Tool & die shop owner George Fox was an animal lover who had a dream to someday build a shelter where homeless pets would be cared for and safe. In 1955, he and a group of like-minded friends bought seven-and-a-half acres of land in Shelby Township and began to raise money to fulfill that dream.
Twelve years later that dream became a reality with the opening of the Humane Society of Macomb (HSOM) with Fox as executive director while also serving as an animal cruelty deputy for Macomb County.
“George was a great guy, and we became good friends,” said Ken Kempkens, then a graphic arts salesman who took care of all the printing needs for the shelter. “When his health was failing, he asked me to take his place on the shelter’s board of directors, and I couldn’t say no.”
When Kempkens became president of the HSOM board of directors in 2015, his goal was to improve the shelter’s live release rate, which he discovered was then only 35%. The next year, the board promoted Kempkens to interim director and then to executive director.
“I felt good that the board had enough confidence in me to recognize that we could make a difference together,” Kempkens said. “When I came on board, I knew very little about running a shelter. I learned everything one step at a time, from reading and with help from Michigan Pet Fund Alliance (MPFA) and its Chair Debbie Schutt.”
Under Kempkens’ leadership, the shelter’s live release rate went from 35% to 76% in just one year. At that year’s MPFA conference, HSOM received the Outstanding Performance Award in the Limited Admission Most Improved category. From then on, the shelter has maintained a live release rate of 95% or higher every year.
This year, the shelter opened the Kitty Catfe’, a place where people can come and hang out with cats, relax, do paperwork, bring their lunch, or just sit and chat, all for a small fee that goes toward rent and cat food. The coffee pot is always on, the coffee is free and so are the kitty cuddles. All cats are from HSOM and available for adoption through a simple process done in the Catfe’ or online. Kitty Catfe’ is located in downtown Mt. Clemens.
Another unique feature of HSOM is the two barns on its property, where three pigs, two horses, three goats and one chicken currently reside. All the farm animals are from abuse cases and not available for adoption. “We’ll make sure they can live out their lives in peace here,” Kempkens said.
“Every person now on staff is phenomenal,” Kempkens continued. “They work hard to assure all our animals are well taken care of. Our new Events Coordinator Haleigh Strasden plans a new event every weekend, and Marketing Coordinator Olivia Farrell gets the word out with social media posts at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Olivia Farrell
The foster program is managed by Coordinator Sarah Dodson, who keeps busy overseeing the foster homes of puppies, dogs and the 140 kittens, ranging in age from newborn to 8 weeks old, currently in foster care. When they are returned to the shelter to be spayed or neutered and vet checked, they will be ready for adoption.
No animal shelter would be complete without volunteers and HSOM currently has more than 500. Volunteer Program Coordinator Amanda Pidgeon instructs them on proper handling of animals as they progress in their training.
HSOM and All About Animals have a TNR joint agreement, whereby people can get a certificate for a free spay/neuter from HSOM and take community cats to All About Animals for the surgery. The program is funded by the HSOM Foundation.
The shelter also has its own full-service veterinary clinic, open to the general public by appointment, for vaccines, dental work, spay/neuter and preventatives.
“Ken has done a terrific job as the leader of the Humane Society of Macomb,” Schutt said. “We were pleased to be of assistance as he immersed himself in companion animal welfare, and happy to welcome him to the newly formed Michigan Pet Alliance and as a founding member of its board of directors last year.”