Mikey and Me
Fostering the neediest dogs
by Shelley Daily
Published in April, 2019
Outside Dan DePew's old red dairy barn in Chelsea in early February, the wind is howling and the temps hover in the teens. Inside, soothing country music plays on the radio, and Gigi, a border collie mix, jumps up from her orthopedic bed to greet a visitor.
Since fall 2016, DePew has worked with Happy Days Dog and Cat Rescue in Livonia to save dogs like Gigi who "don't have options and are in imminent danger of being euthanized," he says. "We promise them good food, heat, a dry bed, lots of attention, and walks" until they find a permanent home. In just two years, DePew and his volunteers have placed ninety-four "last chance" dogs with families.
His canine foster care facility, Mikey and Me, "sort of unfolded," explains DePew, who's fifty-eight and recently retired. As he sits in the living room of his renovated 1901 farmhouse, he's surrounded by his own rescue dogs. Stanley, a corgi-terrier mix from St. Louis, curls up on the couch next to him, his bluetick coonhound Daisy noses her way to a visitor's lap for a pat on the head, and Audrey, his nearly blind corgi mix, rests in the adjacent room.
Mikey and Me is named for another corgi. Mikey "was like a child--he went everywhere I went," says DePew. When Mikey died at age seventeen, DePew promised to help needy dogs in his name.
Volunteering at a rescue, DePew learned that dogs often had to be turned away for lack of space--and had a "revelation" that he could foster some of them. He collected donated goods and held a barn sale to raise money, then installed a half-dozen kennels for the first dogs from Happy Days. Those six "soon became fifteen, when we realized one of the dogs was pregnant," he laughs. All fifteen--including nine puppies--were adopted.
Mikey & Me doesn't take surrenders or strays (DePew makes referrals when asked). He got too emotional looking through the list of
needy dogs at Happy Days, so he's told them to just "give me the one that needs me the soonest."
Mikey & Me's Facebook page has 2,000 followers, and when DePew's posts are shared they can reach 10,000 to 12,000 families. "It is a community effort in so many ways," he says. Girl Scout troops raise money, school groups visit, Wags to Wiskers donates food and bedding, and individuals message him on Facebook to offer their time. "We attract dog people," he says, and "dogs can sense the love."
Seven volunteers have adopted dogs through Mikey & Me, including Chelsea's Arielle Hughes. Hughes, sixty-five, has been volunteering since the beginning and continued through a string of losses last year. Hughes's husband of forty-three years died unexpectedly last fall--and just a week later her dog died. Soon after, Hughes learned that her cancer had returned.
"I couldn't be alone," she says, so she continued to visit the dogs at Mikey & Me. Although she's physically more limited now, she sits inside the kennels and visits the dogs. That's how she met Lenny--her adoptee. "He came up to me and sat on me," she laughs. Lenny required training and has chewed up a few things in her house, she says, but "we never gave up on him."
Volunteer Donna McManus says that's what she finds most rewarding about Mikey & Me. "Sometimes we don't get the easiest dogs, so it's cool to see all the attention they get--and the success these dogs have when they go to people who treasure them," McManus says. She adopted "a big furry mutt" named Boomer to join her dachshund and cat.
Annual barn sales and occasional GoFundMe drives have paid to close up and insulate the barn, run electric lines for heat, and build a large fenced enclosure outside so dogs can run free when they're not walking the ten-acre property's trails. It costs $300 a month to heat the barn, and DePew's washer and dryer run constantly to provide clean blankets and towels. Although Happy Days covers the vet bills and background checks of prospective owners, DePew pays trainers when needed. He says paper towels, laundry soap, long-lasting dog treats, blankets, canned dog food, and monetary donations are always welcome, as are items to sell in his fourth annual barn sale this summer (donors can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
DePew always keeps one kennel available for Mikey & Me alums who need a place to board (free of charge) when their owners are on vacation. He says he can't stand the thought of them being boarded somewhere else. "Any dog that finds its way here will always have a home here," he says.
Today, a friendly black lab is back for a week's stay. Though DePew says he's gone to "a great family," he's thrilled to see him again.
His name is Lucky.
[Originally published in April, 2019.]
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