By Derinda Blakeney
People come and go in your lifetime. They may even impact your life without you knowing it. If you are an animal lover, such could be the case with the late Leah Cohn Arendt of Oklahoma City.
Arendt’s family established the Mercy Work Foundation of Oklahoma in 1992 to perpetually care for small animals. Mercy Work makes two to three awards each year, typically ranging between $5,000 and $20,000.
The Oklahoma City woman had an insatiable love of rescuing companion animals. When Arendt died, she left several dogs with no one to turn to for shelter, care and love.
Knowing her love of animals, administrators of the estate at Boatmen’s First National Bank of Oklahoma decided to use some of the Mercy Work funds to care for Arendt’s dogs. Patty Whitecotton served as administrator of the program for more than eight years.
“We worked with Dr. Joe Alexander, who was then dean at Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences,” Whitecotton recalls. “We agreed to establish an endowed chair and to help fund the construction of the Cohn Pet Care Facility. For as long as Leah’s dogs were alive, we would provide funding to help cover the cost of their care and any necessary veterinary treatment. OSU was also welcome to apply for an annual grant distribution for funds that support needs that align with the overall mission of Mercy Work.”
Thus began the more than 20-year relationship the veterinary center enjoys with the Mercy Work Foundation of Oklahoma. Through the years, OSU has received more than $1.7 million in annual grants from Mercy Work, which has allowed the veterinary center to keep the Cohn Facility in good repair, make equipment and technology upgrades, and ensure the animals are cared for 24/7. Mercy Work’s generous support has also allowed OSU to care for animals involved in domestic violence situations.
"I think it’s a great place for people who don’t have relatives or anyone left who can take their animals when they pass away, so their animals have a safe place to live out their lives. It’s also wonderful that the Cohn Pet Care Facility is a safe haven for animals whose family environment may be threatened."
The Cohn Pet Care Facility opened in 1998. It housed Arendt’s dogs, another dog named April, and is currently home to two cats, Sophie and Suzy. Approximately 25 families have provided endowed gifts to the OSU Foundation for their animals to be cared for by the Cohn Facility should their animals outlive them. More than 870 pets have been boarded at the facility, including birds, cats, dogs, a hedgehog and a rabbit.
In addition, at least 48 animals involved in a domestic violence situation have been safely cared for until reunited with owners or a stable, permanent home was made available.
“Mercy Work Foundation of Oklahoma has impacted the lives of so many animal lovers who just want to know their beloved pets are going to be safe and cared for when they are no longer able to provide for them,” says Dr. Chris Ross, interim dean of OSU’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. “Add to that the research, education and veterinary medical care provided by the faculty who have been appointed as Cohn Family Chair for Small Animals, and that impact just grew exponentially. We are forever grateful for Mercy Work of Oklahoma’s continued support.”
“The mission of the Cohn Pet Care Facility nicely aligns with the mission of The Mercy Work Foundation of Oklahoma. Financial support for the many programs of the center is a wonderful example of how the grantor’s wishes are being fulfilled today,” adds Kelly Donohue Garlock, vice president and philanthropic relationship manager at the U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, the bank now managing the account.
For more information about the Cohn Pet Care Facility, visit cvhs.okstate.edu/cohn-pet-care-facility.