MECHANICSBURG – One man’s desire to leave a lasting legacy for dogs and cats in Champaign County is no longer just a concept outlined in a will, but an idea that’s quickly becoming a reality.
When Urbana resident Robert “Bob” Wetzell passed away at the age of 80 on Dec. 6, 2014, he left instructions in his will for a vast portion of his estate, roughly $3 million, to be used to create an animal welfare league in Champaign County.
“Bob was an animal lover who had pets all his life, including several rescue dogs,” said local attorney Ronald Tompkins, executor of Wetzell’s estate. “He was like Saint Francis in that he believed in harming no animals. He was just a very gentle and compassionate person, and I respected that.
“He was a bachelor and had no immediate family, so he felt leaving his estate to this cause was the best thing to do,” Tompkins added. “Bob greatly admired and appreciated the Clark County Animal Welfare League, and he wanted to emulate that here in Champaign County.”
With that in mind, this past February, Tompkins registered the Champaign County Animal Welfare League Inc. (CCAWL) as a nonprofit corporation operating under the mission, as written in Wetzell’s will, “to establish and operate an animal preserve, pet cemetery, dog training facility and rehabilitation home for unwanted pets.”
Board formed, property purchased
To get the animal welfare league off and rolling, Tompkins led the formation of the Champaign County Animal Welfare League Inc. Board.
“Right now the board currently has seven members, but we might expand to as many as 12 in the future,” Tompkins said. “I’m serving as president of the board temporarily to make sure Bob’s vision is accomplished.”
Wetzell’s vision called for the CCAWL to be located in a secluded part of the county, which is what the board set its sights on.
On July 20, the board purchased such a location at 3858 state Route 56 in rural Mechanicsburg at a cost of $660,000.
The 72-acre property, which runs south to Pisgah Road, contains two residential units – a cabin with 1,232 square feet of finished space and a barn-like structure with 2,250 square feet of finished space.
“The property just happened to come up for sale, and we jumped on it right away,” said Tiger Franks, who was chosen by the board to serve as the first CCAWL executive director. “It’s the perfect location because Bob wanted something that was secluded, and this has all of the aspects that he wanted. I think he would be very pleased.”
Franks, who is already a resident on the property having recently moved into the cabin, is no stranger to this line of work having co-founded Barely Used Pets in Urbana, where she served as shelter manager for five years before deciding to accept a role with the CCAWL.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this,” Franks said. “It’s an amazing legacy to leave such a wonderful gift. Bob knew what he wanted to do, and what he wanted to have done. He had a great love for animals, and he knew Champaign County had a need for something like this.”
Franks said Wetzell’s wishes were for the CCAWL to be modeled after the Animal Welfare League of Clark County since there are no rescue organizations in Champaign County on the same scale as it.
What will set the CCAWL apart from other rescue organizations in the county like PAWS, Franks said, is that not only will all services be located on one site, but many of the services aren’t offered anywhere else in the county.
“There is no place for dog training, education and awareness here in Champaign County,” she said. “There is no place where you can come to have a training session and learn how to handle a puppy that is crazy. There is also no place that children can come and learn dog safety and stuff like that.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.