Even livestock have angels
On any given day, one can easily find a story of pets being saved from the throes of maltreatment by caring souls. In fact, there are organizations from coast to coast who specialize in doing just that. Unfortunately, finding similar accounts of such angels working as tirelessly to rescue livestock is not as easy.
In 2008, Irma resident Bill Blemke sought to change that.
“I was having heart issues and I ended up in the hospital for two weeks,” the 60-year-old retired farmer explains. “I remember laying in my hospital bed watching Animal Planet every day for those two weeks. There wasn’t much better to do. And I remember seeing all these shows about abused and mistreated animals being rescued. But not a single one of them shows had any cattle, horses or livestock! Not a single one! That just wasn’t right, so I made up my mind to look into services that rescue livestock once I was back up and at it.”
Blemke did just that. Upon improvement of his health, he set about visiting different farms and ranches and attending auctions. What he found “turned my stomach,” as he explains.
“I was at one auction in particular and they were trying to sell some calves, but they just didn’t have anyone interested. I came back the next day and they were gone. So I asked the farmer what happened to the calves and he says he hit ‘em in the head with a hammer and dumped ‘em in the woods!” Blemke racalls. “And he said it without a care in the world, that just irked me so bad to think people can do those things to animals. Yeah, they may be livestock, but they don’t deserve to be treated that way. The more I dug around, the more stories I found of people doin’ the same thing or worse to livestock and even horses. By that time I had enough. I told my wife we had to do something, so we did.”
Blemke set out to find organizations or services which help rescue and assist mistreated livestock, and volunteer his time to help. To his surprise however, his search was fruitless.
“There wasn’t a single livestock rescue organization in the state of Wisconsin and we looked all over,” Blemke adds. “So we figured that had to change. I gave my lawyer Randy Frokjer a call and looked into starting our own non-profit rescue organization. Randy and CPA Brian Richards helped me with all the legal work to apply for a 501-C3 non-profit status from the IRS. On September 28, 2012 it was granted. I’ll never forget the day we got the notice,” he adds with a chuckle as he flips open a binder and shows the forms in protected sleeves.
Also in the binder is an assortment of pictures of various horses, ponies and cattle. Blemke knows the story of each and every one of them. He knows the date they were rescued, why he was called, how the animals were rescued and how long it took.
“I do this because it needs to be done,” he says in a matter of fact tone. “I grew up on a farm and I know it’s a business. But that don’t mean people have the right to abuse their animals. My dad’s cows were well taken care of. They ate before we ate! I remember a few times trying to sit down for dinner before chores and he told me to get my butt up and feed the cows first,” he recollects with a grin. “That’s just the way it was and the way it should be.”
Blemke now operates “Cattle Rescue” with the help of 10 volunteers around the state and seven rehabilitation facilities in seven different facilities in Lincoln, Langlade and Wood counties.
“I would eventually like to hold a fund raiser to build a transfer station,” Blemke explains. “My plan would be to have all the livestock come to the station which would be located here in Lincoln County. There we would do what we need to do to get ‘em healthy and taken care of, then send’ em out to farms or people who will treat ‘em right. It would be nice to have ‘em all come to one place, rather than some here and some there.”
Blemke estimates the price tag would be around $250,000 “for a top notch facility.”
Until then, Blemke will continue to do what he has been doing for the last two and a half years, and that is make his rounds every day; driving 265 miles round trip when all his barns are in use. Currently, only three barns are in use. In turn, that means Blemke gets up at 2:30 a.m. every morning and covers 100 miles round trip while taking care of his rescued friends.
“I have a degree in Animal Husbandry from UW-River Falls so I am able to do most everything on my own,” Blemke says. “But anything I can’t figure out, I call in ‘Doctor Paul’ (Paul Dlugopolski of Athens Vet Service). Paul is a great guy.”
Blemke pays out of pocket for all expenses including medicine and feed.
“I usually get home about three or so in the afternoon. But if I get a call from a sheriff anywhere in the state, I hop in the truck and I’m gone.”
Although he finds his work rewarding, one look at Bill Blemke is proof of his work coming at a price.
“I lost three fingers this past December due to frost bite while rescuing four calves in Taylor County. In a few weeks, I’m gonna lose these other two,” he adds. “They aren’t doing well and they say they gotta amputate ‘em.”
Despite having only half of his fingers, Blemke is anything but grudged toward the animals.
“It isn’t their fault. I have nothing against the animals. They have been through horrible experiences, beaten on, god knows what else,” he says. “I don’t blame ‘em one bit. They have been through hell and have no idea what you’re gonna do to ‘em when ya show up with your equipment to rescue ‘em. As for the calves, they are alive and well, they’re doing just fine.”
Blemke also harbors no hard feelings for the horse from Langlade County which head butted him and knocked out all of his upper teeth.
“That happened last March,” he recalls. “We were trying to get him in the trailer, but he was so weak from being starved, he collapsed to the floor. I climbed in the trailer to try and get him back up and talk to him to calm him down. He got spooked and snapped his head up and caught me across the jaw. I heard somethin’ crack, and I knew that wasn’t good. I ended up losin’ my teeth but things happen, ya know.
“The horse is doing great now,” he adds with a hearty laugh. “Hell, he’s my best buddy!”
One effect of losing his fingers is that of being limited in what he can do for income to keep his service going.
“Before I would shovel roofs, driveways, sidewalks, you name it, and use that money, and my disability check to buy what I need for the animals. But now, I’m down to five fingers and it’s hard to do that stuff. I really hate asking for help, but I don’t have a choice anymore. I could really use some help from the public if they would be so kind.”
Even if his fund raising efforts don’t go as planned, Blemke is adamant in continuing his work.
“I’ll never give up. I don’t care if I lose all my fingers, and all my teeth. If I am able, I will keep at it. I feel for these animals, no living being should have to go through the things they go through. If I didn’t have this hand issue, I would be doubling up the number of animals I take in.
“Anything folks are willing to donate, I’ll take. I can work with any type of feed people are willing to give. Whether it’s monetary, or supplies; I’ll take and use it all!”
Questions or information on donations can be directed to Bill Blemke via phone at (715) 218-7478, e-mail WIcattlerescue@yahoo.com or visit his “Cattle Rescue” page on facebook.