ROCK FALLS – Happy Tails director Donald Czyzyk has overseen a lot of growth over the years.
For a few years, Happy Tails took dogs and cats in and adopted them out, just like any other shelter. But it wasn't long before its mission expanded.
"About 4 years in we changed our name to Happy Tails Humane Society rather than animal shelter," he said. "A lot of people don't know, but an animal shelter intakes animals and adopts them out, and that's a great thing. Like Granny Rose [in Dixon], that's what they are: they adopt animals out and take them in.
"But a humane society does programs and community outreach and they have a vet clinic. That's us. We have our food pantry program, our low-income program for vaccines, spay and neuter. We have an amazing community service program for people that are in court services. We have a mobile unit that acts as an adoption unit but also can convert into a natural disaster unit."
The mobile unit can roll into an area hit by a disaster and set up pop-up cages and tents to serve as an animal control unit.
Happy Tails' vet clinic offers routine checkups, vaccines, spaying and neutering and microchipping.
The nonprofit also has educational programs in which staff teach people about compassionate and responsible pet ownership, host field trips to the shelter or visit schools.
The impact of COVID-19 hit pretty much everyone, but Happy Tails has been able to weather the viral storm – Czyzyk stockpiled enough of everything to last 6 months, from surgical equipment to PPE.
Last year, Happy Tails opened a second-hand store, Happy Tails Thrifty Outlet, taking donations of clothing, housewares, bedding, games, etc. Proceeds funding Happy Tails' low-cost spay and neuter project. It's at 206 Dixon Ave. in Rock Falls, and is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
"We really wanted a good fundraising source where every day we had a fundraiser going," Czyzyk said. "That's what the thrift store is – it's a fundraiser that happens every single day."
Temporarily shuttered due to COVID-19, the thrift store re-opened June 6. It limits the number of people who can be in the 6,000-square-foot store at any one to 10, and requires its shoppers to wear masks and socially distance.
As much as Czyzyk has going on a Happy Tails, it wasn't always that way. He had stepped away briefly – but the call of the cute little critters beckoned him back.
"I took a break for one year. I had started a business that I was really enjoying that was located in malls, but once malls started failing, it didn't do so hot," he said. "So I came back to Happy Tails. Nonprofits are my life, my world. I was born and raised in nonprofits."
In fact, his parents own Hoo Haven, a wildlife refuge in Durand that they've owned for 35 years. Hoo Haven helps injured, sick and orphaned wildlife and educates people about the importance of conservation.
While his parents are busy caring for owls, coyotes, pelicans and rabbits, Czyzyk is dealing with animals that most people are far more familiar with, but the aim is often the same.
"When it comes to saving animals' lives and raising money to keep doing what we're doing and implementing amazing programs, I was just born and raised into it, and it's been a big passion of mine."
Happy Tails Animal Shelter and Humane Society is at 1408 McNeil Road in Rock Falls. Find it on Facebook, go to happytailsanimalshelter.org or call 815-626-2994for more information on adoption, the clinic, or how to donate or volunteer.
Happy Tails Thrifty Outlet has its own Facebook page.