Collinsville Shelter Surviving After Donation Confusion
COLLINSVILLE, Oklahoma - Collinsville, Oklahoma, and Collinsville, Illinois, are about 400 miles apart. They don't have much in common besides their names, but last year, a big check left behind in a woman's will tied the two towns together, by mistake.
After it was all sorted out, Collinsville, Oklahoma, looked like the loser, but life's funny in ways we can never imagine, and in the end, things turned out pretty well after all.
Collinsville, Illinois, claims the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, while Collinsville, Oklahoma, has a beauty queen.
In Collinsville, Illinois, they grow most of the world's horseradish. In Collinsville, Oklahoma, they've got charming brick streets.
As different as the two towns are, they both have animal shelters, shelters whose budgets are always stretched thin.
“Everything costs money, everything here costs money,” said Susan Babbitt with Ward-Wiseman Animal Haven.
So last year, when Babbitt, who started the shelter in Oklahoma, heard from an Arizona law firm that she was in-line for a check for $189,000 from the estate of a deceased client, she was over-the-moon.
“And when that came we took it straight to the bank and put it in and I said we're not touching this until we know what we're gonna do,” she said.
Turns out they never got to touch it, despite their long list of needs and wants.
A few weeks later, that Arizona law firm called back and said they'd made a big mistake. The money was meant for Collinsville, Illinois, instead.
Babbitt said she was devastated; but the Collinsville, Illinois shelter had a different reaction.
“For us, we had no clue about it, just out of the blue kind of thing and we were very shocked and surprised and very happy,” said Jesse Parrack with the Collinsville, Illinois shelter.
Collinsville, Illinois, in suburban St. Louis, is the larger of the two, with over a thousand cats and dogs cycling through every year.
With that almost $200,000, they've been able to set up their own spay and neuter clinic, upgrade the computers, put up some new containment fencing, blacktop the parking lot and fix a leaky roof, and there's painting to do.
“This is one of the things we'll be spending the money on, as you see the paint, which is an epoxy paint, has started chipping off the wall so that all needs to be redone so we can properly sanitize everything,” Parrack said.
Collinsville, Illinois, is my hometown, so when I heard about their money mix-up with our Oklahoma Collinsville, I suggested we tell the story, after that, I called the St. Louis newspaper, the Post-Dispatch, and suggested they do the same.
5/12/2013 Related Story: Collinsville Animal Shelter Reaps Rewards After Donation Goof
Just like that, the floodgates opened for Babbitt and her shelter here in Tulsa County.
“We got calls from all over the United States, from the Bronx to San Diego and everywhere in between,” she said.
Many of those calls came with cash, $87,000 in donations in fact, which has allowed them to remain open over the past year, because when they had to send the big check back, they were one month from going broke, and closing.
Unlike its Illinois counterpart, Collinsville, Oklahoma, doesn't support its shelter with city money, and because Babbitt refuses to ever kill any of the animals, the cost of food, litter, medicine, spaying and neutering and just keeping the building standing is a constant, grinding, undertaking, even with all the sympathy donations.
“And if we went this year with no fundraisers we would have nothing left this time next year,” she said.
Still, this year, both Collinsville's came out winners. Both shelters have been made a bit nicer and both have set some cash aside for rainy days to come.
“We're gonna safeguard that fund, we're gonna make sure we're financially responsible, that we're good stewards of that money,” said Lieutenant Eric Zaber with Collinsville, Illinois police.
In Tulsa County, Babbitt said the whole experience has built a strong camaraderie among her little band of part-timers and volunteers.
Though it was lawyers who initially broke her heart this time, she's not washed her hands of law firms altogether.
“We have had several people say, ‘you know, we have left you in our wills, but we're not dead yet,” Babbitt said.
Her shelter has set aside some of the donations in a savings account, but a shelter never makes money, only spends it, and as Babbitt said, they'll be out of money this time next year without more fundraisers.