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Animal shelter fundraiser to help pay for expansion project

LAKE COUNTY – A dog peeks out from under the front desk at the Mission Valley Animal Shelter, where she feels most comfortable with another small dog. 

Shelter Director Filip Panusz says it’s a juggling act to find space for all the animals. He keeps one dog in his office, and one of the cats prefers the solitude of the bathroom during the night. To solve the space problem, Panusz is working on a project to expand the shelter by 360 square feet. 

The project originally started as a puppy room addition. About 35 to 40 puppies were brought to the shelter last month and about that many the month before, so when a Girl Scout Troop from Kalispell donated $4,000 for a puppy kennel, Panusz was thrilled, but then he got another amazing donation. 

“We had a contractor offer to do an expansion for us, to donate labor and materials,” he said. “We are fundraising for the remaining money needed for the project.”

Panusz thought about how the facility could best serve the community, and he came up with a design that includes reorganizing space and adding on to create a puppy kennel, two additional kennels, a life room for stressed dogs, a small office space, a meet and greet room with an outside entrance, a quarantine space, and a fenced outside concrete pad.  

A room on the backside of the shelter will be developed into a meet and greet room with an outside door so people can spend time with the animals to see if they are a good fit for adoption. An additional space will also be converted into a much-needed isolated quarantine room. 

“This project will address current needs and future growth,” he said. 

The shelter is hosting a fundraiser from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 16 at the Red Lion Inn to raise the rest of the money needed to fund the project. The event will include an auction with items like a high-end barbecue. Tickets for a salmon or prime rib dinner are $50 each. Only 150 tickets are available and can be purchased calling 406-883-5312. At 8 p.m., the doors will be open to the public so anyone can attend the auction without a ticket. 

The Seconds 2 Go thrift shop in Polson funds general operations at the shelter, but it’s not enough for an expansion. “We are in the red annually,” he said.

Part of the money from the shop goes towards a spay and neuter program providing $25 dollar certificates for the service at a veterinary office. “It’s a preventative program so the shelter doesn’t end up even more filled,” he said. 

The shelter is also getting a new human addition. Patricia Cooper, who is moving to the area from Georgia on Sept. 8, will be the shelter’s first ever manager. Cooper has 25 years of experience as an animal control supervisor. 

Panusz said he desperately needs a manager to take over the day-to-day operations at the shelter to free him up to write grants, organize fundraisers, and work on community outreach.

“We want to do more for the community,” he said. “The shelter is here to serve the needs of the community, and I want to have time to reach out and find out what we can do about things like the stray dog problem. 

“I want to be visible in the community and work with people to come up with solutions to crucial problems. We’ve got stray cats and dogs being run over. I need time to deal with these issues.”

Panusz took over as the director of the shelter in April after the former director retired. He is from Missoula and has experience as an animal control officer. Panusz also worked previously at the Humane Society of Western Montana.

A smile forms on his face when he takes a moment to pet a small dog and coach the one under the front desk to come out. He also enjoyed taking a new dog at the shelter out to meet the other dogs and watch them play. Panusz is passionate about making a difference for animals and humans.

“I feel very strongly about serving under-served communities,” he said. “I feel like I can make a difference here with time and community support.” 

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