The grim news about 10 abused Great Danes discovered in a hoarding situation in November might have escaped Jill Goldstein's radar a few years back. But a few years back, Goldstein confesses, "I thought all was well in the animal world."
She had no idea how many dogs and cats lived in dismal conditions, beaten, locked up, starved, right here in Minnesota. She's received quite the education since.
Goldstein is gearing up for her third "Pause 4 Paws" fundraiser, thrilled that the May 2 beer and wine tasting at Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis will feature a brief visit from Annie. One of the abused Great Danes, Annie is recovering well in a loving and permanent home.
The event also will showcase Goldstein's unusual brand of philanthropy. Her nonprofit supports not one but 18 Minnesota-based animal rescue organizations. Her first event, in 2011, raised $43,000. Last year's garnered $54,000.
"I said yes to everybody for a while," said Goldstein, a full-time divorce mediator. "When I got to 18 organizations, I said, 'I think we need to hit the pause button.' Then I cried for two days trying to figure out how to distribute the money."
Those on her list, though, are plenty happy.
Peggy Callahan received $1,000 in 2012 for Home At Last, which cares for dogs with trauma histories who cannot be placed in rescue. "I go through 150 pounds of food a day," Callahan said.
Ann Heinrich's Great Dane Rescue of Minnesota and Wisconsin has received $1,000 two years in a row and has used a big chunk of the money to pay veterinary bills. Her organization took in eight of the 10 Great Danes, including Annie. Three of the male dogs lived in a dark, feces-and-urine covered Minneapolis basement for nearly a year. Many couldn't walk, scooting into a corner if humans approached.
"These were the most psychologically damaged animals I had come across," said Heinrich. The funding from Pause 4 Paws has been "a godsend," she said. "A lot of people don't know about us."
In 2012, Pause 4 Paws contributed to stable homes for 5,538 dogs and cats. Another 5,240 cats and dogs were vaccinated and spayed or neutered, a gift to the pets' owners who could not afford these services.
Goldstein grew up in Plymouth and has always been an animal lover. But she was stunned to learn that, aside from the good work of the Animal Humane Society, Minnesota is home to nearly 170 smaller groups doing thousands of rescues of their own.
In 2010, a friend who fosters dogs and cats asked Goldstein to adopt Oliver, a poodle-Lhasa Apso mix, who had been kicked in the mouth and left to die in a church parking lot during winter. He was rescued by Red Lake Rosie's Rescue on the Red Lake Reservation, another of her beneficiaries.
Today, a happy Oliver sits on Goldstein's lap at her Maple Grove mediation office and visits patients at hospitals as a therapy dog.
Goldstein said she worried that she wouldn't be able to distance herself enough emotionally to effectively run an animal rescue group or shelter. So she turned her passion and persistence into fundraising for them. "These organizations don't have the time and energy to spend working on grants. They're in the trenches."
After adopting Oliver, she wandered through Pet-A-Palooza at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, collecting business cards. Some animal groups were skeptical of her intentions to raise money for them. Others jumped at the chance. The first two annual events were held at the Medina Ballroom, with KFAN DJs donating their airtime. This year's event, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Nicollet Island, will feature three local comedians. She's hoping to raise at least $50,000.
Organizations receive up to $8,500, with Goldstein's board weighing criteria including the number of animals served, immediate needs and scope of outreach. All must sign agreements that the money will "touch" the animals, through spay and neuter clinics, for example, or vet visits, and must send Goldstein receipts.
Callahan, also executive director of the Wildlife Science Center in Columbus, recalls that Goldstein interviewed her over the phone, then came to observe her work — talking to all the dogs.
"As a director of a nonprofit by day," she said, "I love when funders scrutinize."
Goldstein's animal activism also took her to the State Capitol this year. She's a vocal supporter of the Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation bill, which is aimed at rooting out neglectful breeders. Under the bill, anyone with 10 or more intact dogs or cats used for the purpose of breeding, and which produce more than five litters per year, would be defined as a "commercial breeder" subject to licensing and inspection.
The bill passed through three House committees and is stalled in the Agriculture Committee, with pushback by those who say the bill is a slippery slope leading to regulation of cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals.
Nonsense, said Nancy Minion, co-founder of Second Chance Animal Rescue, who's been working to get the bill passed.
"This is a dog and cat breeder regulation bill," said Minion, noting that it has the support of Gov. Mark Dayton.
In the meantime, Minion will be at the Pause 4 Paws benefit hoping to get the word out about her organization. And about Goldstein. "A lot of people have great ideas and don't follow through," Minion said. "When I met Jill, I thought, she's a go-getter. She'll make something happen."