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Happily Ever After sees banner year in 2020

By Lee Reinsch

ASHWAUBENON – Tails are wagging at Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary, because it had its biggest year adoption-wise in 2020.

Last year’s 705 animals homed beat its previous record-breaking year of 2019 by almost 50 percent, and this month it marks its 15th anniversary.

If that weren’t enough, it’s the focus of a documentary on animal welfare that will air free Sunday, March 28.

The 65-minute “Rescue Story – Saving Companion Animals” by Conscious Content Collective and Shaman Motion Pictures shines a light on the plight of companion animals.

It follows the journey of Happily Ever After, a no-kill rescue organization, as it travels to Texas to rescue a dog named Milo and bring him to Wisconsin for rehoming.

“It takes you through all of the different aspects that go into animal welfare, adoption and prevention, spay and neuter, the impact that animals have on our lives and the value that companion animals play in all parts of our lives,” said Happily Ever After spokesperson Marcus Reitz, whose family founded the sanctuary in 2006.

“Rescue Story,” produced by a crew composed mostly of Wisconsinites, has garnered 11 nominations and five best documentary wins from film festivals in India, Spain, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.

Former Appleton resident Kimberly Resch, now of Oviedo, Florida, is one of the owners of Conscious Content Collective.

Her film company has done several other documentaries on topics that include PTSD, workplace culture and digital addiction.

“If it affects humanity and nobody else wants to talk about it, it’s something we have to talk about,” Resch said.

She said her crew found it hard to get shelters to talk about euthanization, but it’s a hard truth they wanted to communicate to viewers.

The impetus for the local no-kill shelter came 15 years ago when Amanda Reitz, Marcus’s sister, learned nearly half of all animals in shelters were euthanized.

The rate has since dropped, but not enough, said Marcus.

“At the time the film was shot, about 1.5 million companion animals were being euthanized each year in shelters,” he said. “We want to see that be reduced even further.”

In the 1970s, the number was between 12 and 20 million per year, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Marcus mentioned an organization called Best Friends Animal Society, which aims to take the country to no-kill status.

It defines no-kill as saving 90 percent of the animals in its care.

“That leaves one in 10 meeting a different fate,” he said.

The ASPCA estimates 6.5 million companion animals enter shelters each year, so achieving a 90-percent rescue rate leaves 650,000 animals that aren’t rescued.

“We can do better than 90 percent,” Marcus said.

He said protocols put into place for COVID-19 in 2020 helped increase the number of successful adoptions and lower the return rate.

Closed to the public for the past year, the sanctuary switched to an appointment-only format.

Marcus said this encouraged people to get their applications in, which helped expedite the process by weeding out those not serious about adopting or those don’t have the time or accommodations to care for an animal.

“We’re able to plan our work, and we’re able to spend more focused time with them because we know who they are,” he said. “We’re prepared for them, and it’s given us a chance to service our adopters more personally.”

A happy side effect is the animals are not subjected to strangers coming and going all day, and are calmer, Marcus said.

He said people ask if Happily Ever After is going to change back to the old format.

“It’s working way too well for the animals and for the adopters,” Marcus said. “That will be one thing for us that sticks around even after COVID has totally wrapped up.”

“Rescue Story” was ready for release last year, but COVID-19 stepped in.

However, the documentary went through the film-festival circuit, where it was well received.

Happily Ever After held a drive-in premiere last fall, but it has not been widely available to the public.

This Sunday, a link to the New York Feedback Film Festival, which named “Rescue Story” Best Feature Film, will be available at the sanctuary’s website, heanokill.org.

It will be one of four films shown.

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