The monumental strides that the Wadena County Humane Society has made in recent years were largely at the hands of shelter manager Emma Davenport.

Davenport announced Friday, she’s leaving her post in order to pursue an apprenticeship opportunity with Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, Ariz.

The move was made possible when Davenport was selected from a pool of 150 applicants to be awarded the Maddie’s Executive Leader Fellowship. She was one of three in the nation selected for the honor. Davenport said it will allow her to train in a setting at Pima that intakes about 17,000 pets annually. That’s quite a difference from the 600 the WCHS adopted out last year. But they are on their way to adopting out 700 in 2019, Davenport said, a number that most shelters of their size don’t come close to.

Davenport said the great work that’s taken place in the last three years are likely the main reason she was selected for the leadership training. She feels that, while it’s bittersweet to leave behind the progress, things are going to continue to go well for the growing organization in Wadena.

“I really feel that our team there has everything they need to succeed,” Davenport said.

Davenport is excited to be a part of the fellowship at Pima as they are a group working towards no kill. At present, they are near 90 percent no kill.

Following the year long fellowship, Davenport is unsure where she will go, but the group works to match the individual with an area in need of support from a strong leader. Davenport has lived in many places and said she is open to where she may end up as long as she is able to save pet lives.

Costner eager to keep momentum going

While Davenport seeks to gain new skills, she said all the while that she has been in Wadena, she has sought to train others so that the shelter would be resilient in a time of change.

One of those that came in to volunteer in 2016 was Becky Costner, who said as soon as she heard Davenport was the new shelter manager, she stopped in to see where she could help with her kids.

“I remember when she was volunteering, saying to myself, ‘I bet you she’s going to play a leading role in some way, some day,’” Davenport recalled on Tuesday, July 23, while she was preparing for departure to Arizona.

Davenport said she could see Costner was both a visionary and executor, capable of seeing what could be done and capable of making it happen. Costner came on this year as a staff member leading the foster program and growing it to include 100 foster families. So while you may only see a handful of dogs and cats in the shelter, a booming foster program means there’s always more animals out there being cared for by families at their homes, avoiding keeping animals in a concrete kennel and preparing them for a forever home.

Costner said she’s recently implemented other new ideas to grow the adoptions at the shelter. One of those includes a “straycation.” This involved taking a shelter animal with you for the weekend. This has allowed animals to go on fun trips, get introduced to the public and socialize. Those that take the pets are asked to take photos of the animals out and about.

Another way she is working to build the program is by working with foster families to adopt right from the foster family.

Costner has had three ”foster fails” since coming on to the foster program at the WCHS. What’s a “foster fail”? That’s where you take in an animal as a foster family but end up adopting the pet. It’s not the main objective, but it’s ultimately a positive end result.

She plans to have many big goals in the future as the shelter takes over ownership of the former Freshwater Education building on Hwy 10 in Wadena this August. That move includes a major remodel and addition as funds are available to do so. A timeline of how that project will begin was not yet available.

Ultimately the goal is to save more pet lives. Costner said June was a record month for first time adoptions, including 65 dog adoptions and 19 cat adoptions.

“We want to focus on being this regional hub of pet adoptions,” Costner said. They are well on their way as they adopt out to owners in Canada, North Dakota, the Twin Cities and beyond.

While Costner has some added responsibilities she is glad to have on staff other very qualified members, board members and volunteers.

Davenport was thankful for the support from the entire community while she was in Wadena.

“It’s been beautiful,” Davenport said. “I really didn't know what I was going into. I learned very quickly that our community has so much support for animals.”

Fundraiser success

The Humane Society held their annual golf fundraiser at the Whitetail Run Golf Course on Friday, July 19. According to board president Tracy Kooman Adams, the fundraiser brought in 16 teams and raised over $15,000, a record event.