By Tracy Ahrens
It was an idea that bobbed to the surface while trying to stay afloat financially.
“I’ll walk to Chicago,” Kendra Linder said during an epiphany preceded by uncontrollable crying. The manager of Cache Creek Animal Rescue, a no-kill shelter in Anna, Illinois, was at the shelter office talking to shelter director Donna Hawk.
“I remember Donna saying to me, ‘What in the hell are you talking about?’ I stopped crying and said that every step I would take would be dedicated to the animals we have saved and those we will save if we stay open,” Kendra said. “All of the doubt and hopelessness we were facing instantly left me.”
On February 11, 2013, with just six days of preparation, Kendra, 39, embarked on a 313-mile journey to walk solo from Anna to Shorewood, Illinois, where Cache Creek holds pet adoption fairs two to four times per month at Petco. Donations are being sought along the way during “March for a Miracle” as Kendra treks towards her goal of raising at least $60,000 to begin building a new shelter. As of February 27 the walk efforts had earned just $8,000, but Kendra has faith.
Four times Cache Creek Animal Rescue has flooded, February and March of 2008 and twice within 10 days during March of 2011. The shelter was built in 2004 on donated farmland at 1235 Spanish Bluff Road, and is flanked by creeks that flow to the Cache River. The shelter crew had no idea flooding would take place on the land.
“We know we will flood again and our buildings are already falling apart,” Kendra said. Being in a rural, impoverished part of the state, Cache Creek continually struggles for donations and earns most of its money through pet adoptions that take place at the Shorewood Petco.
Both women recall nights evacuating the shelter in waist-high, rushing, 30-degree water while catching small dogs that swam for safety. “It’s emotionally horrible,” Kendra said. “These animals deserve a shelter where they don’t have to swim. We are here to rescue them, not put them in a worse situation like flooding.”
So far, Kendra has walked anywhere from 4 to 14 miles per day up route 51 and worked her way over to Historic Route 66 to finish in Shorewood. Expected arrival is March 10 with a small reception at Petco. Donna is following Kendra in the shelter’s animal transport cargo van and posting event images to the Cache Creek Facebook page.
“I offered to walk a little for Kendra,” Donna, 58, said, “but I have a bad knee and Kendra is committed to walk by herself.”
Along the way, shelter supporters, including many strangers, have been donating miles they are walking elsewhere in honor of the cause. They share images of their pedometers and such on the shelter’s Facebook page. For example, students at Richard Ira Jones Middle School in Plainfield walked inside of their school and donated a total of 112 miles. All of these miles have been “banked,” Donna said and Kendra used approximately 100 in the middle of her journey. She is walking the last 88 miles beginning slightly north of Normal.
“Besides giving birth to my son, this is the most fulfilling and rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Kendra said, admitting that she’s not an athlete and noting that she celebrated her 40th birthday while walking. She received donated vitamins and “other healthy things,” she said, from Get Healthy For Life in Anna to help her stay fit during the journey.
Since both Kendra and Donna have family members that rely on them at home, they spent the first week with Kendra walking by day, then riding home in the van each night and returning to the last location the next day. As their distance increased, they’ve stayed in hotels overnight courtesy of donations.
Cache Creek was formerly known as St. Francis Care and with ownership reorganization it was renamed Cache Creek Animal Rescue in 2009. Kendra worked at the shelter in 2008, left for other endeavors and came back in 2009. Donna has been working there for nine years.
In 2012 the shelter rescued 1,026 cats and dogs and found homes for 90 percent of them, Donna said. The shelter houses close to 150 animals at any time. They take in abandoned pets from nine southern Illinois counties and most of the animals face physical challenges that cost more to manage. “We take in dogs with heartworm, senior dogs, and other pets with special needs that most shelters will not take,” she said.
Last year Cache Creek opened a low cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinic in a small home on three acres of land, 19 miles away from the shelter in Buncombe (6535 Lick Creek Road). This is where they wish to build their new shelter. In one year, their staff veterinarian, Dr. Nancy Kucera, DVM, spayed/neutered 3,000 pets. They also gave away 200 free pet spay/neuters for persons facing financial hardship.
Because few animals are adopted in Union County, whose population is about 17,000, Cache Creek searched for a more active adoption location. Donna followed the lead of another area animal rescue group that ventures to Vernon Hills for pet adoptions and finds new homes for many animals. She mapped out Petco stores in the Chicago suburbs, drove by several and stopped at the Shorewood Petco to visit with the store manager. The store was glad to host adoption events for them.
Two to four weekends per month, Donna and Kendra load a cargo van with dogs (dogs face less stress than cats during travel) and drive 313 miles one way. During one weekend they can find new homes for over 20 dogs. “Before our animals are adopted out, they are spayed or neutered, heartworm tested, microchipped and fully vetted,” Donna said. During adoption fair weekends, Donna stays overnight at a motel and the animals stay at Petco.
“Sometimes I cry while I’m walking because I start thinking about the animals,” Kendra said by phone before embarking on the last 88 miles of her journey Feb. 28. “I think about the special needs animals we helped and they found homes. I think about if Cache Creek has to close and how many animals will die. We have fought tooth and nail, with blood, sweat, and tears for the animals. I told Donna that I will resign if it will help the shelter save money and continue on.”
A shelter with the philosophy of never begging for donations, Kendra said they are now praying for a miracle. “I want the focus on the shelter right now. Once the word about this walk gets out to communities closer to Shorewood, we hope it will help us generate more funds.”
“We need to get our head above water financially,” Donna said, noting that some companies in their hometown have volunteered to help build a new facility and install electrical work. “We need at least $60,000 to pay off some bills and start pouring concrete for a new shelter.”
During this fund-raising endeavor, Kendra has been splashed with dirty water by passing cars, she has endured snow and sleet, and fought wind gusts that have blown her off of the road; nevertheless, memories of animals they have saved strengthen her to press forward. “The phrase ‘Have faith and I’ll show you’ keeps repeating in my head,” Kendra said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Cache Creek Animal Rescue, 1235 Spanish Bluff Road, Anna, Ill. 62906; 618-893-2500.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. See her web site at tracyahrens.weebly.com and add her book, “Raising My Furry Children” to your collection, raisingmyfurrychildren.weebly.com.