Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary: Celebrating 45 Years of Humane Care

Rockford’s no-kill animal shelter has long been a sanctuary for unwanted animals and a resource for their humans, too. The nonprofit’s mission and its team of loyal volunteers are just part of the secret to success.

Stephanie Lauer (left) and Marcia Brice help to coordinate a staff of 12 and a team of roughly 75 core volunteers at Noah’s Ark Animal Shelter in Rockford.

As it approaches a half-century of care, it seems as if Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary has always been there for pets and people in need. In reality, though, the first-of-its-kind animal shelter in the greater Rockford area is only just observing 45 years of serving the community.

It began as a nonprofit when a small group of Rockford residents opened it on April 30, 1978 as a nonprofit sanctuary for domesticated animals. For the entirety of its existence, it has been located at 111 N. First St., in the heart of Rockford’s downtown district. While it operates in a relatively small storefront, Noah’s Ark’s focus on humane care and animal population control has resulted in more than 30,000 animals being saved in 45 years.

“Our primary mission is to assist in protecting and rehoming unwanted, abused, and neglected cats and dogs,” says Stephanie Lauer, executive director. “We also focus on helping people keep their pets healthy and fed.”

A few blocks away, Noah’s Ark operates a hospital and clinic at 321 N. Fourth St., where the intake and rescues in its care are treated, vaccinated, and neutered or spayed. Under Dr. Mayr Wilder, DVM surgeon, and two veterinary technicians, the hospital provides treatment as well as preventative measures to an ever-increasing number of area pets in need. The hospital continues its role to assist other no-kill intake operations by providing standard vet care and TNR (trap, neuter and return) services to the community.

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary has room for about 75 cats and 25 dogs at a time, but its foster care network is significantly larger, with room for as many as 200 animals.

Lauer adds that every animal taken in by Noah’s Ark is treated as if it was the staff and volunteer’s own. With a 12-member staff and roughly 75 core volunteers, the sanctuary has found success, despite space limitations, economic downturns and recent COVID restrictions.

“Our ability to care for these animals is dependent on our volunteer efforts,” Lauer says. “The sanctuary can house up to 75 cats and 25 dogs at a time, with dogs also fostered out to volunteers. The hospital can handle up to 40 cats, while dogs in hospital care are sent home overnight with volunteers or staff members who can provide closer care.

In addition to treating stray and surrendered pets, Noah’s Ark provides spay and neutering services for the general public, at a reduced rate for cats. It also honors low-income spay/neuter vouchers for people in Winnebago County.

“We charge $100 for female cats and $75 for male cats, which is substantially less than current veterinary clinic fees,” says Lauer.

Noah’s Ark also has a strong foster base.

“We currently have 120 cats in foster care and 68 dogs,” Lauer explains. “Our capacity is 200.”

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, all this effort takes a significant amount of funding. Office manager and fundraising coordinator Marcia Brice says the sanctuary’s annual fundraising event, Bark & Wine, helps to fund all of the services enjoyed by the community. This year’s Bark & Wine event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Tebala Event Center, 7910 Newburg Road. Since Noah’s Ark receives no money from the government, donations, fundraisers and memberships are the only way the organization financially survives.

Brice, who has worked for Noah’s Ark for more than 16 years, says a lot has changed since she started as a volunteer after 34 years in the government sector.

“One of our latest efforts is the establishment of a huge trap/neuter or spay/release program,” she says. “This focuses on trapping, neutering, spaying and vaccinating feral cats, then releasing them. These are generally not considered to be good cats for house pets. But they can be released back into the community, where they will help control rodent and pest populations. Working cats are released on farms where they also provide pest control.

Brice says the sanctuary also serves as a food pantry for pets whose owners are struggling financially.

“We depend immensely on the community’s generosity,” she says. “Noah’s Ark receives donations of cat and dog food as a result of children’s volunteer projects, retail, corporate and other nonprofit sources, and private donations from residents, some of whom have recently lost a pet and who have given us their unused food.”

Another service that Noah’s Ark provides, if space allows, is to hold pets from households where someone is fleeing from domestic violence. Noah’s Ark will hold the animal for up to 30 days, make sure they are medically up-to-date, and return them when the pet owner finds a new home.

Brice adds that many of the cats and dogs that come to Noah’s Ark are adopted quickly, some as soon as the day after they arrive, provided they are medically up-to-date and healthy.

“We post adoption-ready pets on our website and on Facebook,” she says. “How quickly they are adopted usually depends on the type of dog. We conduct temperament tests to ensure that the dog will be safe for the families that take them home. Puppies and kittens are adopted fairly quickly, but older pets, including pit pulls, are popular breeds as well.”

Noah’s Ark used to have wait lists for specific breeds, but they have since discontinued this practice.

“The turnover is rapid enough that we don’t have any issues with lingering animals,” says Brice.

The hospital side of the sanctuary is currently closed to the public, but Noah’s Ark is still providing its full range of services. According to the Noah’s Ark website, adoption fees for pets are $175 for adult dogs over one year old and $275 for puppies. Those prices include shots, flea and tick prevention, medical care, deworming, spaying or neutering, microchip registration and heartworm testing. For cats, the adoption fee is $40 for adult cats and $85 for kittens under one year old. The price includes the same services as dog adoptions but also includes FELT/FIV testing.

In addition to spending time at the sanctuary, helping with pet care, socialization and adoptions, volunteers can also get involved in event planning, fundraising activities and other projects. “There are many ways that people can help through volunteering or donations,” says Brice.