Giving Back

How one woman learned to say ‘kochaj mnie’ to Detroit’s stray dogs and cats

I recently stumbled across Tail Wagger’s at an area pet store where volunteers were providing low-cost vaccinations. What grabbed my attention was the line-up of more than 50 pet owners waiting their pet’s turn.

Dedicated to supporting animal welfare services in the metro Detroit area, Tail Wagger’s has helped raise thousands of dollars to prevent animal cruelty, provide vaccinations and emergency medical assistance and feed hungry strays.  It was founded by Laura Zain, a dedicated animal welfare advocate who followed in the footsteps of her aunt, Jean Polka.

Jean and her husband Ted owned Taddy’s Bar in Detroit’s West End on the corner of Lonyo and Radcliff. Out back of the bar was an old storage garage that served as a shelter for the 70 or so adopted strays she cared for and fed. Bingo, a shepherd-retriever mix, was the bar’s mascot. Jean often spoke to him in Polish.  Her favorite phrase was kochaj mnie (love me), and there were plenty of times you’d hear her ask Bingo for a kiss (daj mi buziaka).

Jean often talked about winning enough money so she could help fund local animal-welfare organizations that took care of needy animals. Unfortunately, she died suddenly in 1989 and never saw her dream come true.  A few days before she died Laura promised her aunt she would watch out for Jean’s strays.

Unfortunately, during the transfer to area shelters Bingo was misplaced and almost found himself on a list to be euthanized.  Fortunately, Laura arrived in time. She was able to find him in the over-crowded and under-funded shelter by calling out for him in Polish like Aunt Jean did so often … kochaj mnie. Laura and Bingo went home together that day and spent the remainder of his years together. Bingo lived to the ripe old age of 20.

Bingo The Dog Shortly after Jean’s passing, Laura organized a one-time neighborhood fundraiser in her aunt’s memory called the Tail Wagger’s Bowl. Sixty-two enthusiastic, animal friendly bowlers came together to help raise money to honor their friend and neighbor.  This coming November will mark the 23rd anniversary of that event.

The fundraisers are paying off. Most recently the organization moved into a new facility on Five Mile Road in the Harrison Square Plaza.  They currently have 25 active volunteers and focus their expertise and energies on providing needy families assistance with free pet food, emergency medical support and low-cost vaccinations.  They have also started a low-cost spay/neuter program.

Tie-Dye Tony is one of the organization’s regular animal friendly clients who live in the Brightmoor neighborhood. Tony has been helping neighbors in need by making regular visits to Tail Wagger’s where he picks up 300 to 400 pounds of foods per month.   He’s working to spread the word about the organization. Periodically a new visitor from Brightmoor shows up telling Laura and her team Tie-Dye Tony sent him or her over and he says hello.   Laura says she receives about 50 families per month looking for food for their pets and she’s happy to be able to help.

Laura has been recognized a Volunteer of the Year by the Michigan Humane Society and has appeared in several segments of Animal Cops Detroit, which aired on the Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet series.  The organization provides assistance to needy families throughout Wayne, Washtenaw, Oakland, Livingston and Macomb counties.

Jean would be thrilled to know Tail Wagger’s was created in her memory and that it is helping so many animals in need.

Laura and the Tail Wagger’s volunteers spend much of their time helping smaller grass roots animal rescue shelters throughout the area. If you think you know someone who needs help keeping their pet let them know about their animal friends at Tail Wagger’s.  Oftentimes the animals are the most helpless victims of natural disasters or tough economic times.


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