Alumni Interview: Gayle G. Magnuson
You wouldn’t know it, but right now, I’ve got 65 animals living with me. I’ve got a couple of dogs up here and eight cats; the rest are all in four very spacious basement rooms. There are maybe 30 “lifers”—feral moms or ones too old or handicapped to put up for adoption. That black cat there is blind. Can you believe it? She can spot a bug on the wall better than you or me.
I started Gayle’s Rescue Shelter six years ago. For 30 years, I was a social worker at Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Ill. I don’t like suffering for children, and I don’t like suffering for animals. The goal of rescue work—first and foremost—is providing the animal with vet care and a great home. It’s also important to trap outdoor cats to prevent overpopulation. You want to neuter and spay cats. That stray cat is going to make kittens that will get eaten by hawks and coyotes, which is a pretty awful death. I also rescue a few small dogs. Our goal is to place those two little guys you saw out front with a couple who can afford them, get them on leashes, feed them well and get them to a veterinarian. If you’re in a lower-income community, you can’t always afford that care. Things get rough and you’re evicted, so you open the door and just let the pets out.
After I started rescuing animals, I morphed from bringing in 100 percent dogs to cats and kittens because the puppies ate the furniture. They ate everything. Still, the work is overwhelming—I’m not going to kid you—but I’m incredibly blessed to do it. It’s what I was meant to do. I have two nurses who come in, and I go to the U of I Small Animal Clinic, which is a wonderful place. Even so, running a shelter isn’t for the faint-hearted or for folks without some means. Last year, I had a young cat that had a fast-growing tumor on her spine. By the time I was done with blood work, scans and an operation, I’d spent $5,000—and the tumor turned out noncancerous. Did I regret spending the money? Of course not. You can’t.
“The work is overwhelming—I’m not going to kid you—but I’m incredibly blessed to do it.” —Gayle G. Magnuson, MSW ’74
The social work degree I got from Illinois has served me unbelievably well in both the animal shelter and estate business. I started doing auctions when my first social work job got so difficult that I considered a career change. Then I got the Victor I. Andrew High School job and loved it. But I also loved being an auctioneer. In the estate business, you have to be very sensitive to people’s feelings and know how to navigate fraught situations. A lot more auctions than you think are court-ordered sales to settle family disputes. People don’t always agree on who gets to sell the family’s possessions, and they often don’t know what any particular item is worth. You’ve got to prepare them for good or bad news.
I’m kind of well-known here. Kankakee is my hometown, so there’s word-of-mouth. But I also use Facebook. Late last night, I posted a photo of a litter of kittens, and by this morning I had 10 applications. Counseling skills are key. The other day, I had an 80-year-old grandmother who wanted a kitten. I had to tell her, “Sweetheart, I’m not going to outlive a kitten, and you’re not likely to either. Please take a cat.”
Who would put up with having 65 cats in their house? My husband is a very tolerant person, but here’s the thing: He has his own quirks. He’s in that shed out there all the time building fancy go-fast cars from the frame up. The one he’s building now is a replica of a ’57 Corvette. He doesn’t sell them; they’ll be in our estate. He just enjoys it. He was an engineer in the steel industry. He’s crazy-talented, and it’s just his thing. So, he puts up with the cats and dogs, and I tolerate his very expensive hobby, God love him. “I’ll roll with her,” he figures, “if she rolls with me.” So, we’re kind of rolling together.