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They started their lives malnourished and abandoned. Now these La Crosse dogs have the potential to help others.

Jackie and Bart are, in many ways, typical puppies: bouncy, spry and eager for attention.

But the disarmingly cute black lab mixes are destined for more than playing fetch and chasing squirrels — they will soon be changing lives.

Discovered by a police officer last fall shivering behind a garage in Juneau County, the five-week-old pair were malnourished and frightened when they arrived at Fun Fur Pets in La Crosse.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Will Thomas, a student from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, gives some loving attention to Bart, a Labrador retriever mix, while visiting Fun Fur Pets with fellow students. The students are trying to find foster homes for Bart and another lab so they can be trained as service dogs with Capable Canines.

Now six months old, the puppies are awaiting foster homes to help prepare them for Capable Canines, an organization that trains service dogs for individuals with autism, diabetes, seizure disorders or a physical disability. Since 1986, Capable Canines has placed more than 30 dogs with people in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. On average, a service dog will put in up to a decade of work before retiring.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Jackie is one of two black lab mix puppies, currently living at Fun Fur Pets, for which students at UW-L are trying to find a foster home.

Helping Fun Fur Pets owner Eve Zellmer find Bart and Jackie temporary homes are five UW-La Crosse students, who were tasked with assisting a local organization for a communications class.

Rebecca Sondrol, Adele Danner, Carly McGrath, Fritz Noelke and Will Thomas — all animal lovers — opted to create and hang flyers about fostering Jackie and Bart and make Facebook posts and videos on behalf of Capable Canines to help reach a new demographic of potential foster families, the organization’s current roster either booked or in need of a break.

Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

Jackie is one of two black lab mix puppies, currently living at Fun Fur Pets, for which students at UW-L are trying to find a foster home.

“We learned on average it takes three years to get an (assistance) dog, and that number really shocked us,” Danner said. “We wanted to see how we could help speed up that process.”

Coupled with some 6,000 hours of training with Capable Canines, the dogs will learn basic socialization skills and manners in their foster homes, becoming acquainted with loud noises like the vacuum cleaner and learning rules such as staying off the furniture and not stealing food off the counter, however tempting that unattended sandwich may be.

Foster owners will also introduce the dogs to public places, teaching them what behavior is expected during excursions and around strangers.

“Fostering really gives the dogs a sense of what home life is like,” says Sondrol, who fostered dogs with her family growing up. “You really start seeing their personality.”

Foster owners, who are provided food, toys, bedding and veterinary care for the dogs, along with free doggy daycare, will be responsible for bringing the dogs for training in obedience and distraction-ignoring skills at Fun Fur Pets.

Upon completion of canine good citizen and public access skill tests, the dogs will move in with a professional trainer who will assist with the transition of the dog to the recipient’s home.

“The fact that these dogs can do something besides just being dogs — helping someone else — is really cool,” Thomas said. “It’s cool to see where they came from and where they’ll be in the future.”

McGrath, who has a sister with a cognitive disability, notes a service dog is not just a resource but a built-in friend for a child who may otherwise have trouble fitting in at school or an adult with limited socialization opportunities. She already sees valuable qualities in both labs.

“Bart is really good at fetch, so he’d be helpful for someone in a wheelchair,” McGrath noted. “Jackie is really calm and sweet and would be good for someone with autism.”

It takes a special person, or family, to foster. Time, attentiveness and an appropriate home are essential, and candidates will be required to interview with Zellmer.

Growing attached is perhaps inevitable, but foster families can take comfort and pride in the service they are providing, and the potential they are helping the once homeless dogs reach.

“They came from nothing,” Noelke said. “And now they have the ability to have a purpose in life.”

For more information on fostering Bart or Jackie, contact Eve Zellmer at 608-622-7387.

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UW-La Crosse student says she's thrilled, honored to become a regent

Olivia Woodmansee is about to become the voice for nearly 200,000 students across the University of Wisconsin System.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers selected the UW-L sophomore to be the lone student representative on the Board of Regents, an 18-member body that oversees the system’s 13 universities and 13 branch campuses.

Her initial reaction was disbelief.

“I thought that this couldn’t be real. There’s no way this is happening to me,” said Woodmansee, a mathematics and English double-major. “Then I immediately began thinking about all the different things I’ll have to do, all the schools I’ll have to get in contact with.”

Woodmansee’s appointment came after a rigorous process.

First, she was interviewed and ultimately hand-picked by Benjamin O’Connell, UW-L’s student body president.

Then, she beat out candidates from the other UW campuses and gained the endorsement of the UW System Student Representatives.

Finally, she applied to Evers’ office and got the nod from the governor.

“I definitely was not expecting it,” she said. “I’m so overwhelmed by all the support I’ve gotten.”

Woodmansee, a native of New Glarus, said she will bring not just her own values and experiences to the board, but also those of the students she represents.

She plans to visit campuses across the system, so she can meet with students and listen to their concerns. She also wants to use social media and email to engage as many students as possible, she said.

Earning a seat on the Board of Regents is a logical next step for Woodmansee, who also serves on the Student Senate and Segregated University Fee Allocation Committee at UW-L.

Through this work, Woodmansee has gotten familiar with two issues she hopes to address while on the Board of Regents: fiscal responsibility and mental health.

“Fiscal responsibility is something I’m passionate about,” she said. “Not only saving students money, but making sure we spend money on things that students use and care about.”

Mental health, she said, is one of those worthwhile causes.

Since 2010, UW campus counseling centers have seen a 55% increase in student visits, underscoring the need for more resources, officials say.

Woodmansee was one of three Evers appointments to the Board of Regents on Wednesday. The governor also tapped Karen Walsh, a former journalist and UW-Madison dean, and Edmund Manydeeds III, a lawyer and former regent.

All three must be confirmed by the state Senate before they join the Board of Regents.

Woodmansee said she plans to visit the Capitol soon, in hopes of making a good impression with legislators.

“I want to let them know who I am and what issues are important to me,” she said.

Bills mount for city of La Crosse as Mississippi River flooding continues

The weather has been tough on the city of La Crosse utilities department so far this year.

The department has already spent nearly $100,000 on flood mitigation this spring, and that’s after spending weeks clearing ice from street corners.

“We got through the snow and ice that we had and clearing catch basins. On that Friday then we went right to the La Crosse River coming out of its banks,” said Jared Greeno, the city’s wastewater treatment general superintendent.

The next day, a Saturday, utility staffers were working overtime because the Mississippi River was starting to come up.

According to the National Weather Service, La Crosse has been in a flood warning since March 23 and the Mississippi River has been in flood stage continuously since March 26, which makes this week the sixth week of high water. Typically, the spring flood stage lasts two to four weeks.

“If we look back at some of the larger flood events in the recent history here, it’s been a little bit longer than those,” NWS meteorologist Logan Lee said.

This year marks the fifth highest the river has ever been, and the last 12 months have been the wettest ever recorded in Wisconsin, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’ve never been this high for this long ever before,” utilities manager Bernard Lenz said.


For the utilities department, high water means putting pumps throughout the city at strategic locations where they need to pump water and having staff members available 24/7 to keep those pumps working.

“We’ve put our staff through the test lately,” Greeno said.

The staff is out there fueling pumps, monitoring hoses, making sure they have oil and coolant at all hours of the day.

“When we’re out there, we’re making sure certain intersections aren’t showing water on the street,” Greeno said. “As soon as water comes on the street — you know, 6-8 inches — the phone is ringing.”

Keeping water out of the street is a priority for emergency vehicles, as well as avoiding an inconvenience for La Crosse residents. There’s also a potential for property damage.

“The fact that we’ve not had any issues really is a testament to all of the staff have been working on this,” La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat said. “We’ve got some cooperation from Mother Nature too, but obviously having the river level this high is an ongoing concern.”

It comes at a cost, however. The utility has paid $35,000 in labor, including $13,500 in overtime costs, plus $58,000 in equipment costs, for a total of $94,000 spent on keeping water out of the streets.

“There has just been a lot of water to deal with,” Lenz said.

Not included in that cost is the added costs at the wastewater treatment plant to treat river and ground water that infiltrates the system. Groundwater seeps into cracks or floor manholes into the sewage system or from illegal connections draining or pumping water into the sanitary sewers.

Typically, the plant handles about 11 million gallons of sewage per day, but the plant has been averaging 16 million gallons per day since the flood warning began and peaked at 20 million gallons per day.

“The river water and ground water that enters the sanitary sewer pipes gets mixed with the raw sewage, and it all has to be treated at the (wastewater treatment plant). There is a significant cost to treat that much ‘clean’ water,” Lenz said.

Not only is the flooding expensive to manage, it means the city’s stormwater utility has had to put off its state-mandated annual maintenance. That includes cleaning sanitary sewer mains, cleaning the sand and junk out of storm sewer catch basins and replacing worn or failing catch basins and manholes.

“That will impact our work for the rest of the year, and we’ll have to figure out how we’re going to get ahead of that work that we’re not getting done,” Greeno said.

That could lead to contracting that work out, Lenz said. The city needs to get that work done to meet the terms of its state-issued permits.

“Thankfully the cold, wet spring has delayed construction start times too, or this would be a bigger problem. But when construction gets going full and everyone is trying to catch up, we will have more crews on construction and less available to help us catch up on the sewer cleaning and catch-basin vacuuming,” Lenz said.

The city of La Crosse has also installed a temporary levee at Copeland Park that the engineering department is monitoring, and the parks department is monitoring flooding in Copeland, Riverside and Pettibone parks.

Thankfully, the end of flooding is in sight, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re expecting the river around La Crosse to fall below flood stage around Tuesday morning,” Lee said.

Pages of the past: La Crosse Tribune stories and photos from the Great Flood of 1965
Pages of the past: La Crosse Tribune stories and photos from the Great Flood of 1965