JOPLIN, Mo. —
Mary Ann Schlau knew on Thursday that she needed to go shopping, so she planned a trip to the Joplin Humane Society. She tries to go there often these days to pick up dogs and cats that have not yet been adopted and puts them up for adoption in her recently converted animal sanctuary, Golden Paw Animal Rescue and Sanctuary.
"I haven't been able to pick up as many as I want to lately," Schlau said. "Most of the dogs we've had are coming from owner surrenders, things like that. We help them as much as we can by taking what we can."
Usually the sanctuary has up to 70 animals available for adoption. As of the new year, it held about 40 dogs and 11 cats -- and three of those dogs were adopted before 1 p.m. on Thursday, the first day of business in the new year.
For Schlau, it's just another day of worrying -- not about making enough money to keep the lights on for a grooming and boarding business, but how many abandoned animals she can get into forever homes.
In 2012, she made the decision to transform the Golden Paw Pet Resort grooming and boarding business into a no-kill animal sanctuary and rescue. Last year an application for 501(c)3 tax status was approved, making the rescue a true nonprofit effort.
Since changing gears, the sanctuary has placed more than 580 animals in homes. Of the 429 animals it took in during 2013, 414 of them were adopted.
Animals have always been a part of Schlau's life. As a child growing up in northeast Pennsylvania, her family never turned away an animal that needed help.
Her father, who served in Germany during World War II, refused to come back to the U.S. unless he could bring home a dog he found on the streets. Rags, a Lhasa Apso and sheep dog mix, turned out to be Schlau's first pet.
She also remembers a time when the family did without a key piece of furniture in order to help an injured dog. A shepherd mix managed to crawl its way onto the family's property, and her dad instantly started working to heal it.
He took the kitchen table, removed the leaf, rigged a harness apparatus and closed the table onto that apparatus. With the dog underneath the table, the hip was able to heal.
"We didn't have a kitchen table for six weeks," Schlau said. "The closest vet was 100 miles away, so we couldn't just run to the vet."
Schlau moved to Joplin in 1979 with her first husband, Vince Guarino. Working from home, she groomed dogs and in 1982 started breeding Schnauzer puppies as a hobby.
Her first husband passed away in December 1997. Shortly afterward, she and her daughter opened up Golden Paw Pet Resort at its current location on North Main Street, where she now lives with her second husband, Pete Schlau.
Then in 2000, she had a change of heart and stopped breeding.
"I realized there was more important work to do," Schlau said. "Not breed, but save animals that were already out there. I got to the point where I started seeing all these other animals without home, and I'm thinking, ÔWhat am I doing? I can do better.'"
While performing grooming and boarding services, Schlau and other employees found homes for dogs when they could. She also volunteered for the Joplin Humane Society by showing dogs on local morning TV shows.
But the passion of the staff slowly began to turn toward operating an animal sanctuary. After the May 22, 2011, tornado rendered hundreds of animals homeless, the pet sanctuary took in even more animals to help people out.
While needs were elevated in the tornado's aftermath, Schlau said that Southwest Missouri has always had a problem with pet overcrowding.
"There are so many abandoned, neglected animals," Schlau said. "We're a throwaway society. When an animal doesn't fit in with our life, we get rid of it. Adopting an animal is a commitment, not a whim."
In May of 2012, Schlau's dream became a reality.
"It's been our passion to do this full time," Schlau said. "We achieved that in May of 2012 when we got our rescue license, and since we got our nonprofit status, we've been going full force."