Expanding their pawprint

Sue Osika, the new executive director at Shiawassee Humane Society in Bennington Township, stands in front of the pavilion under construction at the shelter.

BENNINGTON TWP. — Meet the new face of the Shiawassee Humane Society: Sue Osika, the shelter’s new executive director.

Area residents may already have heard of Osika: She’s Owosso’s mayor pro tem, and has gained a high profile over the years for her work at other local nonprofits, including the American Red Cross, Habitat For Humanity and the Shiawassee Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Now, she’s overseeing operations, and raising funds as well as awareness about the county’s only “no kill” shelter.

“We are very excited that Sue has joined us at the Shiawassee Humane Society to continue our mission of providing caring solutions for the unmet needs of our local pet population,” said Pat Skvarenina, the shelter’s board president.

“It takes a lot of passion, hard work and dedication and that is exactly what Sue brings to the Humane Society. She didn’t skip a beat in getting the message out to our county,” Skvarenina continued. “The board was looking for the ‘Face of the Shiawassee Humane Society’ and we found her.”

“I’ll be spending about 90 percent of the time out in the community, letting people know we’re here and how well we take care of the animals,” Osika said Tuesday at the Humane Society. “We need to get more people on the radar that we’re in the community — not just for Owosso but for all of Shiawassee County.”

Currently, the shelter is operating at close to capacity, housing about 25 dogs and 40 cats. All are spayed or neutered, when needed, and given their shots prior to adoption.

The animals make their home at the shelter as long as it takes to find a permanent home. Some have stayed as long as three years.

However, no matter their ages or behaviors, all the critters seem to find families sooner or later, kennel assistants said. Even the guinea pigs, ferrets, rabbits, doves and pigs that occasionally come through get adopted.

In the meantime, they get a lot of care and attention, Osika said.

“Every morning (the kennel assistants) clean the cages, and give the animals fresh food and water and blankets,” she said. “They fall in love with them. They even name them.”

Osika said she became keenly aware of how pets can bring people joy when her late husband, Tom Hannen, was struggling with cancer and sometimes found it difficult to smile.

“Somebody brought a dog by, and he smiled,” Osika said. “I saw how animals can make people feel. We lived on a farm with animals. I want to help them.”

Lori Beard, a kennel assistant, said Osika’s passion for helping animals is a plus for her new position.

“She is very excited to be here, and that’s a huge plus,” Beard said. “She’s very energetic and approachable and easy to talk to, and cares about our input. She cares about what’s happening here, and you have to care to do the fundraising.”

Thanks to a $20,000-plus donation from the 100-plus Women Who Care of the Greater Owosso Area, the Humane Society is building a fenced-in pavilion that will give people a place to spend time with dogs they might adopt. There’s already a small visiting room inside the shelter for cats.

An open house and ribbon-cutting for the pavilion are coming next month, on a date to be announced, she said.

Osika will spearhead a five-year capital campaign to raise money to expand the shelter’s footprint in order to accommodate more animals.

“I’ve done a lot of fundraising but I’ve never done a five-year campaign before,” she said. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Upcoming Humane Society fundraisers include the annual Woofstock, set for Oct. 5, and Pets on the Street, in which volunteers and their pets collect for the cause at certain locations on Sept. 20-21.

Osika said more volunteers are needed for Pets on the Street. For details or to sign up, call the shelter at (989) 723-4262.

Not only is Osika passionate about her new role involving animals, she is pleased to be leading up a nonprofit organization.

“The first time I worked for a nonprofit, at the American Red Cross, I loved raising money for the cause, educating people about blood drives and being there for the first responders,” she said. “It was the joy of being there and helping everybody, of making a difference in people’s lives.”

She credited mentor Barb Clatterbaugh, then an official at Baker College of Owosso, with encouraging her to become involved in the community.

Osika praised the dedication of the six people who work at the shelter, among them kennel manager Tim Bishop. She noted that kennel assistant Kaylie Britain put on a fundraiser for the shelter last Saturday with a 12-team softball tournament in Durand that brought in $1,000.

“I’m excited that everybody wants to support everybody in the activities we have here,” Osika said. “And I’m excited that our board of directors is a working board.

As for Osika herself, “I want to keep this great place going,” she said. “I want more awareness about the need for homes for wonderful animals.”

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