Donna Wambeke, president of Heartland Animal Rescue Team, remembers the first time she met HART founder Vicki Peterson in 1987.
Peterson was sitting alone at a card table in the Westgate Mall, passing out pamphlets about the newly formed humane society and information on the importance of spaying and neutering pets. She talked Wambeke into becoming a foster home for unwanted dogs and puppies while Vicki and Paul Peterson took in cats. The Petersons even tore up the carpet in a basement bedroom just so that Vicki could install several cat kennels. HART later moved into a rented space on Washington Street and then in 1992 HART moved into its current facility in Baxter.
"She was a real advocate," said Wambeke.
Peterson, who throughout her life was passionate about animal welfare, died April 16 at age 51 from complications of a genetic disease of the liver and lung. She had a lung transplant 10 years ago because of the disease and a month before her death she underwent a kidney transplant.
Now Peterson's family and friends have started a fund to carry on her mission that all animals adopted through HART be spayed and neutered before they leave the shelter.
"It was something she wanted," explained Wambeke. "It was one of her wishes that there be money available for spaying and neutering and education. It was something she talked about before she died."
And thus began the Vicki Fund at HART, a fund that is used to spay and neuter animals at the shelter on a case-by-case basis. It costs an average of $90 to spay or neuter an animal.
Wambeke said once Vicki paid hundreds of dollars for a dog that had obviously been overbred, just to get the dog away from its owner. She then surrendered the dog to the humane society for adoption. There were many times she would throw herself in front of a cage, protesting if an animal was scheduled to be euthanized when she believed it was adoptable, said Wambeke.
Paul Peterson, in his letter to HART members, said Vicki was very sick because of her illness when she started HART, but she didn't let that stop her.
"I remember that the first time we drove into the shelter parking lot at its present location and saw the sign out front, Vicki cried," said Paul Peterson in his letter. "Here was visible proof that this would last. You see, she never thought she'd get to see what she started reach that stage.
"In her last days, I promised Vicki that I'd find a way to see that people wouldn't forget her. If she could see the Vicki Fund become a reality, I think she'd probably cry again."
Peterson said HART members will receive a letter requesting donations for the Vicki Fund each Jan. 30, which is his late wife's birthday.
"I don't think HART will ever forget her," said Wambeke.
To make a donation to the Vicki Fund, send donations to Heartland Animal Rescue Team, P.O. Box 2612, Baxter, MN 56425-2612. For more information, call HART at 829-4141.
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