The devastating scene of an unwanted cat or dog being left in a box, on a curb or in the rain is not simply an emotive scene from the movies—it is the world many animals live in. With the earnest goal to help animals, the Animal Protective Association of Missouri (APA) is there to take in lost, stray or unwanted pets and work to find them loving forever homes.
“I’ve been doing this for a few decades, and the group we have here is one of the best groups I’ve seen,” says APA executive director Steve Kaufman. “We’re in a very emotional field, so it’s important to have people who are very outgoing and friendly. We’re not only in the animal business; we’re in the people business.” Kaufman adds that the staff is constantly brainstorming about ways to help animals. “The shelter really allows me to be very creative in what we call thinking outside the litter box,” he says. “It’s great to have such flexible staff members and volunteers. We don’t have lot of naysayers.”
Advocating for animals since 1922, the APA originally ran out of founder Ella Megginson’s basement and has been at its current South Hanley Road location since 1937. “We are mainly focused on adoption and education,” Kaufman says, explaining that the organization does everything from school visits to mobile adoption events. “We offer a lot of other programs, but those are the two we are known most for and are best at.” Additional APA programs include PetReach, which brings animals and their therapeutic properties to senior care facilities, children’s hospitals and the like, and the lesser-known Domestic Violence Pet Assistance program. Through this program, APA works with seven area women’s shelters to house and care for victim’s animals while women are transitioning out of dangerous homes to make sure the safety of a pet is not the reason a womnn stays in harm’s way.
On the horizon for APA is its community art project, Harry & Hanley. Gigantic cat and dog statues—10 of each, standing at 6-feet tall—created by sculptor Harry Weber, will be on display this summer after receiving creative makeovers from area artists. In September, the pieces will be put up for auction at APA’s 90th anniversary event.
“The idea is to change the public’s perception of shelter pets and animal shelters” Kaufman says, noting that merely 20 percent of owned pets are shelter animals. “Shelters still have that stereotype of men with nets—and that’s just not the case.” To increase its approachability, the atmosphere of APA’s facilities have been given much attention. This includes the addition of an 8-foot, 215-gallon fish tank, donated by the World Aquarium, that houses the characters from Finding Nemo—or as many of them who could survive together in a tank. Surrounding the fish are some of the shelter’s pawing cats, receiving their mental stimulation through the swimming creatures they can see from their custom-built cat cages. A person can play with a laser light, which the fish react to; the cats, in turn, respond to the moving fish, and the human gets to enjoy the domino effect of cuteness.
“The staff and volunteers make this place,” Kaufman says. “That’s what drew me into this business: it’s not just my love for animals, but the fact that it draws in every type of person.”
For more information about APA, call 645-4610 or visit apamo.org.
Volunteer Spotlight: Megan Grothman
A glance through the car window was all it took. Megan Grothman happened to drive by the Animal Protective Association of Missouri (APA) in 2010, shortly after moving to St. Louis from Springfield, Mo. She felt the need to start volunteering with the organization right away.
“Honestly, it’s the animals—and being able to help them find new homes,” Grothman says. “Everything else is just icing on the cake: how nice the staff is, how involved you can be.” She explains that on top of all that, volunteering is a great way to meet people, especially in a new city. “It’s something to do where you’re giving back to the community, but you’re giving something to yourself: You see the animals go to a good home and know you made a difference.”
Working with adoption is one of Grothman’s favorite parts of the job. “It’s really fun when you can match a person with the right animal—the animal that will complement their personality the most.” Grothman explains that, while she loves animals in general, she is a dog person. “I have three dogs at home, one of which came from the APA.” Those aren’t her only furry friends, as this volunteer truly takes her work home with her; she fosters kittens, and presently has two at home.
“They’re one of the more progressive shelters,” Grothman says of the APA. “They are always striving to do new things and to better the organization. More so than other shelters I’ve been involved with, this one is really striving for that main goal. I think that’s why I’ve been involved for so long.” She explains that the group is good to animals, people and itself, as it has no problem changing policies or systems to do a better job.
“The experience of volunteering is really what you make of it,” Grothman says. “If you’re fully plugged-in, you can get a lot out of it.”