After leading revival of the La Porte County Small Animal Shelter, Jane Bernard to retire after 31 years

 

 

La Porte County Small Animal Shelter Executive Director Jane Bernard outside the shelter with two of her own best pals, Addie and Scout. (Feb. 5, 2021, WNLP photo by Bob Wellinski)

EDITOR’S NOTE: La Porte County Small Animal Shelter Executive Director Jane Bernard announced her retirement to county officials Feb. 4, 2021, after a remarkable 31 years in that often heartbreaking, often heartwarming, job. Jane readily shares her success with her shelter team, county officials, animal control advisory board and community members in transforming the shelter from a dirty and allegedly criminally-involved hovel into a bright, clean, inviting refuge for temporarily homeless animals, complete with its own animal surgery clinic. But we and many others would contend that Jane is the one who provided the face, the personality and the amazing dedication that has resurrected the shelter into a gleaming success. Jane came to La Porte from Wisconsin and married her beloved Roger Bernard, a retired La Porte County sheriff’s deputy, in 2000. Roger died suddenly in 2017. She now looks toward new chapters in her life with her fiance Dan Spoor; her two dogs, two donkeys and cat; and other roles she has yet to meet. WNLP’s Beth Boardman and Bob Wellinski, both great fans of Jane’s during her 3-decade tenure, met with her the day after she announced her retirement to share a heart-to-heart Q&A:

Q: Why?

A: 31 years is a long time. It’s bittersweet; it’s been in the works for the past year. And it’s time for me to take on my next chapter of life. 

Q: Do you know what that’s going to be?

A: Enjoying life. I’m going to be 60. Thirty-one years is a long time and I think I’ve been passionate about this job, and every night taking it home; many nights not being able to sleep because I’m worrying about whatever.

Q: When you took the job, were you already here (La Porte, after coming from Wisconsin)? 

A: I was already here; I was working for (veterinarian) Dr. Heinold at his office. I heard that bad things were happening out here (at the shelter). And (county officials) wanted somebody to come in and turn things around. And it just was in my blood, you know?

Q: Why was it in your blood?

A: Because I’ve always had a passion for animals and I thought, “This would be a really cool challenge.” Not realizing what I was getting myself into. And the more I was here it became … I mean, this has been my life. I have been married to this job for 31 years. But you know, Roger passed away and that was just kind of an eye opener. There are many times that I would have to come (to the shelter) for something and miss out on whatever. It was just what the job demanded.

Q: You said you were always an animal lover. Did you have animals in Wisconsin?

A: We just had a dog, but of course I brought home every … I can remember sneaking rabbits up into my bedroom. I found a rabbit hole and snuck these wild bunnies into my room and I think one got loose. So I had to tell my mom … she was ticked! 

Q: What did it look like here (at the shelter) when you started?

A: Sad. The paint was peeling, there were cockroaches falling from the ceiling … I mean, it was horrendous. There was no record keeping. Just not a good environment for animals to be housed.

Q: And what, about one-third the size it is now?

A: Yes. We have grown leaps and bounds. And we’re sitting in this. (Editor’s note: the interview took place in the shelter’s VIrginia and Delbert Stevens Treatment Center.) Who gets to have basically a veterinary clinic attached to their shelter? Not a lot in Indiana. I mean, it’s a thing now that’s happening in Indiana, but we are so fortunate. La Porte County residents don’t realize how lucky we are to have a shelter that has this, and every single animal that comes through our door gets treatment.

Q: Did the Stevens specify that this was what they wanted?

The Virginia and Delbert Stevens Treatment Center at the shelter was dedicated in 2014. (WNLP photo)

A: No. The Stevens stated that (their donation) had to go into a foundation. (After 2 years, county officials decided the money would go into a Unity Foundation fund for the shelter so it could be managed and grown.) And then (Stevens) family representatives came here and said, “You’re getting $1,400,000.” They came and did a walk-through and said, “What’s your dream?” I said, “We would love to have a spay/neuter clinic. It just makes perfect sense.” That obviously was the key to our pet overpopulation problem: to have fewer homeless puppies and kittens being born. So they said, “Go for it; you can have the $400,000; the million will be invested.” So we got Larson-Danielson as our contractor, told them what we wanted, and this is what we have.”

Q: So you were responsible for recommending the clinic.

A: It was Del and Virginia; without them this never would have happened. And throughout my time, it was not just me. I’m so fortunate in this job. (She thanks the majority of the La Porte County commissioners and council members with whom she worked.) You know, you’d go before them and ask for money and they never, ever told me no. Never. They questioned me, but they always voted yes.

Q: (Jane is asked about her remarkably devoted staff)

Jane works her magic to arrange a passel of pups on Santa’s lap during the shelter’s Pet Photos with Santa fundraiser in 2013. (WNLP photo)

A: Eric (Hayes) has been here 18 years, Christy (Satoski) has been here 17 years, Amy (Boyd) has been here off and on since I started. (and she mentions other devoted staff members Pat Grieger and Val Ward, as well as Deb Vliestra, who was assistant director for 17 years before her retirement in 2017, and countless volunteers.) This is a burnout job. It’s not for the majority. It’s not glamorous, it’s sad, it’s trying, it’s day in and day out dealing with people who throw away animals. So it’s for somebody who wants the reward of saving an animal. And the staff are truly animal saviors. It’s unheard of to have staff stay with you for that length of time. When I tell people that I haven’t had to hire an employee in how long, they’re like, “What? We get turnover every week.” And they’ve stayed. They’ve all been just amazing. So it is because of everybody else’s success around me that has made me successful. We have a shelter in our community that everybody should be really proud of because everybody has played a role in it.

Q: Over your time here I know you’ve been involved in some trials, hearings, you’ve testified — have they been generally successful?

A: Yes. In fact the one case that will haunt me forever: We impounded 100 animals where the owner was, to put it nicely, just not a kind person. And there were horses involved and 5 days in, one of the horses died. It took two years to go to trial and it was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. But we won in the end, so that made it all worthwhile.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that we don’t just sit here. We go out and check on animals. (Originally) the three people here didn’t have the paperwork, they didn’t have computers; it was just taking care of the animals here; that was basically it. And then as the years went on, we implemented so many new programs; we got new computers. Record keeping. A shelter with a program that keeps track of the animals that are here. But we still didn’t hire anybody (because of limited funds). So when I come in in the morning I’m down in the trenches cleaning out the cages just like everybody else. Being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that was the worst. The pager would go off at midnight because someone was drinking and driving and you had to go take their pet because their pet was with them. Or a car accident, or an animal that’s attacked somebody. And these guys (staff members) are the same way. It’s not a sit-behind-the-desk-type job; it is a hands-on job.

I think the worst call that I responded to was on New Year’s Eve Day, 2017. It was 11 p.m. and the page came through and it was to call an officer; he was on scene and a donkey had been shot. It was a boyfriend-girlfriend domestic. And to get back at his girlfriend, he shot the donkey in the head. So driving up there, all these thoughts: We need to get a veterinarian there; how are we going to transport it? And of course it was cold. I pulled up, and the officers said, “He didn’t make it.” And then five days later, (her husband) Roger died.

The hardest thing about this job is that for 31 years, the weight has been on my shoulders. Trying to keep a neighbor from calling the commissioners because another neighbor’s dog was running loose, and complaining that we weren’t doing enough. Going to bed at night during the polar vortex two years ago and worrying. Christy and I were out from 6 to 10 at night going around to places that we knew had outside animals because we wanted to make sure they were inside. We impounded several dogs that night. We dressed for it, but trying to get those dogs unhooked from their chains – five minutes out there and you couldn’t move your fingers. So can you imagine what these animals were having to face?

Q: (The positives)

A: What I’m focusing on right now is all the friendships that I made because of this job, all the contacts because of people who come in and see me, people who bring us donations, people who come in and ask to speak to me specifically. I’ve grown these relationships that I think will last the rest of my life. Like I said, it’s bittersweet. There are so many bad calls, but there are so many good aspects of my job, too, and that’s what I’m focusing on.

Q: Will you still be a presence here? Would you serve on the county animal control board?

A: I will be available to help, I’ve told the commissioners. (She doesn’t know if they’ll necessarily ask her to be on the control board, and she understands that.) I’ll help out however I can. I’ve taken it this far; now the next person hopefully can continue and take it to the next level. 

Q: I’m sure there are thousands, but tell me one good story. One happy ending.

A: Oh my gosh, there are so many. But the most recent one is a dog that got adopted just within the last six months. When he came in, he was as shy as shy could be; we didn’t think this dog was going to get adopted. And the more we spent time with it … Pat (Grieger) really took the dog under his wing. He is the best when it comes to bonding with an animal. And the dog ended up getting adopted. And this dog adores (his adopters). And they bring it back to visit. And it’s cool to see that we played a part in finding that dog its forever home.

And the whole Pet Photos with Santa thing. That’s 27, 28 years in the running. And every year it’s seeing animals that have been adopted. We look forward to Pet Photos with Santa because we get updates on everybody. And all these people come because their pets are part of their families now.

Q: Will you still go to Pet Photos just for fun, and bring your pets?

A: Oh, sure. You never know what I might bring to those. And if they need the help, maybe I’ll help out.

Q: Well, you’ve got to make those noises (to make the pets pose for the camera). Nobody makes those noises like you do. They’re otherworldly.

 A: (Laughs) That’s what I’m going to be remembered for!

The big tortoise that was left in one of the shelter’s drop-off kennels in 2013 soon found a home at the Washington Park Zoo in Michigan City, thanks to efforts by shelter (shell-ter?) and zoo personnel.

Q: You’ve taken in some weird animals. I remember you had a tortoise one time.

A: Yes! A huge tortoise left out in the back. It’s still at the Michigan City zoo. (We arrived one morning to discover it in a drop-off kennel) and I’m like, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” We’ve had hedgehogs, snakes — you name it, we’ve had it. Chickens, sheep, miniature ponies; we’ve had to pick them up when they were out running loose. We’ve impounded goldfish. We had a tarantula; that was abandoned at a house; somebody took off and left it in the house. We sent it to the zoo.   

Q: So you’re going home to Dan. And how many donkeys?

A: Two: Winnie and Joey. Everybody says they’re like potato chips; you get one, and you know … 

Q: Are they social in that they’re happier when you have more than one?

A: Oh, absolutely. And they’re like big dogs; they’ll come and take your tools, your gloves … 

Q: And then you have:

A: I have two dogs (Golden Retrievers), Scout and Addie, and then I have a cat named Cleo.

Q: Besides taking care of your animals, what do you plan to do as far as fun or hobbies?

A: (Dan and I) play pickleball. There are a couple of different groups that play during the week. So I’m hoping to play a lot more pickleball. And I love to walk, and Dan loves to walk. I’m not a sit-at-home type person. I want to volunteer somewhere; I don’t know where, what, but I want to do something worthwhile. 

A happy ending that occurs just about every day at the shelter: Spike the kitty goes home with his new family Feb. 8, 2021. (Shelter photo)

Q: (Reactions to her announced retirement so far)

A: That’s so special that people are saying “You can’t leave.” They posted my job description to say the job was open and the phone was ringing off the wall and my phone is going off with text messages: “Say it isn’t so” and “nobody is going to do it like you did it.” But somebody will do it better. But it just made me feel like, “Wow, maybe I did do OK here.”

Q: You have to know how well you did.

A: If I can tell you to take anything away from this, it’s that this has not been just my journey. This has been a village, and La Porte County is an awesome village. And I succeeded because a lot of people came behind me. Not a lot of people get to say that they love their job every single day coming to work, even though there were terrible days. I still love coming to work. And I just hope that I made an impact on the community.

Please visit the La Porte County Small Animal Shelter, make a donation, and visit its Facebook page to view animals available for adoption as well as happy tales (tails?) of animals that have found new homes: 

La Porte County Small Animal Shelter | Facebook

42 Responses to “After leading revival of the La Porte County Small Animal Shelter, Jane Bernard to retire after 31 years”

  1. Lynn Lisarelli

    Feb 09. 2021

    Oh, Jane, you did indeed make such a HUGE impact here! I will sorely miss seeing your bright blue eyes, but I wish you so wonderfully well in your retirement.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Lew Kyes

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane, thank you for everything you’ve done for so many animals in our county! You’ve done miracles and all the critters and people should be forever grateful. You will be missed but never forgotten! Enjoy your retirement, you deserve it. Hope to see you around from time to time.

    Reply to this comment
    • Kris Pate

      Feb 10. 2021

      You will be deeply missed! Thank you for your commitment to building a better place and a better future for animals of all kinds. Enjoy retirement!

      Reply to this comment
      • Andrea Smith

        Feb 14. 2021

        Jane you will be missed but your legacy will live on. Thank you for helping all of those who don’t have voices only barks, meows, etc.

        Missy, who we adopted from the shelter, has been such an amazing dog. We are blessed to have her in our lives and you introduced us to her. Enjoy the next chapter of your life!

        Reply to this comment
  3. Wendy Blair

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane, so happy for you in the next chapter of your life. The county will miss you. Miss seeing you!! Love and best wishes in your retirement!!!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Pat Blaker

    Feb 09. 2021

    Congratulations Jane! You have certainly earned your retirement! Enjoy your new chapter in life! It is wonderful! Thank you for making a difference and taking care of all of the animals and the community. You will never be forgotten!

    Reply to this comment
  5. Ann Klosinski

    Feb 09. 2021

    My family has benefitted from the services of the animal shelter, from adopting a pet to helping with a neighbor’s animal hoarding situation. Thank you! What a wise and wonderful person you are.
    It’s no wonder your co-workers are dedicated long term employees: (Quoting you)” So it is because of everybody else’s success around me that has made me successful.” Happy retirement.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Julie Euler

    Feb 09. 2021

    Good for you Jane! I’m happy for you! You’re leaving some big shoes to be filled there and I hope they get someone in there that cares as much as you do. Best wishes for a long and happy retirement!

    Reply to this comment
  7. Mary Hiigli

    Feb 09. 2021

    Dear Jane. I’m very happy for you, you certainly deserve this retirement, but you will be sorely missed. You and your group are such wonderful advocates for so many animals.
    Thank you for all you have done and best wishes.
    Mary and Carl

    Reply to this comment
  8. Christel Bublitz

    Feb 09. 2021

    CONGRATULATIONS JANE!

    Here’s to 31 years! What a heartwarming writeup on such a big hearted lady. ❤️ So happy for you. See you on the pickleball court soon!

    Reply to this comment
  9. Geri Riley

    Feb 09. 2021

    THANK YOU!!!! I got my beautiful Zooey kittie there and she was so well cared for until my friend could get her for me and bring her to Carmel. And congratulations to my old classmate Dan. Congratulations on your retirement, Jane, and may your next 40 years be your best.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Billy Lawrence

    Feb 09. 2021

    Hey Jane this is Billy congratulations on your retirement I’m going to miss you thank you for everything you’ve done for me you are the best you’ve been a good friend to me I’m going to miss you a lot thank you so much Marley thanks you too

    Reply to this comment
  11. Jackie Altizer

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane you are the best! Seeing the shelter develop over the years with your leadership and dedication is inspiring! Thank you for your love and commitment to a job that is not for the weak of heart. God bless you and your future ! Much love!

    Reply to this comment
    • David & Renee Johnson

      Feb 09. 2021

      Jane – Thank you so much for all you’ve done and all you have been for the Small AnimAl Shelter. Del & Virginia would be so proud of what you accomplished with their gift – Dave & Renee Johnson

      Reply to this comment
      • Kathy Stransky

        Feb 09. 2021

        Thank you Jane for e verything you have done for the pets and people of LaPorte County. You are an inspiration and leave big shoes to fill. Always gracious and forthcoming about the pets. You are leaving giant shoes to fill. Not good bye but rather we will see you again soon, maybe notbehind a counter or near a kennel, but soon.

        Reply to this comment
      • Patti Jo Ham

        Feb 09. 2021

        Jane you and your staff made volunteering there feel amazing! We felt like part of the crew! Sad we couldn’t be there before you left. Going to be some huge shoes to fill. The animals and people will miss you terribly

        Reply to this comment
  12. Jay Tenuta

    Feb 09. 2021

    BEST OF LUCK IN YOUR RETIREMENT !!!

    Reply to this comment
  13. Cheryl Highsmith

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane!!!
    Congratulations on your retirement!! I hate that you are leaving, you are one of the best people I have ever met!! Please, stay around and help when you can!!
    Enjoy retirement, you deserve nothing but the best in life!!
    Love,
    Cheryl

    Reply to this comment
  14. Jan John Weiss

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane, thank you for your undying service. Won’t be the same without you.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Bob Goethals

    Feb 09. 2021

    Thank you Jane for your hard work and dedication the last 31 years. I always enjoyed talking with and helping you when I was the County Parks Maintenance Supervisor. Enjoy your retirement!

    Reply to this comment
  16. Terry Scherer

    Feb 09. 2021

    Congratulations on your retirement, Jane. You well deserve it. A very well written article on you also. I remember what the shelter was like before you took it over. It was atrocious! Your love for animals was well demonstrated in your career with the Shelter. May the Lord bless you in the next chapter of your life for how lovingly you watched over the creatures He blessed us with. It doesn’t surprise me that you have 2 Golden Retrievers(I have one..Sasha). They love life! Good luck again and congratulations!

    Reply to this comment
  17. LaVerne and Lois Korell

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane , congratulation on your we’ll earned
    retirement ! You are a special lady and will surely be missed !
    Enjoy your next adventure!!

    Reply to this comment
  18. Steve Mott

    Feb 09. 2021

    Thank you for all you have done enjoy your retirement you earned it

    Reply to this comment
    • Sherri Christopher

      Feb 11. 2021

      Congratulations Jane, You truly have been my hero. You believed in Me and the Guardians and helped us get started. Our very 1st dog was a Big Fluffy Husky named Edgar. Many others followed him. You have always been been there for me, even when it was a cold Christmas night , and I had to call you about a little puppy that was found. He became the Michigan City puppy that everybody loves. known as Chances Christmas.Your love and passion for what you do shines bright. I remember when I first met you and you talked about the goals of the shelter. The passion that you had for saving lives was amazing. I’m so blessed to know you, and I wish you many many happy days in retirement. With love always Sherri.

      Reply to this comment
  19. Karen & jack Stroh

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane, you’ve been such a BLESSING to our community and numerous animals. Thank you so much. Wishing you the best as you move on. ❤️

    Reply to this comment
  20. Chris Fronk

    Feb 09. 2021

    Congrats, Jane! You’ve done so much so well for so long you’ll be missed SO badly! You’ve earned a change twice over. Best wishes.

    Reply to this comment
  21. Mike (& Jen) McFerron

    Feb 09. 2021

    Congratulations! & best of luck going forward. Wish you and Dan all the best.

    Reply to this comment
  22. Sandy Dorrian

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane -Thanks so much for your dedication to helping animals. Our Teddy and Joey came through you and have blessed us with so much love. Now it’s time for you to focus on yourself. Enjoy your “me” time after giving so much to others. We wish you much happiness and the best of luck wherever your life takes you!

    Sandy & Jeff Dorrian and animals

    Reply to this comment
  23. Michael Kessler

    Feb 09. 2021

    Congrats Jane! You helped our family for so many years adopt furry friends and many times helped when we brought injured animals. What a legacy of care and concern. My Mom and Dad had such respect for you and your work.

    Reply to this comment
  24. Ed & Carol Francis Sr.

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane you will be missed by all who have come to know you and all the animals you’ve fostered and saved!! We wish you the very best in your new adventures!!
    Ed & Carol & Sandy

    Reply to this comment
  25. Susan Boyd

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane, congratulations! If not for you and your wonderful staff, I would not have had the joys of life over the years, my cats. Thank you for raising awareness of anti-cruelty, spay/neuter, adoption and all of the other wonderful programs you instituted.
    Best wishes for your new life adventures!

    Reply to this comment
  26. Linda Strain

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane thank you for your wonderful work. You have brought such good leadership to the shelter. You have made a difference for hundreds of animals. Two of our beloved pets have come from that shelter. You have served in this capacity with integrity and commitment for the welfare of animals. Thanks so much for your heart and very hard work.

    Reply to this comment
  27. John Erickson

    Feb 09. 2021

    Jane, you are the best. Our community will miss you. I wish you a long and happy retirement.

    Reply to this comment
  28. Julie Roesler

    Feb 10. 2021

    Jane, Thank you so much for helping the animals. Even though many people don’t know you, your work hasn’t gone unseen and you are much appreciated.

    Reply to this comment
  29. Ken & Judy Buss

    Feb 10. 2021

    Have a nice retirement, Jane! It was always a pleasure to work with you on projects at the shelter. You did an amazing job!

    Reply to this comment
  30. Jen Bye

    Feb 10. 2021

    Jane is AMAZING!!! Congratulations on retirement. Well deserved!!

    Reply to this comment
  31. Steve King

    Feb 10. 2021

    Always the animal shelter will be your lengthening shadow. Your
    remarkable record of compassionate public service has been La Porte county’s blessing. Thank you. See you around!

    Reply to this comment
  32. Sandra Provan

    Feb 10. 2021

    Congratulations, Jane, enjoy your retirement!

    Reply to this comment
    • Cynthia Baker

      Feb 10. 2021

      Jane, Thank you for all that you’ve done for the animals. 31 years! Enjoy your retirement.

      Reply to this comment
  33. Jim and Sherry Wilke

    Feb 10. 2021

    A mountain of Kudos for your dedication and vision to make the small animal shelter a shining star in our community. Its astonishing to me that people can just abandon a pet. So grateful that you were there for all those that needed help.

    Reply to this comment
  34. Jeremy Sobecki

    Feb 11. 2021

    Thanks for everything Jane. You have been wonderful to work with! I hope you enjoy your retirement.

    Reply to this comment
  35. Chris Levandoski

    Feb 11. 2021

    Omg Jane Congratulations!. You so deserve this. You were a wonderful ,caring, loving lady to have at the aniimal shelter. Nothing but the best . You will be greatly missed.. Tell Dan I said hi. I know Dan and you have a great guy there. Congratulations and Happy Retirement . Enjoy.yourself.

    Reply to this comment

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