BELLA VISTA – When the director of Bella Vista Animal Shelter began calling her a “dog lover,” Dee Dee Knight-Matney wasn’t thinking about a career change.
She and her husband were under construction and had built homes all over Bella Vista. She volunteered occasionally at the shelter and attended its events.
She was returning home from an event at a shelter in 2002 when she came across six puppies running on Highlands Boulevard. Naturally, she had to stop and pick up the six puppies. She put them in the back of her car with her two dogs and brought the whole pack home.
She ended up welcoming the puppies until we found a place for them at the shelter. That year, she had already brought back several stray dogs.
A board member heard the story and asked Knight-Matney to join the shelter’s board of directors in 2002. She accepted and accepted the position of treasurer. In 2008, they asked her to become its general manager.
The shelter has always been a non-profit organization. It was started by volunteers long before the town of Bella Vista was incorporated. In recent years, the city has helped with spending, Knight-Matney said, but the shelter wants to remain independent even if that means it has to increase most of its budget with fundraisers like the Wiener Take All races.
It is important to remain independent, she said, because that way the shelter can keep its euthanasia rate low. The rate remains well below 1%. The only animals that the shelter slaughters have major medical problems that cannot be solved or are so aggressive that they pose a danger to humans. There have been several dogs and cats who have lived most of their lives at the shelter, often in the small office with the staff.
When she took on the role of CEO, the shelter was just an older building with a small office. The volunteers had built an addition, but unfortunately the volunteers had more enthusiasm than experience and the addition had structural issues. The septic system was not adequate for the amount of water used daily.
âIt was pretty much fix and fix every day, but we were still doing good things,â she said.
Then Beagleville arrived. A breeder was arrested in Centerton, and 72 beagles were confiscated. They spread between the Humane Society shelter in Rogers and the animal shelter in Bella Vista.
Staff rushed to create 10 covered outdoor trails for the new occupants. Then they were told the dogs would be there for at least a year while the case against the breeder went to court. It was obvious that something had to be done.
In 2005, Nibbles House was built. It is still in use. Knight-Matney used every connection she had among contractors she knew and subcontractors she had worked with to secure materials and even labor.
âWhen situations arise, you just have to change and do the best you can with what you have,â she said. The office and other dog enclosures were added later. Sometimes the original building is still used. A low-mortality shelter will always fill up eventually, she explained.
It was a few years later that residents of Bella Vista started asking for a dog park. Knight-Matney remembers looking at the land behind the shelter that belonged to Cooper Communities, but Tom Wooters, who runs the nearby village wastewater treatment plant, was on the POA’s board of directors. He had already helped build a ball field near the Loch Lomond Dam and he knew it would be a better place for the dog park. Wooters went to Cooper and got permission to use the space, and they started raising money to buy materials for a dog park.
Volunteers built it, Knight-Matney recalls, and the POA agreed to mow the area with the ball field. The K9 Corral opened in 2010.
In 2006, volunteer Ron Krolikowski proposed a fundraising idea to the Board of Directors that exceeded all expectations. Since then the Wiener Take All Races have been successful. The event had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to covid-19.
The past two years have been tough, Knight-Matney said. The only fundraiser that took place in 2020 was a golf tournament. In 2021, a few more fundraisers took place. The city participated with additional funds.
This year, she had to make the difficult decision to retire for medical reasons. She didn’t want to do it, but she felt it was necessary. She knew she couldn’t do the job anymore.
âI don’t want anyone to think I turned my back on the shelter. If my body allowed it, I would be there,â she said. She hopes to one day be able to return as a volunteer.
Photo Submitted Curt Stoops, Board Member of the Bella Vista Animal Shelter, welcomes Nancy Cullins as Interim Executive Director. The board plans to seek a permanent replacement for longtime director Dee Dee Knight-Matney.