Honoring Dick Davenport
November 26, 1952- February 14, 2019
Dick's legacy of love ...
Dick Davenport first started to volunteer at animal shelters in 1990. That was in Mason City, Iowa. He had just adopted his first shelter dog and developed an interest in canine behavior. Volunteering at the shelter, he felt like he could learn to understand his own dog better and could improve the lives of shelter dogs by learning what makes them tick.
“For years, I worked every Sunday morning in the kennels and doing chores. I fed and walked the dogs, did repairs, and transported animals for them,” Dick shared.
In 2006, Dick moved to Decorah, Iowa. The isolated, rural community did not have a facility for any of the five counties in the Northeast corner of the state. Dick learned about a local foster network called PAW, and soon made himself invaluable by picking up fostered animals and transporting them up to Minneapolis and down to Dubuque when shelters had room for them. “One time, we had a vanload of 35 puppies to take north. That van was a breakdown-waiting-to-happen, but we were able to make many many trips over the years.”
In addition to transporting animals, Dick personally fostered about 30 cats in those early days of Decorah’s humane community. “I had to stop fostering after I rehabilitated five stray cats that were never going to do well in adoption. They were all kind of damaged when I got them. I meant to stop at three, but I wound up with five.” Dick also rescued a Jack Russell/corgi mix. “He breaks up cat fights. He hates confrontation.”
By 2010, Dick helped other PAW volunteers realize their shared vision. The group worked together to incorporate and become the Humane Society of Northeast Iowa. In 2012, he organized a feasibility study for the creation of a facility that could house homeless animals, provide a place for law enforcement and citizens to bring stray animals, a safe haven for dogs/cats who were victims of animal cruelty, and of course, adopt out animals. Dick literally built HSNEI’s Love and Friendship Center which grew to help animals in five counties in Northeast Iowa.
Dick described what it was like to create a humane society from whole cloth: “The first thing we did is bolt those benches together. One thing led to another … I and a few other guys put all those kennels together, which saved us about $20,000. The first year it was opened, I was out there every morning at 5:30 a.m. to get all the dogs and cats medicated and fed. That lasted about a year and a half. I gradually cut back as staff was hired."
Northeast Iowa has severe winter weather. One winter night in 2015, Dick was concerned about a pending ice storm, due to blow through in the early morning. He shared, “I took my dog and we spent the night at the shelter, just to be sure the animals had someone there for them in the morning. It’s kind of fun, like being on the moon. It’s so quiet and isolated.” Ever humble, Dick was quick to point out that other volunteers also spent nights at the shelter.
Once a staff was hired, Dick’s could return to his favorite volunteer task: working with the dogs. “Canine behavior is a fascinating subject, and I learn something every day. The domesticated dog is a complex, diverse animal. I have fun with them.” He said.
In September 2016, Dick suddenly felt tired. “I knew something was wrong. They found a rare tumor in my abdomen. I went on meds that shrunk it pretty good. I came back and took up Monday mornings at the shelter again, and about 17 months later, the meds quit working.”
Dick passed away on Valentine's day. Earlier this winter, HSNEI renamed the pathway from the dog kennels to the outdoor play yard "Dick Davenport Lane," to honor Dick's support and the countless times he walked that trail with dog and human friends. It's only a few yards of concrete, but every step we take, we walk in the wake of his giant gentle spirit.
We interviewed Dick in that play yard recently. Watch the videos to take in some classic Dick Davenport wisdom and warmth.