Hope’s Lights Illuminate Night


The little ball of scruffy gray fur yips at his crowd of admirers. Little black eyes shine in the fluorescent lights as the dog squirms with excitement. The man holding the little pup lets out great “Ho-Ho-Ho” and ruffles the dog’s fur.

Were it not for the man in red and the Wisconsin Humane Society, the Schnauzer puppy might not be alive today. The Wisconsin Humane Society rescued the puppy after he was hit by a car and abandoned.  After a surgery to fix his broken leg, the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS) named the puppy Sparkle and made him the poster-dog for this year’s Hope’s Lights fundraiser.

On Sunday, Dec. 5, WHS illuminated its grounds with thousands of twinkling lights as part of the 11th annual fundraiser. For a $20 donation, WHS will illuminate a light in honor of a loved one or a favorite pet. The lights will be available for purchase through January.

“All monies that are received for the Humane Society go for the care of the animals,” says Dan Lipski, a volunteer at WHS. This year, Lipski has been put to work as a Santa Claus look-a-like. When he’s not playing Santa, Lipski is an animal care volunteer, or as he puts it, “poop patrol.”

This was the second Hope’s Lights event this year. In 2004, the WHS merged with the Ozaukee Humane Society. On Saturday, the WHS illuminated their new Ozaukee Campus for the first time. Lipski and Sparkle were also present at the Ozaukee event.

On Sunday, the main campus bustled with activity. The night included tours of the shelter, a raffle in which the grand prize was a mini cooper, and of course the official lighting ceremony.

No official count for the number of lights sold or amount of money raised has been released, but this year there were reportedly 250 attendees, up from 175 attendees last year, according to Angela Speed, Director of Development and Community Relations at WHS.

A Busy Night

The chirps of birds, the yips of dogs, the voices of a children’s choir, and the murmuring of the crowd all fought for supremacy. A long table held cookies and other desserts for humans.  Naturally, there were animals everywhere. Many in cages or kennels, but several “special WHS ambassadors” were on leashes or being held by their owners. Like Sparkle, each animal was surrounded by a diverse crowd all wanting to pet and admire them.  

In the wildlife section, two handlers holding birds of prey answered questions.  Over in the dog area of the shelter, Training Manager Kim Rinzel and her dog Hunter were giving training demonstrations.  Rinzel would pick a volunteer from the audience to help her put Hunter through his paces.

“He’s an Australian Cattle Dog mix and he is a food hound.  He loves to eat and he works really well for food and he’s very good with people,” said Rinzel.  She adopted Hunter after he completed the humane society’s People and Animal Learning or PAL program. Rinzel explained that PAL is a summer program that pairs a child with an animal at the shelter. She added, “Over the two weeks they build a nice bond with the animals that they were individually working with, like Hunter.”

Rinzel has been training dogs as for about 20 years. “I got a dog from the humane society and I said ‘I’ve got to train him to do something’ and so we started training and may dogs later and many other species later no I actually get to work here.”  Rinzel is now in charge of training humans and animals alike.

Jennine Sonntag was in attendance with her eight year-old daughter, who wanted to come. Her family also has a dog that came from WHS.  “We adopted our dog from here I about five years ago and they remember it and they just kind of loved seeing all the dogs in the first place,” said Sonntag.

Sonntag said that she had not purchased a light, but that she hoped to do so.  She added that she is sure they will attend next year’s Hope’s Light’s event,  “This is such a nice facility; it’s so beautiful here.  It’s such a nice place for the animals.”

Rinzel encourages others to consider adoption, saying, “You’re saving two lives then.  You’re saving the one that you’re taking home and now there’s space for another one.”

Lipski hopes that the night’s festivities raise more than money.  “Awareness,” he said. “Awareness and recognition that there’s so much out in our communities where our animals and our pets are being used for purposes that’s horrendous.”

A Century of Service 

Lipski hopes that people will realize that shelters and rescues are a better way to pick up a pet than getting an animal that may have come from a puppy mill. In 2008 the WHS purchased an alleged puppy mill and rescued the over 1,600 dogs from the Puppy Haven Kennel. WHS threw its support behind Senate Bill 208, which looked to impose minimum standards for care for breeders.  The bill passed unanimously in October, 2009.

According to the society’s website, the Wisconsin Humane Society was founded in 1879.  The society was based on the ideals of Henry Bergh, a diplomat who is credited with creating the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals (ASPCA). The only known statue of Bergh stands outside the Wisconsin Humane Society grounds.

In 2005, the WHS was awarded the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau Torch in the non-profit category.  In 2003, the Wisconsin Humane Society Board received the Non-Profit Management Award for Board Governance.  The Helen Bader Institute for Non-Profit Management atUW-Milwaukee developed and distributed this award. The WHS is billed as the largest humane society in Wisconsin.

They provide medical care for injured wildlife, abandoned animals like Sparkle, and offer cheap spay/neuter clinics for low-income families. The shelter also offers a variety of classes and seminars aimed at children and adults about how to treat animals. The society says they help around 20,000 animals annually.