Nearly $200K donation for animal shelter goes to wrong Collinsville

News-DemocratMay 9, 2013 

The small animal shelter in Collinsville, Okla., had big plans for a $188,981 windfall donation.

Until it found out the donation, which was willed to the Friends of Collinsville Animal Shelter by an Arizona woman, was actually meant for an animal shelter in Collinsville, Ill.

"We had it for about eight weeks before we found out that it isn't ours," said Susan Babbitt, founder of the Ward-Wiseman Animal Haven in Oklahoma. "On April 15 we got a message on the machine that it was sent to the wrong animal shelter and we had to send it back, in full, and I thought, 'Oh, no.'"

The donation was left to the Friends of the Collinsville Animal Shelter by Mary K. Thomas of Cottonwood, Ariz. Thomas left 27.5 percent of her estate to the shelter when she died. She also left part of her estate to Best Friends in Utah and a medical research company. Babbitt said she had never heard of Thomas and didn't know how she was connected to the shelter, but thought perhaps she was just a woman who cared about animals and wanted to help Babbit's small, non-profit shelter.

The Ward-Wiseman Animal Haven in Oklahoma was originally known as the Friends of the Collinsville Animal Shelter, a 501c3 non-profit organization.

The Friends of the Collinsville Animal Shelter in Illinois is a group of volunteers who work to volunteer and help out at the Warren Billhartz Collinsville Animal Shelter which is operated by the Collinsville Police Department. The animal shelter and the City of Collinsville Animal Services both operate out of the same building. It serves as an office for the city's two full-time animal control officers, houses stray, unwanted, and abused animals and is an adoption agency for unwanted pets. The shelter holds vaccination clinics, adoption events and spay and neuter clinics.

Over the years several non-profit groups have been associated with the shelter's adoption mission, including the Friends of the Collinsville Animal Shelter and it depends on volunteers to take care of the animals there.

"The police department has run the shelter for at least the last 25 years and they have always accepted donations," said Collinsville City Manager Scott Williams. "The largest donation ever received was $400,000 given by Marsha and Warren Billhartz, which is why it's called the Warren Billhartz Shelter. This is the second largest donation, as far as I know."

The $400,000 donation was used to build the new shelter. The $188,981 donation from Thomas will be used for new equipment, supplies or refurbishing the shelter. The shelter is funded through the city's general fund and is considered a non-profit entity.

"It can be used for a variety of things," Williams said.

When Babbit first learned the shelter was to receive a donation, she didn't know how much it was. She thought, maybe $20, maybe $500.

She never imagined $188,981.

"When that check came I literally could not breathe," she said. "I thought, 'My lands!' We did everything by the book. We filled out all the right paperwork, we sent the attorney our tax number, we hired a financial company. We were going to keep about $8,000 out to do some small renovations and then use the rest as a security blanket. We'd keep pushing for donations and holding fundraisers like we do, but invest the rest."

It was an administrative error by the attorney's office handling Thomas' estate that sent the money to the wrong shelter.

Babbitt has to send the money back to Arizona so it can be redistributed to the shelter in the metro-east.

"The attorney kept telling my attorney that it was just human error," Babbitt said. "I know that, and this is where the lady wanted it to go. I'm going to send it, but I keep wondering, 'Can't we do something? Can't we split it or something?' You can't imagine all the great plans we had. We had ordered some things to do some cleaning and renovations, but we've canceled the orders. If we had spent it, what would we do now?"

More information about the Collinsville, Ill., shelter can be found at its Facebook page under Warren Billhartz Collinsville Animal Shelter.

Additional information about the Collinsville, Okla., shelter can be found by visiting its website at www.wwahonline.org.

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