned that there was one condition for her work: the woman wanted Jontes to take care of her schnauzer, Heidi, when the elderly woman died. Jontes has always had schnauzers and Heidi liked her instantly so she agreed. The woman died in 2016 and the Goonties had Heidi for six years, providing the inspiration and name for the most amazing creations of her life.
“It’s like a store that has everything,” she said. “I wanted it to be a place for rescues where they could go and groom their dogs because I saw how rescue groups struggled with the simple process of having to put down so many animals because you wanted them to look good for adoption. They struggled with funding for that.
“I thought having the medical clinic also essential in getting them the on-site care that they need. And then there’s the behavior aspect that’s important because a lot of these animals have been out on the street so they’re skittish. people and we know we won’t hurt you.”
While the rescue services cover some of the costs of care in Heidi’s Village, a large portion of that money still comes from Jonts herself. The Virginia B. Jontes Foundation, its 501(c)(3) nonprofit, paid for $22 million to build Heidi’s Village and Jontes is funding other parts of it out of her own pocket, underlining the need for more contributions and benefactors.
Heidi’s Village needs supplies and volunteers, but medical funding is one of the biggest areas of need because many of the animals that arrive at Heidi’s Village are sick or have serious medical problems. Caring for them is expensive.
“Heidi’s Heroes is one place to help out by giving a monthly gift of maybe $10 or $20,” Jontes said. “Anything that helps and it all adds up to a significant amount, which helps us support the animals.”
Despite the myriad challenges associated with homeless animals, Jonts said employees see just as much reward.
“Our adoption rates are good, and it’s good for our rescues, so we have room for more animals,” said Guntz. “But again, it’s about getting them back to a happy place. We had one cat who was really abused. It’s too horrible to even talk about, but we brought in that little kitten, fostered her, nursed her back to health and adopted her.
“People who have adopted them are so happy and send us pictures afterwards. I love seeing pictures of families with their animals on the couch or in their house saying, ‘Thank you for saving this animal.’ That’s awesome. That’s why we’re here.”
For more information about adoption, adoption, volunteering, or donation, or for information about the animals out there, visit the Heidi Village website.