Twin Cities Animal Humane Society Receives Record $6 Million Donation
The Twin Cities-based Animal Humane Society says a $6 million estate bequest — the largest donation in the organization’s history — will kick-start a transformation of animal care in the metro area.
Steven Nordberg and Betsy McDonald were dedicated volunteers caring for so-called bottle babies – orphan kittens who must be raised and hand-fed, around the clock to begin with.
“They would email me and say, ‘We have a bottle. We feel like we won the lottery,'” recalls Sally Thornton, a fundraiser at the Humane Society who met of the Bloomington couple.
Now, with their donation – coming after Nordberg’s death in 2020 and McDonald’s death last year – it’s as if the cats won the lottery this time. And the dogs. And rabbits and parakeets, and all the menagerie of critters the Humane Society collects.
Nordberg was one of the founders of VUE, a computerized testing company, later sold to Pearson. And that left behind an important estate – the major donation of which goes to the Animal Humane Society.
“We knew they had a plan for the animals in their area,” Humane Society CEO Janelle Dixon said. “We had no idea of the dollar amount, so this $6 million giveaway was quite a surprise.”
Dixon said it was the biggest gift ever to the Golden Valley-based organization.
And, it turns out, very timely.
For a multitude of reasons, from Facebook to the COVID pandemic, Dixon said people’s relationships with animals are changing dramatically. Within a few generations, dogs moved from backyards to people’s bedrooms. Cats have their own video genre. Animals are more than ever members of families. More than two-thirds of American families have a pet.
And it’s causing the Humane Society to rethink the way it does business.
“A lot of the work of humane societies – not just ours, but organizations across the country – has been very historically focused on adoption. And adoption will always be something that humane societies do, but it’s not “It’s not the mission of an animal welfare organization. It’s a program that historically was really necessary to save the lives of animals,” Dixon said.
Historically. Now not as much.
Education and philanthropy have made substantial progress in easing animal overpopulation, especially in the Twin Cities, which now import many shelter dogs from out of state.
Which gets Dixon and the Animal Humane Society thinking about the next step on their list — animal care, not just animal shelters.
“But we don’t really have the space to do that,” she said.
Thus, the Humane Society becomes great. Really big. She bought the Brock White Building Materials Warehouse off Highway 280 in St. Paul. It’s about the size of a Walmart Supercenter.
“If you were to drive to the building five or ten years from now, you would experience the joy of animals in people’s lives,” Dixon said.
There will always be a shelter and an adoption space. But plans also call for a dog park, an agility training area — even an amphitheater for people and pets together. Think of a movie night for dogs.
A new cat shelter will have outdoor access and green grass. There will be collective accommodation for the dogs. The Humane Society is also expanding its subsidized veterinary care and behavioral programs, and there will be a shelf for pet food and supplies. The goal is to keep pets in the homes they have.
The space will also help accommodate large cases of human inquiry — like the call to accommodate 47 cats found in an SUV at an interstate rest area near Harris, Minnesota, earlier this month.
Change has already begun: Humane Society shelters in Buffalo and St. Paul have closed. The master plan will move shelter and adoption away from Humane Society sites in Woodbury and Coon Rapids, and instead offer more programs and care at those sites.
Dixon says she thinks the project will be groundbreaking.
“It’s very different. It’s not something that’s been done for animal welfare across the country, so we think and believe it’s also a potential model for people to think about what we are doing for our community,” she said.
The project is expected to cost more than $40 million in total — beginning construction in 2024 and opening as early as late 2025. The most recent donation comes ahead of a major fundraising campaign kicking off in a few months.