It’s not a phone call many people would get at 2 a.m.
Flash flooding in Washington Park and Fairmont City had caused a problem few people were willing — or able — to help with. The fast-rising water had not only displaced many people, but their pets, too, including several pot-bellied pigs.
Local animal control immediately dialed Kate Mister. They said “some” pigs were at risk of dying and called to make a late-night deal — they would deliver as many pigs as they could catch, if Mister would take them in. She agreed, hung up the phone, and she and her husband, Jamaan, a fraud analyst in St. Louis, got to work.
“He was up digging post holes and putting up the pen, and we had to both work the next day, too,” said Kate, who teaches biology and chemistry at O’Fallon Township High School and is also going to graduate school to get her master’s degree in social work.
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Many of those pigs are still with the Mister family on their 5-acre property on Old Vincennes Trail near O’Fallon, plus “some” more. Two sows they took in that night gave birth shortly after arriving at their new home, pushing the Misters’ total to 14. Twenty more came from Benton as a result of a serious neglect case where a woman was a severe hoarder. After a few more rescues, they now have more than 40 in their sounder of swine.
“Two came to us because they were running in a corn maze in Ohio, and a couple more were from someone who was moving from Kentucky to Chicago and could no longer keep them as pets,” Kate said.
I think a big part of what we should do is to really save the animals who really need it the most, so that’s what I do.
Kate Mister, Once Upon A Prayer Sanctuary and Rescue
The little piggies are also joined on the Misters’ farm by several dogs and cats. All are available for adoption through the Misters’ 501(c)3, non-profit animal rescue shelter, Once Upon A Prayer Sanctuary and Rescue, which they started last fall.
“We work a lot with the animal controls in Jefferson County Animal Control in Mount Vernon and Franklin County Animal Control in (the) Benton, Ill., area, because they are very rural and need the help,” Kate said.
John Metcalf of Mount Vernon is a volunteer transporter, taking animals from animal control centers or rescue situations. He met Kate, whom he called “a very-high energy lady with a kind heart,” through his own rescue efforts. He now volunteers at the shelter.
“It’s nice coming here when I’m able to help out. I actually graduated from O’Fallon High almost 50 years ago, so it’s familiar ground to me,” said Metcalf.
Every hour I’m not teaching is spent doing rescue.
Kate Mister, Once Upon A Prayer Sanctuary and Rescue
The goal of Once Upon A Prayer is to find all of its animals the perfect placement. They do not believe in restrictions some rescues put on potential adopters, including preferences of home owners over apartment dwellers, or people with fenced yards over one’s with open spaces.
“They would rule out really good candidates,” Kate said.
Once Upon A Prayer also does not discriminate against older people looking to adopt.
“Well, if you have an old dog, that’s actually a great fit,” Kate said.
But finding those perfect matches is a big job. And it keeps getting bigger.
“Every hour I’m not teaching is spent doing rescue,” said Kate, who decided to start her own no-kill shelter after having volunteered at others and thinking there was a better way.
“I would see some rescues only take the cute little ‘fru fru’ dogs or a lot of the puppy mill auction dogs or purebreds, who didn’t make the cut for whatever reason, and those types of issues weighed heavily on me,” she said.
Tending to the animals is a total family effort that includes all three children, Elijah “Eli,” 11; Isaiah “Isi,” 9; and Trinity, 4.
“Feeding all the pets takes about an hour and a half a day,” Kate said.
Currently, the only other help comes from friends and extended family.
Lisa Hayes of O’Fallon, one such volunteer, said “just watching” her friend Kate makes her tired.
“I don’t know how she does it. She’s so busy doing so much good,” Hayes said.
Not only is it all a lot of work, but it’s expensive. The fees the Misters charge for adoption don’t cover their costs, meaning they pay a lot out of their own pockets.
“We’ve dropped about $8,000 just in the past three weeks in the rescue with veterinarian bills, medicines, treatments and food supplies,” Kate said.
Much of the cost is because the Misters end up taking in a lot of animals no one else wants. They do not believe in euthanasia and fight to keep all their four-legged friends alive and healthy.
“I think a big part of what we should do is to really save the animals who really need it the most, so that’s what I do,” Kate said.
The shelter is always looking for more help, donations and sponsorships — not only to continue its mission, but to expand it.
“We bought some playground equipment, and we need to build a second pig pen and a goat pen for our soon-to-be new arrival. So we are going to try really hard to finish all of that, but again, it’s a matter of time and money,” she said.
The ultimate dream for Once Upon A Prayer is to use the animals to help at-risk youth.
“This summer, I’d like to do a reading program where the kids read to the pigs, and eventually do animal therapy here,” Kate said.
Helping animals and kids is something she hopes the community can rally around.
“It takes a village — a really big one — what can I say?” she said.
For more information on Once Upon A Prayer Sanctuary and Rescue, call 618-406-6411 or find them on Facebook.