Alumni Amanda and Marcus Reitz’s mission to deliver ‘Happily Ever After’ for companion animals started at UW-Green Bay
This was originally posted on the Alumni Spotlight and featured in the UW-Green Bay Alumni newsletter
From the front door of Happily Ever After Animal Sanctuary (HEA) in Ashwaubenon, you can see the familiar silhouette of Lambeau Field rising above the skyline. It’s a feature siblings Amanda Reitz (‘08) and Marcus Reitz (‘03) point out with earnest pride for their hometown. They both grew up in the Green Bay area, went to school at UW-Green Bay, and now run their nonprofit in Green Bay. Amanda founded HEA in 2006, while still a college student, and Marcus joined as director of branding and development for the growing organization in 2015. With a mission to “increase humanity’s capacity to care for its companion animals,” the Reitzes are applying their UW-Green Bay education and connections to make strides for animal welfare locally and beyond.
A Call to Action
Amanda remembers a catalyzing moment in her journey; she was volunteering at an animal shelter in the summer while still a student at UW-Green Bay. When she came in before the Fourth of July, she heard that the shelter planned to euthanize many of the animals who she had grown to love while volunteering. The shelter’s reasoning was that they needed to free up space for pets that might run away from firework noise. Amanda couldn’t stand by that practice. “We have to make change,” she thought, “our [animal welfare] community can do better than this.”
Back then, no-kill shelters were far from the norm. “We just didn’t know any different,” Amanda said, “We didn’t know what other options existed.” When she began this work, over 50% of animals in the shelter system nationwide were euthanized each year, Amanda said. That number has drastically decreased, Marcus was quick to point out—now, the majority of shelter animals are adopted. That change was spurred in part by the nationwide “no-kill” movement.
Happily Ever After was built upon a no-kill foundation when Amanda began the shelter in her family garage at the age of 21. She was pursuing an Education degree at UW-Green Bay then. She attempted to balance both, but got advice from professors and mentors that she couldn’t both teach and devote her time to establishing a shelter. So, she made a choice. With the help of Amanda and Marcus’ parents, the shelter moved from their garage to their grandfather’s barn in Marion, and continued into their state-of-the art facility in Green Bay, which opened its doors in 2016.
An Impactful Education
Amanda said she still keeps what she learned at UW-Green Bay with her. “Education is embedded in everything that I do on a daily basis,” said Amanda. One of Happily Ever After’s five pillars is education and she embodies that in her work with the veterinary community, volunteers and families who come to adopt. “While I’m not in the classroom anymore, I get to do it every day in the field,” said Amanda.
Marcus also attributes a lot to his education at UW-Green Bay. He studied Communication, which led to an opportunity at Shopko Corporate and then 11 years with Elevate 97 in Green Bay. Reflecting on his transition from college to his early career, Marcus said, “I started to recognize that every problem stemmed back to communication […] and I was uniquely equipped to help solve those [problems] because I had this wonderful education from UWGB.”
When his sister’s nonprofit got an opportunity to expand thanks to a donor giving a building to the cause, Marcus decided to put his skills and education to use at Happily Ever After.
Marcus now works on branding and development for the nonprofit, while Amanda works on the animal care and medical side of the business. Together, they’ve written a new chapter of Happily Ever After, growing as both a sanctuary and a brand over the years and honing in on the mission they hope to accomplish.
A Community Served
“We’re on a mission to increase humanity’s capacity to care for its companion animals,” Marcus said. He and Amanda are the first to admit it’s a big statement, but it’s one Happily Ever After is ready to take on. Marcus said that caring for companion animals isn’t all about transitioning shelters to no-kill—it’s also about making sure people are educated on what it takes to care for animals, that options for adoption, the importance of spaying/neutering and the process of rehabilitation are communicated to the communities that also hold a stake in ensuring animal welfare.
Community, for the Reitizes, has always been vital to their mission. As members of both the Green Bay and Phoenix communities, they recognize the strength of connection. Marcus stays in touch with professors, especially his college mentor, UW-Green Bay communication professor Phil Clampitt. Amanda said she encounters fellow Phoenix all the time, from the leaders of collaborating organizations to the volunteers she works with. And as Green Bay residents, they hold a strong connection to the “magnetic” presence and people of their city. That connection to community has built Happily Ever After into the fixture it is.
Despite all the growth over the past 18 years, when you step into Happily Ever After, you’ll notice a distinct homeliness. It has all the charm of a family business—holiday decorations up, an array of t-shirts and hoodies with kitschy sayings like “Shed Happens,” and the occasional excited bark from a room away, a pleasant reminder of the purpose this building serves. Large in the room is an almost floor-to-ceiling photo print of the Marion, Wisconsin barn where Happily Ever After got its legs almost 18 years ago.
Big things are happening now—Amanda and Marcus are on a search for a CEO to take the next step in growing an animal sanctuary into something bigger. Their mission extends to all of humanity, but their soul is still local. “Our intentions and the things we’re working on are way bigger than just what’s happening here,” said Marcus, “but it’s this community that’s going to help make it possible.”
To learn more about HEA, visit www.heanokill.org