East Lansing rescue finds fur-ever homes for animals

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Ashley Kelley was hospitalized for 10 months following a near-fatal car accident in September 2015. During that time, Kelley’s pets, which she calls her “fur babies,” were permitted to visit. Kelley said that animals are a “fundamental healing element” in many people’s lives, including her own.  

She had always been passionate about helping animals and witnessing the love they offered. Her recovery only increased her passion for helping them. This led Kelley to open Willow Haven Animal Sanctuary in October 2020.

When the sanctuary started, workers found themselves very busy because many people working from home wanted pets. Kelley noted that they struggled to keep up with demand at first, but demand is slowing down.

The sanctuary rescues both cats and dogs, but primarily dogs due to the difficulty of rehabilitating and re-adopting cats. Kelley is seeking to purchase property and expanding the sanctuary’s operations to include larger animals. The rescue accepts inkind donations of blankets, crates and toys. Monetary donations will soon be able to be made through their Facebook donation page, which is pending approval. A website for the organization is also in the works.

The rescue takes in animals from local shelters and shelters as far away as Oakland County. Many dogs come from Texas, due to the state having an overpopulation issue. Additionally, they rescue dogs from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with their sister rescue, Midwest Small Breed Rescue, in Grosse Pointe.

All animals available for adoption are listed through its Facebook page and on the website petfinder.com. Those interested in adopting must fill out an application and be approved before meeting any animals. The animal’s foster parents will then reach out via phone to conduct an interview. The rescue sanctuary also conducts a virtual home inspection or an in-person home inspection. If other animals are in the home, the rescue animals must meet them first. Donation fees for adoption range anywhere from $75 to $125 for cats and $250 to $450 for dogs. Rates depend on age, breed, size and health of the animal.

While the process may seem extensive, Kelley said that she takes her job very seriously, believing that she owes it to the animals to find a good home because “a lot of them have been through literal living hells.” Despite the tragedies that these animals have gone through, Kelley said they are “bent, never broken.”

The phrase is something that her mother used to say about willow trees, which is how Kelley got inspiration for the organization’s name. Kelley explained that she was not broken after her car accident, and neither are the animals that are rescued.

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