Volunteer of the Month: Sonia Brandley

Julia D Volunteer of the Month

Sonia is the founder of Last Hope Animal Rescue. We asked her to convey the story of how it all began and here it is in her own words:
I have always said that Last Hope started with a dog named Honey and her six puppies. This may not be the exact starting point but, for me, it’s where Last Hope started to develop into the group that it is today.
Honey was a sweet older farm dog that hadn’t had a very easy time of it. She had had many litters in her years on the farm and the farmer was tired of it. He told his wife he was going to shoot her and to get rid of her puppies. So, when I got the call to help, I said yes without hesitation. Honey and her puppies were the first of many mothers and puppies I fostered that first year. In 2004, Last Hope adopted out over a hundred dogs and I personally fostered 70 of them. I realized over the course of that year that I had found my passion.
In 2006, I moved my family from Cedar Rapids to Shellsburg. We purchased an acreage that included an old 6,000 sq ft turkey building. My fellow rescuers encouraged me from the get-go to turn this building into a shelter, but I really felt we needed to focus on being a foster based group (and my daughter, Reese, was only 1 at the time so I was facing the challenges that come with being a new parent). In 2008, that all changed when the 500-year flood hit Iowa. In one weekend alone we collected and set up a dozen kennels and went to the Vinton shelter and pulled every dog they had. This made way for all the dogs that had lost their homes due to Cedar River flooding as the town of Vinton was under water. This “temporary” shelter operated for the next seven years on my property, and over those years I learned so much about dogs, dog care and shelter life in general.
In January 2015, Last Hope found our current building on 16th Ave SW and entered into a lease with the option to buy after two years.  This was a huge risk as an organization, as we had not truly had any overhead prior to this and weren’t sure about sustainability.  We moved the 9 residents from Shellsburg into our new facility, it had housed many businesses but most notably, it was the former Frey Pet Hospital location. Through the help of a capital campaign, we secured money for a down payment and moved forward with purchasing our building. The addition of a formal adoption center in town, allowed Last Hope to grow our volunteer base and work to bring dogs in that were harder to place immediately.  It also allowed us to be nimble and react quickly to emergency situations as we had space for intake.  An added benefit was the addition of a formal cat rescue program, which has now grown into serving the needs of many counties.  This year, I opened CR Grooming at our adoption center, a full-service groom shop that is an extension of Cedar Run Pet Boarding & Daycare, my business in Hiawatha.  This groom shop serves the needs of many, including Last Hope animals that join us and are in need of a little professional TLC.
My hopes for Last Hope are that we continue to focus on the power of our people connecting with animals.  We have been truly blessed to have the volunteer and support network that we have today, I am so thankful for each person that contributes their time, voice or efforts to Last Hope because every little bit truly helps. As we approach our 15th year as an organization, our foster base has grown and we have seen new programs work to focus on advocacy and community outreach.  Our adoption center now houses 19 dogs and 35 cats as we work to find loving homes for them.  This building is so vital to not just the animals that we care for, but the volunteers that flow through it and touch the lives of many.
We’ve encountered many challenges with our dated building, from electrical to structural, but this month we’ve been forced to start tackling some of the larger and more pressing structural issues to maintain sustainability.  A great portion of our roof has started to fail, and water is permeating our building.  In addition to the many leaks we have found inside, contractors have found mold and serious moisture damage in our decking and structural systems.  We have had to call in professional help and have begun the arduous task of moving forward with a new roof, gutter and soffit system in phases to help lessen the burden of cost. All the while, caring for animals in need, focusing our efforts on those who need us most. Please consider a donation to Last Hope today. Phase 1 of our building improvements is planned at $6,800 with total repair coming in at just over $15,000.  In addition to this, we have accrued medical debt in excess of $15,000 in the last 30 days.  We have Tilly’s medical debt of $7,200 that we will work to recover through the Linn county attorney, as well as the expense for multiple dogs who have joined us lately as owner surrenders with serious medical issues.  We will be sharing fundraising campaigns through the end of the year to cover these steep financial needs, please consider sharing this information with your friends and family and invite them to learn more about Last Hope and how they can get involved today.  Thank you for your continued support of Last Hope and for helping us to spread a mission of compassion and advocacy for animals in need.