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"Guardian of the sanctuary"

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Read this article about this lady. What a saint.
Guardian of the sanctuary
She doesn't ask for them, but when unwanted or injured animals show up at her door, Joanne Milby provides a haven.
Register Staff Writer

Carlisle, Ia. - It's a warm autumn afternoon and the sun is just beginning to drop behind the trees when Joanne Milby emerges from her 30-year-old trailer home, tucks a case of canned cat food under one arm, and begins her rounds.

Heeeerrree, kittykittykitty.

Heeeerreeee, kittykittykitty.

The ringing trill of her voice, as it reverberates across the grassy expanse of her back yard and bounces into the woods beyond, conveys a sense of urgency.

Her steps, though, as she trudges toward the first scratched plastic bowl standing empty outside a well-worn shed, are unhurried.

Before she even pops the top of the first can, a crowd has begun to gather.

Cats and kittens of every description - black and white, tabbies and calicos, long- and short-haired, battle-scarred and baby-round, damaged and whole, wary and affectionate - glide like ghosts from under the bushes, behind the hay bales and across the gravel road in silent response to Milby's call.

She greets them each by name, scratches behind the ears of all within arm's reach, picks up a few of her favorites for a hug, then moves on to fill the next empty bowl.

As she continues her circuit around the yard, many of the cats - 73 in all - keep pace with her, crossing between her legs, walking underfoot, stalking her playfully through the grass.

Friends and fellow animal lovers call this 40 acres of land in rural Carlisle a sanctuary and Milby a saint and guardian angel.

For nearly a decade, the former nurse, 51, has made it her mission to rescue abandoned, injured and orphaned cats, dogs, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, horses, cattle, deer, geese, owls, squirrels, turkeys - even a falcon, a nighthawk and a turkey buzzard - providing them with her protection and care until the day they are released, adopted or die.

Her rewards for these efforts aren't easily visible. She works from sunrise until after sunset daily, emptying out litter boxes, scraping kennel floors, applying ointment to infected wounds and hauling donated food.

She lives in near poverty, her health is bad and she's painfully distanced from much of her family.

And every day more animals come.

What probably impresses - and sometimes infuriates - people most about Milby is that she doesn't seem to recognize that there are limits to what one person can do.

There's a time in everyone's life when they have to say enough.

Isn't there?


Milby never asked to become a guardian angel.

She was a working mom with maybe four dogs and as many cats until she moved to the country and the strays started trickling her way.

Most were dumped in the dark of night by city dwellers who likely patted themselves on the back for giving their hyperactive dog or litter-resistant cat a good home in the country instead of sending it to the shelter.

Milby would grow to despise those people as much as she would grow devoted to the often pitiful creatures they left in their wake.

She never knew what she'd come home or wake up to find: A dog tied to her bird feeder, a nearly dead puppy on her front porch, a little white kitten duct-taped into a cardboard box.

The worst was the 13 cats and kittens crammed into one cat carrier and left in her yard. When Milby discovered them, they were covered in urine and feces; fighting, crying and wailing. She bathed them, wormed them and fed them. Then she gave them all a home.

A warm woman who addresses almost everyone as "'sweetie," Milby quickly learned that she wasn't alone in her predicament. Animal dumping has been a major problem in rural areas for years, said Carol Clark, an animal control officer with the Kiya Koda Humane Society in Indianola, Ia.

She estimates as many as half the 1,200 or so animals that pass through the shelter annually have been dropped off in the country by their owners in the hope farmers will adopt them. Instead, the farmers call her, Clark said.

"Farmers have enough animals of their own," she said. "Dumping gets the owners off the hook, but it doesn't solve the problem."

Clark said a high percentage of animals that come through Kiya Koda eventually are adopted to new homes. It was the 10 percent to 20 percent that end up euthanized that troubled Milby.

She never made a decision to save every animal that came her way.

She just refused to pass any on to possible death.

These days, Milby takes in as many as 1,500 animals a year and her phone is always ringing with calls from people who have found a cat in a Dumpster, a dog tied to a vacant house or some other animal in sore need of salvation.

A young farmer recently brought her a bucketful of baby bunnies he'd rescued after mowing, a logger brought her a tiny baby squirrel found in a tree he'd chopped down and a pair of canoeists brought her a young fawn with a broken leg. It had fallen off a cliff at Ledges State Park.

Milby named the fawn Baby Boo and bottle-fed her for four months. When she ran errands, the fawn would jump in the car and ride along with her.

Finally Baby Boo got strong enough for surgery to insert a pin and fix its broken leg. The fawn seemed fine afterward, but died on the ride home in the front seat of Milby's car.

"She didn't even gasp," Milby said. "I looked over and she'd stopped breathing."

Milby has lost many animals before, so many that a shady grove on her property has become a pet cemetery. Usually, she doesn't grieve. There are exceptions.

She got back into the car and, with Baby Boo still beside her, drove to Loving Rest Pet Funeral Home in Indianola. There, she spent $160 she couldn't afford to buy a casket for the fawn. Later, friends helped her dig a grave with a backhoe and lay Baby Boo to rest under an apple tree with her baby blankets and toys.

Milby treats even unknown animals she finds dead along the road with similar dignity, burying them in her grove in homemade boxes.

"You don't just put them in the ground," she said.


Milby became a nurse only because becoming a veterinarian required too much schooling. She retired after 17 years and said she prefers caring for cats and dogs. Humans, she noted, can be arrogant.

Milby passed on her love of animals to her three sons.

She remembers one night getting ready to go to work when Christopher, her oldest, produced a squirming duffel bag and announced he had a new pet. It was a skunk. Milby had it de-scented, and Stomper lived with the family for eight years.

Milby pointed out the boys' senior pictures hanging in her living room. David had his taken with his horse; Brandon with his cat, Red.

That was in happier times. Her family has "kind of fallen apart," she said

"But I don't want to get into that," she added. "They have their own opinion about life and I have mine."

The subject of her husband, who no longer lives with her, Milby dismisses even more succinctly: "His habits weren't my habits, and his priorities weren't my priorities."

Now it's just her and the "kids" - 135 at last count. Because Milby lives outside the city limits, the animals are permitted as long as they remain on her property and are properly cared for.

The list includes 73 cats, 10 dogs, 17 ducks, two Canadian geese, six rabbits, a calf, seven horses, Roscoe the squirrel, who hangs out with Milby's six indoor cats, and a 73-pound raccoon named Bashful.

Milby normally cares for wild animals only until they can fend for themselves. Bashful, however, refuses to stay in the woods. He much prefers the safety of a stall in one of the sheds.

"He's scared to death out there," Milby said affectionately.

Milby's animals lead comfortable, even pampered, lives. The dogs are paired up in outside kennels (each with its own igloo-shaped house), the ducks and geese share another kennel and most of the cats bed down each night in two sheds heated by electric space heaters in winter and cooled by fans and a window air conditioner in the summer.

The cats are free to come and go except for a few that are caged for their own safety - the young kittens, injured cats like Ike, who was nearly ripped apart by a dog and has survived four surgeries, and anti-social cats like the sarcastically named Precious.

New arrivals are immediately quarantined, wormed, started on antibiotics if necessary, and fed. The next day, Milby takes them to the vet to be spayed or neutered.

Not surprisingly, Milby is a passionate advocate for population control in animals, even going so far as to catch feral cats with a net in an effort to stop them from reproducing. She can occasionally guilt-trip the owner of an unwanted animal into paying for the surgery. Usually, the cost comes out of her own pocket, with help from a few local humane organizations.

Milby's vet bills run about $1,000 a month, more than her $900 monthly income. To try to hold down costs, she treats minor ailments herself with the help of a tackle box packed with everything from ear drops to enemas.

Still, she said she owes her vet, Dr. Michael Anderson of Anderson Animal Clinic in Des Moines, some $3,000. In the past few months alone, she has called on him for help for two puppies with parvovirus, four cats with bad ear infections and two more with bad teeth.

That's not to mention Baby Boo and his broken leg, a sweet little kitten named Mariah with a heart murmur and several cats with cancer or crippling neurological disorders.

He has never turned her down, Milby said gratefully. Anderson said he's impressed by Milby's personal dedication to the animals she takes in and appreciates the burden she's assumed.

"Not to slight the other places, but I think she goes above and beyond in her efforts to take care of them," he said. "There will always be animals that need homes. Once someone has a place like this, it's a never-ending job."

Vet bills are just one expense. Milby goes through 100 pounds of dog food a week, 200 pounds of cat food, 80 pounds of cat litter, 10 pounds of rabbit food and 21/2 gallons of bird seed. Although area animal shelters and a local Iams distributor donate regularly, she still runs short sometimes.

The other day, she was down to her last four coffee cans of cat food. She was planning to drive around Avon Lake picking up pop cans to return for the nickel deposit when a stranger dropped off two big bags and a couple of cases of cat food.

"People wonder how I do it," Milby said. "Just put in there, I owe."

One of the few indulgences Milby still permits herself is Pepsi. She drinks six cans a day when she can afford it. It helps compensate for the sleep she misses when she has to get up every two hours to bottle-feed baby animals.

It also disguises the physical weakness she sometimes feels. Five years ago, Milby was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The effects of the chemotherapy and radiation used to fight the tumor are still visible in her thinning brown hair and damaged teeth, and she has undergone hundreds of blood transfusions because of hemorrhaging.

This summer has been especially trying for Milby. Her well has run dry repeatedly and she has had to rely on friends and neighbors to help her haul water. Also, she was without a car when one part after another broke down on her 1992 Chevy Lumina.

If it were not for the owner of a local gas station and a neighbor, she still wouldn't be on the road, she said.

This winter is unlikely to be easier. Cold weather means the dogs will start showing up in her yard; dogs that the owners can't afford to feed, dogs that are chained outside and won't stop howling in the cold wind.

Milby said it is getting harder to keep up with the sanctuary, but she refuses to consider whether her efforts are sustainable.

"When I don't have much strength, I go slower and work a little longer," she said. "When my finances have been exhausted, I make do, I spread the food a little thinner. This is something I have to do. I won't give up. I won't stop doing it."


It is easy to see how this place is a sanctuary for animals. Less obvious is the fact that it is also a sanctuary for Milby.

After the late afternoon feeding, she sits at one of the picnic tables in her back yard, in front of a giant stone fire pit, while cats and kittens climb all over her and play tag with each other around her.

Lance, a nearly blind orange-and-white cat, gets a gentle tap on the head as he wrestles with one of the kittens.

"Easy, Lancy," she said. "That's a little one. Not so rough."

Lance's bad eye is weepy again so Milby searches her pockets for a Kleenex. Not finding one, she gives up and wipes his eye clean on her shirt.

There are sacrifices, yes. The last time Milby was able to get away was six or seven years ago, when she spent two days at Adventureland Inn. She said she sometimes looks at all the animals around her and says, "Oh, my God."

She also said - and she means it - that she is thankful for the serenity they bring her.

Every night, she counts heads to make sure her "kids" have all made it back to the shed and goes out looking for any that are missing. Sometimes Jake, an orange kitten with back legs that don't work right, is so exhausted he just waits outside and cries until Milby comes and carries him home to bed.

Milby is just as protective when it comes to finding homes for the animals at the sanctuary. She has been soundly cursed by parents who she rejected after watching their out-of-control children chase the animals at the sanctuary.

Her caution comes from bitter experience. She once had a family adopt a kitten only to have them call a few days later seeking another. The kids had strapped the first in a Barbie car and it died going down the basement stairs.

Milby is hopeful this story will help some of her beloved "kids" find good homes. She's equally aware that it could lead to more unwanted animals being dropped on her doorstep.

Just spare her the excuses.

"I'm moving, I got divorced, there's always a story," she said wearily. "How do you throw away a pet you've had for years? "
post #2 of 5
I am deeply touched
post #3 of 5
Wow....what a woman.
I hope some more people step up to help her soon. Perhaps the article will help.
post #4 of 5
Is there any information on how to reach her? Maybe pet food companies would donate some product when they read her story.
post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 
at this number:

By MARY CHALLENDER Register Staff Writer 07/06/2002 Mount Pleasant, Ia. ... Reporter Mary Challender can be reached at (515) 284-8470 or. challenderm@news.dmreg.com. ...
desmoinesregister.com/news/stories/c4788998/18635204.html cached | more results from this site

If we contact her she might be able to help us get some information on helping.
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