By Wade Coggeshall
BROWNSBURG — In 2011, Renee Harlor and Cherie Fox set a goal of opening their own animal shelter and humane education center by the end of the following year. They were a couple months late and don’t yet have the permanent facility they seek, but Misty Eyes now officially has a home.
They opened their new location at 640 E. Main St. in February. It’s small — there are pins that can hold up to about eight dogs and a separate room for cats. That means most of their animals stay in foster homes until the adoption process is complete.
“This is temporary until we get our permanent facility built,” said Harlor, who serves as Misty Eyes’ executive director.
But already demand has skyrocketed. So far this year they’ve already adopted out more animals than they did in all of 2012. They attribute part of that to having a physical location now, and not just a sidewalk display in front of a pet store. But another aspect is their relationship with the Hendricks County Animal Shelter that started in 2012.
About 75 percent of Misty Eyes’ animals are now coming from the shelter, where it was only 25 percent in the second half of last year.
Fox, who serves as director of animal operations for Misty Eyes, admits that just a couple years ago she never would’ve believed she could have the relationship with Hendricks County Animal Control that she enjoys now.
“We get along absolutely great,” she said. “They’re completely open to us and help us assess the animals. I have nothing negative to say.”
That was their goal when Harlor and Fox began discussing the idea of opening their own shelter and learning center a couple years ago. Both longtime animal advocates, they had grown weary of the fractious elements within that community and the outcry against the county shelter.
“We had really washed our hands of that,” Fox said. “I’ll never say I wasn’t involved, but I realized the dynamics of a negative campaign isn’t going to get you anywhere.”
Instead they envisioned Misty Eyes as being an affirming force willing to work with anyone for the benefit of animals.
“I think that’s worked well for us,” Harlor said. “It creates a positive experience. I don’t think most people want to be around negativity. Those that do kind of stay away from our organization.”
Indeed, they now have about 150 volunteers, with more in the pipeline. Fox says they’re crucial to the operation’s success, and that the burnout rate in work like this is high.
“It can be a very negative environment because you’re kind of seeing the worst of society,” she said. “We want to hang on to these people and have them feel like they’re truly making a difference.”
They’re needed because demand is high. Not only is Misty Eyes adopting out animals from the county shelter, they also accept owner surrenders. However, in March alone they had 74 such cases.
“We get legitimate calls where people really are put in a position where they just can’t keep their pets,” Fox said. “But we also get those people who see us as an easy fix for them, which I try to not let be the case.”
Misty Eyes also works with the Brownsburg Animal Clinic to offer pet health services like basic exams and vaccinations. That part is growing so fast they’re trying to get more such partners involved.
“At this point I’m scheduling out three weeks for some of my spays and neuters,” Fox said. “That kind of need and demand means we need to work together.”
That’s one reason why Misty Eyes also offers free educational programs on responsible pet ownership. They conduct those at the Brownsburg and Plainfield public libraries. This Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Avon-Washington Township Park, is their second annual Spring Jamboree. With a focus on animal health, the free event includes an agility dog demonstration, “doga” with Kristy Carr, and of course adoptable animals. Visit the website MistyEyesJamboree.com for more information.
“The outpouring from the community has been awesome,” Fox said. “We couldn’t do this if not for the donations we’ve received.”