Reva Laituri grew up in the country and had no one her age to play with, except when cousins visited her grandparents who lived nearby.
“My best friends and playmates were dogs and cats that lived with us and nearby relatives,” she said. “During those early years, I witnessed a lot of cruelty toward them, but was too young to do anything about it. I shed a lot of tears over a lot of dogs and a few cats.”
“I often think of those dogs and cats I didn’t help and try every day to make their lives mean something. I don’t know that it will ever be enough, but I do know it hasn’t been for lack of trying.”
Laituri has certainly done more than try. For more than 40 years she has volunteered for Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Society (UPAWS) wherever needed, from a beginning of working in the office and manning the reception desk to later performing the many duties of an executive director during job vacancies. She is UPAWS longest serving board member at 24 non-consecutive years and has held several offices, including nine years as president, a post she currently holds.
During her tenure, UPAWS has gone from a save rate of just 37% to saving 97% of the animals in UPAWS’ care. In 2019, a new $3.6 million state-of-the-art shelter was completed under her leadership, thanks in part to a $1.6 million bequest from UPAWS supporters Philip and Ruth Spade, for whom the new shelter is named.
In August, the UPAWS board of directors hired Bill Brutto as its executive director. Brutto, who for the past five years was the director of the Grand Rapids Kroc Center for The Salvation Army, was with the U.S. Army for 18 years, attaining the rank of captain. His family – wife Taylor and kids Joshua, 11, and Addison, 9 – love the outdoors and Brutto had always wanted to work with animals, so this was the perfect opportunity to do both.
“Having animals in our home changed my kids’ whole attitude,” said Brutto about adopting two dogs. “I realized how important it is to give your children the responsibility of taking care of another living creature.”
Michigan Pet Alliance (MPA) recently announced the award of a shelter assessment grant, valued at $3,000, to UPAWS as part of MPA’s 2021 awards program.
“We believe the assessment will be very beneficial to our shelter, as we will use those results and recommendations as part of our 2022 strategic plan,” Brutto said. “Several of our goals will be to identify new ways or improvements in our daily operations to help us continue to meet the needs of each animal that comes through our doors, to rehabilitate each animal for better physical and mental health, and place our animals in their forever homes.”
“In areas where we are doing well, we would like to celebrate and recognize the individuals who made these successes possible – people like Riva who show such exceptional care for animals. Her number one priority is always what’s best for them.”
UPAWS is located at 815 South State Highway M553 in the city of Gwinn.