When Wil J. Wellisch passed on November 19, his death went unnoticed by the world at large. No flags were lowered. No moment of silence was observed. But his passing has left a huge hole in the hearts of many animal rescuers across the country, who came to know Wil through his decades of devotion to all creatures, great and small, especially those of the canine persuasion. We all feel the loss of this wonderful, caring, humble man, who would probably scoff at the idea that so many have been affected by his passing. But rescue is family. So please, take just a moment, to remember or learn about Wil, a longtime link in the rescue family chain.
For 40 years, Wil was a resident of Denver, Colorado. He was a Professor at Metro State University. When he retired after teaching for decades, he was able to pursue his passion, saving dogs. According to the Colorado Animal Welfare organization, for almost 20 years, Wil fostered dogs for some of the big name organizations in Denver. Over the years he took more than 165 of them into his heart and home, and then sent most of them to their forever homes. Yet our Wil didn’t contain himself to helping the dogs just in his home state. Wil helped dogs from one end of the country to the other.
Those who knew of Wil were probably first contacted by him before Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter were ever utilized by rescue organizations. Wil was old-school, and pretty much stayed that way. He used emails and Yahoo groups to network dogs, putting his personal touch on each one. Though he was in Colorado, his crossposting network of rescues, shelters, fosters, transporters and potential adopters stretched from state to state. One of the earliest emails this Examiner still has on file from Wil is dated October 30, 2013, and is about a three-year-old black male pit bull named Black Jack, who, at the time, was a resident of Orange County Animal Services in Orlando, Florida. Wil wrote, “Can you or your crossposting contacts help Black Jack find the stable and loving home he so richly deserves?”
The next day, on the heels of that email, Wil passed around this email, “Great Update, a rescue group is taking Black Jack!” That was typical of Wil, always wanting to share whatever good news came his way. As those in rescue know, saves like these are few and far between. Crossposting is like shouting into the darkness, hoping someone, anyone, will hear and help. Most of the time it doesn’t happen. But sometimes it reaches the right ear.
Wil would go to great lengths to help those animals who seemed in to be in the most dire straits. On December 4, 2013, he circulated a flyer for a dog named Bolo, who had lived on the end of a chain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for eight long years. Even when he was the most distraught, reading about dogs like Bolo, Wil still held on to his politeness, his humane-ness. He wrote these words,
“Even in the world of shocking, disgusting, and utterly indefensible treatment of animals, this stands out. I feel so damned helpless. I want to apologize in advance for sending this out. On the one hand the dog deserves rescue and the public officials should be alerted to the harm caused by their policy. On the other hand some of you may not wish to receive such announcements so I am risking offending you by sending this out. Send the requested letters, etc. Perhaps you can accomplish thingz that the neighbors of the dog in Phillie have been unable to accomplish. Stay within the law but maintain an assertive stance. I count on many of you with whom I have worked to apply your ingenuity, courage and persistence. PLEASE SHARE .. perhaps one day this sweet boy, named BOLO, will be freed … from his current plight — look at the padlock on his chain!”
Wil tried to save Ace, a dog in a high kill shelter in Hollywood, FL. “We have about one day to save ACE. I’m hoping to shake some trees in an effort to find someone who can take this charmer in. Therefore I am posting widely. Otherwise there will be another inexcusable death.” Once in a while he turned to Facebook. He posted on a rescuer’s page about a former service dog, dumped in Elizabeththown, North Carolina, at the age of 14, now neglected, starved and partially blind. There were three Border Collies in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, scheduled to be taken by their owners to a high kill shelter there. Wil offered to take in one or two of them, if they could be transported to him in Colorado. That was an offer that our Wil made quite often, to pay for transport from impending death to a safe haven anywhere in the country. Our Wil opened not only his heart and his home to the dogs he knew, but also his purse strings to those he had never met.
Yes, Wil did have his own Facebook page, using it to post petitions against Whole Foods selling rabbit meat, saving the bees, the wombats, the whales, freeing lonely polar bears trapped in zoos in Argentina, and yes, even some to help children, people with ALS, the homeless, war veterans. Because most of his contacts never knew he had a Facebook page, he only has 48 friends listed. But the friends he had on his email list number in the hundreds.
And in May of this year, Wil reached out to those hundreds, again asking for their help. However, this time, it was far more personal. He politely asked everyone to unsubscribe him from their crossposting lists; at that point he had been receiving over 3,000 emails each day. And in Wil’s understated way, he told his friends, most of whom he had never met, that he had a medical issue, quite possibly terminal. After suffering from an increasing loss of hearing over the past few years, he finally had a CAT scan done, which revealed a tumor on the brain, possibly cancerous, and fast-growing.
Aside from some help around his home, and some transport help he might need, his primary concern was to find homes for his own family of dogs, two bonded pairs, and a senior gal named Trinity, of whom he said, “lets her presence be known by grumpy snarls, but is actually quite gentle.” He asked that he be surrounded by his canine family, Trinity, Butch and Bella, Mama and Shi Shi, until the time came when he could no longer care for them. And Wil, even though he received this dire health report, still took great pains to not hurt anyone’s feelings. In the same email, he wrote, “Please accept my apologies in advance. I am deliberately sending this out without hiding the names of recipients, a procedure I rarely use. This is done so that any recipient may reach out to others as I post my requests for volunteers to help.”
And help they did. Though he was operating on faith, he was able to find homes for the dogs, thank the doctors for their amazing care, and apologized once again for omitting anyone from his email list. The epitome of humble.
When the time came in early November for Wil to be transferred to Hospice care, the staff at Cedars Health Center in Lakewood, Colorado, became immersed in Wil’s world. Over the next weeks, his best friend, Penne McPhearson, spent much of her time reading the cards and emails sent to Wil from his rescue family, relaying phone conversations from people across the country. Wil was deeply touched by each and every communication he received.
On November 12, Penne let his friends know that he had a good day. Over 30 people visited Wil. The room was so crowded they had to bring in folding chairs. He was very alert, but in no pain. Wil was in “the window” a short period time when he was present and alert. Butch and Bella had spent some time at the hospice visiting Wil. Bella walked into his room, jumped on his bed and started snuggling with him. Butch enjoyed laying at his feet.
On November 19, they let us know Wil’s time had come. “It is 1 AM Denver time. Wil just left us. He is once again playing with Chance in a wonderful place where there are no tears.”
Nancy R. Benevento-Brown from Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary, Inc., wrote this lovely poem to honor our Wil:
There are no leashes where he is at,
no collars, no tags not even a hat.
He sits with the angels and all the furry friends
and tells them the story
of how some lives must end.
He tells all who surround him
How much he was loved
and passes it on to all playing above.
Of all of the people that rescued he knew
are now directly bonded to more than a few.
All because he helped them
and showed them the way.
And that is why he is there..
Today was the day…
So, together we helped him
gently climb up.. that high ridge.
Find peace in always knowing
“Wil is at the Bridge”
We know that when he reaches that Bridge, that all the dogs who passed on in homes where they were loved, instead of alone in shelters, due to the unceasing efforts of Wil Wellisch, will be there to greet him. For he is special… he is the heart of rescue.
Unbeknownst to most, Wil had a page on LinkedIn. He described himself as a ‘hermit, surrounded by furry-critters who smile.’ He listed his skills as ‘coffee-tasting connoisseur, fostering goofy dogz, singing off-key in the shower, driving six blocks without a road map, talking back to the radio, nodding and smiling without listening and tap dancing on ice skates’. His objective was to leave a print in cement.
Wil Wellisch, you left far more than that. You left your prints on hearts and minds. You touched our souls.
In lieu of flowers, Wil requests that donations be made to a rescue organization. His friends have provided a few below who were touched by Wil over the decades, with the page links provided in blue, but please feel free to donate to any rescue group you desire, in Wil’s memory.
There will be a celebration of Wil’s life this Sunday, December 6, at 10 AM at Olinger’s on 29th and Wadsworth. If you would like to attend and you are out of town, there is planning assistance available. The program is “Bereavement Travel Program” and the number is 800-224-4177. They have travel specialists available to help with travel arrangements from 8AM to 10PM Central Time. Let them know it is Olinger Crown Hill and the reference number is 2379. There is a wonderful slideshow provided by Olingers that celebrates Wil’s life; the link is here.
Thank you, Wil, for being the best friend to so many lost and lonely dogs. Your voice will never be forgotten.
Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary, Inc.
SEND YOUR DONATION TO:
2337 S. Linda Dr.
Marblehead, OH 43440
Legacy Humane Society
P.O. Box 2733
McKinney, TX 75070
Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue
4081 Swingle Rd.
Casper, WY 82604
Retriever Rescue of Colorado
Evergreen, CO 80437
CAWL – Colorado Animal Welfare League
200 S. Wilcox St., #122
Castle Rock, CO 80104
Golden Retriever Freedom Rescue, Inc.
PO Box 103130
Denver, CO 80250
Rangely Furry Friends
407 1/2 Bronco Rd.
Rangely, Co. 81648
RezDawg Rescue, Inc
PO Box 1556
Paonia, CO 81428
Sue in Dixon
139 Alder Springs Rd
I would love to be included on Wil’s Remembrance Day. I am not a licensed rescue but do lots of personal rescue in my area.
Will has moved on to the next and final step but his legacy will live on here on earth.