Above: Willow and her "mom" Allison Alvarado
Allison Alvarado made a promise to Willow the first day she met her at the Capital Area Humane Society (CAHS).
"I promised Willow that I would give her the best chance at life, no matter what," says Alvarado of the four-year-old gray tabby. "I told her 'I am adopting you, and I will give you everything possible so you have a loving home and are cherished as you should be cherished.'"
Alvarado kept that commitment from the moment she adopted Willow in July 2016 and took her home. But within weeks, Alvarado faced a daunting decision when Willow became seriously ill. A local vet diagnosed Willow with a diaphragmatic hernia—a condition that would take the young cat's life unless she underwent surgery that could cost up to $10,000.
As a senior at Michigan State University, Alvarado knew she could not shoulder the cost without help. Although she tirelessly raised funds and secured support from the CAHS and the Cedar Creek Veterinary Clinic, she still came up short. That's when someone told her how an East Lansing-based foundation could help.
Alvarado applied to the Karen Hartwig Foundation after hearing that their mission was to help people retain their pets when confronted with an emergency or unexpected financial crunch. Within days, Alvarado got a call from a foundation board member who said that Willow's situation met their criteria and that funds would be sent to the veterinarian to help cover the cost of surgery.
"It was really incredible and such a quick response," says Alvarado. "They decided within a day to help fund the surgery, and were super supportive with emails and phone calls during Willow's procedure. It made me feel special and blessed. They wanted Willow to live as much as I did."
Since her surgery in August 2016, Willow has healed and blossomed into a fluffy, longish-haired tabby. She loves to cuddle, play with feathers, chase strings, and sit in a windowsill to watch birds, chipmunks and squirrels. Alvarado remains devoted to Willow's health and happiness, as well as to all rescue animals. She also supports and speaks highly of the organization that made it possible for her and Willow to stay together.
"I hope to reciprocate in the future," say Alvarado, who recently graduated and works in East Lansing. "I'm just very grateful to the Karen Hartwig Foundation for letting me give Willow her best chance at life and for her to be loved and cherished."
Board Member Karen Griggs says Willow is among the 150 animals the Karen Hartwig Foundation has helped keep in homes and out of shelters. Founded in 2012, the 100-percent volunteer-driven organization has raised more than $50,000 from individual donors—all of which goes to support pet owners and animals in the throes of an unexpected medical or financial crisis.
"When people contact us they are down to their last dime and in a bad situation," says Griggs. "To have to give up their pet would be one more thing. If we can bring stability and a bright spot to them while they are working through their situation, we want to. It's just better for the community as a whole."
Griggs is one of five friends who oversee the organization. All share ties to Greater Lansing, and a passion for the well-being of animals. The friends are also united through Karen Hartwig—a long-time mutual friend who passed away suddenly in 2011 at the age of 48.
Above: Karen Hartwig at three with her first dog, Gus
Hartwig was born and raised in East Lansing. She attended Red Cedar Elementary, Hannah Middle School and graduated from East Lansing High School in 1981. She played in the concert and marching bands and ran track. She attended Lansing Community College, enjoyed a summer of study at the University of London, and graduated from MSU in 1995. Active, vibrant and involved, she was admired for her ability to inspire and give back to the community and people she loved.
Hartwig's death took her friends by surprise. After a few months of mourning, the group decided to transform their memories into something positive and tangible. Knowing of her volunteer work on behalf of neglected and abused animals, they formed a non-profit that would provide emergency financial assistance to help keep pets happy, healthy and with their families.
"Karen's death threw us all for a loop," says Griggs. "But we soon realized that she would have been yelling at us if we kept moping around, and would be telling us to do something positive in her memory instead."
Karen Hartwig's mother concurs, and reflects on her daughter's loyalty and commitment to her friends, her community and to animals.
"Karen is dancing in heaven on this one," says Joan Hartwig. "I thought this was such a wonderful tribute to her. It's just amazing to see how her friends have bonded together to organize and continue to do the good work they've done."
The Karen Hartwig Foundation will hold its fifth annual Party for Paws fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 11, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Lansing Brewing Company, 1518 E. Shiawassee Street in Lansing. All proceeds benefit the foundation. Activities include live and silent auctions, chance and 50-50 raffles, and musical entertainment by Kathy Ford and the Halo Effect.
The Karen Hartwig Foundation was founded in 2012 by Karen Griggs, Kim Griggs, Tori Jahn, Jane Hoffmeyer and Melanie Zaremba. For more information visit www.karenhartwigfoundation.org.