The story started almost 1,500 miles from Kansas. And as the ending of that story includes the words “happy dogs,” it’s sure to be happy.
In January 2017, investment attorney Jennifer Dulski resigned from her Boston law firm and moved to Overland Park to take a new position with Waddell and Reed.
While transitioning to her new position and city where she knew no one, Dulski was also searching for a way to heal after the death of a beloved friend.
On a frosty winter morning, she found her inspiration when she was standing outside a shop.
“I felt I needed something to give me a reason to wake up in the morning and to put some purpose in my life, and then the idea just popped in my head,” she said.
“I decided I would buy a farm and start a senior dog sanctuary. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I was going to do it.
“I believe when you want something bad enough, no matter how impossible it feels, you can either make excuses or find a way. I knew I would find a way.”
During the next 15 months, Dulski transformed this vision into reality. In February 2017, she purchased the 5-acre farm in Spring Hill, complete with a barn that needed extensive renovation. As she oversaw the renovation, she also developed plans for the nonprofit.
“I figured I’d take out loans to make this a reality,” she said. “Debt didn’t scare me — not for saving dogs.”
However, obtaining the loans was daunting. After being turned down at numerous banks, Dulski finally found a lender who believed in her dream and loaned her an initial $100,000. Shortly into the process, the barn construction hit snags and the loan was depleted within a few months. Dulski took out more loans and charged additional expenses on her credit cards to keep the project alive.
“When the credit cards were maxed, I mostly cried, worried beyond belief and prayed,” she said. “At the end of the year, I received a promotion at work, and one year after the simple action of taking an astronomical risk to do something beyond anything I’d ever done, our doors opened.
“While everything that could’ve gone wrong with construction did, on the flip side of that, everything that needed to happen to make this dream come true also did.”
In May of 2018, Dulski officially opened Always & Furever Midwest Animal Sanctuary. Since then, she and her team of volunteers, board members and donors have saved the lives of nearly 300 abused or abandoned senior dogs.
A&F’s mission is to provide these dogs, often considered un-adoptable because of their age and/or health concerns, a place where they can live out their lives, be that measured in weeks, months or years.
Everything about the farm says “welcome home.” Designed with open-style living spaces, the barn has cozy couches, chairs and beds for the dogs, along with a kitchen and laundry facilities for their care.
“Every dog here has a home until he or she leaves this earth or is adopted,” Dulski said.
Most of the dogs arrive at A&F from regional high-kill shelters. Some have had owners who’ve passed away or moved to a residence where dogs were not permitted.
The barn can accommodate up 19 dogs, which are cared for by Dulski and her team of nearly four dozen volunteers. In addition, the group has more than 40 dogs at any time in homes with foster volunteers.
Two of those volunteers are Jim and Jen Rose of Spring Hill. The Roses discovered the Sanctuary in January while searching for an animal organization to join as volunteers.
“Jen’s personal commitment to A&F is incredible,” Jim said. “Her level of commitment is beyond anything I’ve seen and it inspires others. A&F is Jen, and Jen is A&F. It is who she is.”
When Dulski opened A&F, her plans were for the organization to be exclusively a sanctuary. However, last fall, plans changed as she learned about the extensive number of senior dogs needing rescue in the area. As a result, she procured the necessary rescue licenses so she could save more dogs.
The work of rescuing senior dogs comes with a significant share of care and heartache. The dogs can arrive at the Sanctuary with extensive health problems, and the ensuing veterinary bills can be hefty. Over the past year, Dulski has developed a large network of veterinarians throughout the metro who assist with these costs which can run more than $2,500 a week.
However, the most difficult challenge for Dulski and her team is saying goodbye.
“I’m there every single time one of our beloved pups crosses the rainbow bridge,” she said. “I hold them and remind them that, even if for a moment, someone on this earth loved them and believed their lives mattered. We welcome and love the ones others deem unlovable or unworthy, too old or too sick, too expensive to take on the risk or endure the pain of goodbye.
“There was a time my world was so dark, I never thought I would smile again. These dogs saved me, and now I have this place where they have second chance to know love and find a little bit of peace. It’s never too late for happily ever after.”
Learn more at Always and Furever or donate to the group’s therapy pool for dogs.