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Pets' best friend

A 29-year career looking after animals

The inability of cats and dogs to live together peacefully is a staple of children's cartoons, but people, as a rule, have a lot more trouble getting along.

In some places, even animal-care organizations are at each other's throats, fighting for turf, resources and pet lovers' loyalty.

It's different here. In Fort Wayne, three major animal care organizations work together in what they call The Coalition. Two groups are private – the Allen County SPCA and Hope for Animals – and one, Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control, is a public entity.

Their directors meet each month and try to coordinate programs that will use each organization's role and resources.

The latest example of that cooperation is the Community Cats program to identify free-roaming pets. “Not every (city) is as fortunate as ours,” said Jessica Henry, SPCA's director.

A serious share of the credit for Fort Wayne's unusual level of awareness and cooperation on animal issues must go to Peggy Bender, who is retiring next week after 29 years with Animal Care & Control.

“Our department and the community have been fortunate,” said Belinda Lewis, Animal Control's director. Bender, a community relations and education specialist, is credited with fundraisers, a spay-neuter assistance program, a program geared to teenagers and a nationally recognized animal safety education program.

“Peggy is the face of all Animal Care & Control activities,” Henry said. “She's out into the schools, on television and on cable access, making people aware” of how to treat their cats and dogs properly and what the animal laws are. “She has a deep passion for animals.”

Bender will be missed. We wish the best for her successor, Jodi Hamilton.