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Local Group Seeks to Assist Plight of Outdoor Animals in Winter

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Lexi - Before and After

Lexi - Before and After /Murphy’s Pet Project


Pepper /Murphy’s Pet Project

Shaggy - Before and After

Shaggy - Before and After /Murphy’s Pet Project

It is estimated by local animal welfare groups that in Grand Rapids alone, hundreds of companion animals are left to fend for themselves against the cold each winter. Without proper shelter and care, frostbite, hypothermia and death can overtake our pets quickly when the freezing temperatures roll in. One local group is doing what they can to educate and assist local pet owners to make sure that doesn’t happen. 

Murphy’s Pet Project was started by two animal lovers, Kim Bearup and Melissa Muir Gathercole. Melissa says of their beginnings, “We both had been working separately in differing areas of animal welfare, and met while working to raise funds for an abandoned dog who needed a surgery to remove a 10 pound tumor from its leg.” The organization has made a commitment to help pet owners as much as possible with everything from emergency care to routine veterinary care and even food and shelter. Their concern is that in tough financial times, even beloved pets are often surrendered to humane societies and animal shelters, which are generally overcrowded already. Melissa, formerly on the Board of Directors at the Humane Society of Kent County, says “We try to reach the pet owners who might consider keeping their pet, if we (Murphy’s Pet Project) can help them with an unexpected medical problem, or assist with a training issue, we can keep a pet from being left at a shelter.”
In this spirit, Murphy’s Pet Project recently teamed up with the Rockford High School Industrial Arts students to build insulated shelters for local animals in need. While the folks at Murphy’s Pet Project are willing to help people care for their outdoor animals, they don’t advocate leaving them outside at all, “It's a cruel and lonely life for a domesticated and social animal” said Melissa.  Shelter from the cold winter temperatures is quite possibly the most important provision for outdoor animals in Michigan. The Kent County Animal Control Regulations require the animal owners provide “proper shelter and protection from the weather provided at all times and as a minimum shall consist of a three-sided shelter of suitable size.” Shelter from the wind is one thing, but any winter shelter for an animal should definitely consist of some type of insulation. Without it, the inside of the shelter isn’t going to be much warmer than the outside.
In addition to properly insulated shelter for outdoor animals, fresh, unfrozen water is a necessity. Animals without access to water in the winter often resort to drinking runoff and puddles that they find available which can contain deadly toxic chemicals such as antifreeze. Your local pet supply store should have heated water dishes available to help you make sure your pet has fresh water in any weather.
If you or someone you know needs help caring for their pet, please contact Murphy’s Pet Project at or by calling 616-825-6319. Some shelters are still available as well as emergency food, training, and low-cost spay and neutering. If you would like to give to the organization, please contact them via the same methods. Monetary donations are the most versatile for the group; however, other items such as towels, blankets, cages/crates, and especially food are all very helpful. In regards to the shelters, volunteers eager to donate skills to build additional structures would be welcomed as well as people in the community willing to open their home to a foster animal for a few weeks.
If you are feeding outdoor cats, please ensure that they have warm shelter as well. You can get an inexpensive shelter from Carol's Ferals for $7 by calling 616-560-055.
Throughout the winter and always, if you see or suspect an animal is being abused or neglected anywhere, please get law enforcement involved. Laws to protect vulnerable animals need to be enforced. They can be reached at (616) 632-7300 during the day or if it’s after hours, please call the Sheriff’s Department at (616) 632-6100.
The following are just a few of the animals whose lives have been saved by the fine people of Murphy’s Pet Project.  Their photos are on the right.
Lexi is a pit bull puppy that was taken from her mother at three weeks of age and sold. She developed mange, a staph infection, and malnutrition. The person who bought her didn't have the money or the inclination to deal with her medical problems from being taken from her mother too early. She was dropped off with us in life threatening condition. We nursed her back to health, and she is the ambassador for the breed: smart, gentle, loyal, and a fabulous family pet.
Pepper, a champion bred English Setter, found himself suddenly homeless when his owner’s home was foreclosed on. We took him and found him the perfect home with a family and even a canine brother.
Shaggy was taken from his owners by authorities because of his horrible body condition and living conditions. He was scheduled to be euthanized and was saved by a rescue group. Because they found out he had severe food aggression and social issues, he needed a lot of work. I [Melissa] took him and fostered and trained him and he is now the most docile golden retriever in west Michigan and I adopted him!

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