Wish Bone Canine Rescue finds new home in a former west Normal animal hospital's building
Call it a forever home: Wish Bone Canine Rescue's nearly three-year search for a new, more permanent location is finally over.
The nonprofit dog rescue, established in 2009, will move into the former Kruger Animal Hospital building at 1824 W. Hovey Ave. in Normal come August, ending its short-term occupancy in a south Bloomington building. The nonprofit owns the space, a first in a history of leased locations it has occupied.
In late 2020, news that Wish Bone's then-current and leased location at Bunn Street in Bloomington would eventually be demolished by the property owner meant the nonprofit was looking for a new space.
"At the time that we moved, there was nothing that fit our requirements — there are so many zoning laws and city ordinances that come with being a dog rescue," shelter director Bri Hart said in an interview.
Daily operations continued, temporarily, out of a strip mall building on R.T. Dunn Drive in Bloomington, but Hart said the space could only hold five dogs, leading to local foster homes being the rescue's primary means of sheltering.
"Having a foster-based model and having to have a foster home lined up prior to getting a dog — that is heartbreaking," she said. "I send out probably three, four or five emails a day, asking fosters to take dogs. We've got ... our main ones, (but) when they are full, we (will) love to have a place where I can just load up the van and go pick up 5-10 dogs and put them at the shelter."
Moving into the former animal hospital means Wish Bone will up its capacity and capabilities: In addition to its long-held foster model, Hart said the plan is to have 30-40 kennels in the building, putting the total number of sheltered dogs to around 80 or 90. The public will be welcome to drop in during select hours and the space will allow Wish Bone to resume more community-oriented events like vaccination clinics.
The increase in local shelter options comes none too soon, Hart said, since — as has been the case for the past few years — animal rescues of all types are overwhelmed. Hart said the surge in unwanted pets started after the so-called "lockdown" days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when more people adopted dogs or cats.
Some weren't fixed and reproduced while veterinary offices were closed; others were given up as their owners went back to work or changed their minds. Hart said increasing costs of food and vet care also have led some people to surrender their pets.
"Animal control in town is struggling — they are over capacity. I'm starting to think it will never get better," she said. "So yeah, we're going to be doing both (fostering and sheltering) so that we can help as many dogs as we can."
Since 2009, Wish Bone Canine Rescue has rescued more than 8,000 dogs, Hart said, with an emphasis on taking "the dogs that most people don't — the dogs with the behavioral issues, the super big dogs, the hospice ones." In 2022, about 93% of the dogs the shelter rescued were local to McLean County.
Hart is the nonprofit's only full-time employee; one other person works with Wish Bone on a part-time basis each week, meaning the rest of the work is done by volunteers.
"Now is the time for people that are interested in fostering to really come to our aid," Hart said. "I cry a lot in this job — it definitely pulls on your heartstrings, but making a huge difference for these dogs is seriously the best, most rewarding thing ever."