Comedy show to support emergency fund for animals in need

Feb. 12 Comedy Castle event to raise heartworm awareness

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 18, 2017


METRO DETROIT — Last year’s mild winter meant that mosquitoes stuck around longer and had more opportunities to spread heartworm in dogs and cats. The parasite is damaging and even deadly if left untreated, and an infected pet may not show symptoms for months. That’s why experts recommend having your pet checked out at a vet this winter, and why every pet should also be on heartworm preventative to avoid infection in the first place.

Those working in shelters and rescues see heartworm cases on a regular basis. Guardians for Animals, a licensed nonprofit, serves as a support network for 15 no-kill rescues and shelters. Since 2004, GFA and its affiliates have saved more than 26,000 animals. GFA has an emergency medical fund that pays for the treatment of conditions such as heartworm, but GFA depends on fundraising and donations to replenish it.

One big fundraiser is its annual “Open Your Heart for Homeless Animals” event at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle, 310 S. Troy St. in Royal Oak.

This year’s event will take place on Sunday, Feb. 12. Doors open at 5:15 p.m. and the show begins at 7:40 p.m. Tickets cost $25.

The show stars comedian Billy Ray Bauer (rated PG-13 to R) and includes dinner and dessert, a 50/50 raffle cash drawing, a silent auction, and red ticket raffles. Tickets can be purchased by calling (248) 542-9900 or online at

Direct donations can also be made through the website or by mailing checks or cash to Guardians for Animals, P.O. Box 1086, Troy, MI 48099.

If you want GFA to donate $10 to the Madison Heights Animal Shelter, look for the “special instruction box” at checkout when ordering online and type in the shelter’s name.

“These rescue groups are bare-bones organizations as far as funds go, and that’s why GFA is so critical to what they do,” said Alex Whitney, founder of GFA. “We can help them with supplies, caging, food, medical, spay and neuter — whatever their needs may be. By donating to GFA, you’re making one donation that helps so many groups and so many animals. It’s incredible to think about.”

Whitney said it’s critical that pet owners check for heartworm and have their pets on preventative medication. She also said pets should be microchipped, so that shelters and rescues can scan them and identify the rightful owner should the pet slip out of the house, go missing or get stolen.

Putting a pet on heartworm preventative is far less costly — and far less work — than what it takes to treat a pet for heartworm. Not only is treatment for heartworm expensive, but it requires a 24-hour stay at the vet for monitoring, and the animal must be kept in low activity for weeks afterward.

The heartworm itself can reach a foot in length. They live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of dogs, cats and ferrets, and in the wild are found in foxes, wolves and coyotes. Transmitted by mosquitoes who pick up baby worms from the blood of infected animals, the worm can cause lasting damage to the heart, lungs and arteries. In cats, they can cause respiratory damage, blood clots and lung inflammation. To learn more about heartworm, check out the American Heartworm Society.

“If you’ve ever seen a parasite-infested heart, it looks like a pile of spaghetti. It’s horrible and will never leave your mind,” Whitney said. “The key is prevention and detecting it early by getting your animal tested.”

The Madison Heights Animal Shelter, 801 Ajax Drive, currently has two animals that are depending on GFA’s emergency medical fund for two heartworm cases.

Ranger is a cattle dog/husky mix, male, 1-2 years old, described as a sweetheart, mellow and easygoing, who’s a bit nervous at first but loves everyone once he gets to know them.

Snowflake is an American bulldog/pit bull mix, female, about 5 years old; she’s a cuddly all-white dog who loves lying on the couch, and who currently lives in a foster-to-adopt home where she gets along great with an 18-month-old baby.

Both dogs are currently looking for homes following their treatment.  

“It seems like we get one or two heartworm cases in a year, which is really sad because it’s highly preventable just by giving a monthly preventative treatment,” said Suzette Gysel, the animal control officer for Madison Heights. “The preventative is usually a chewable tablet with a bit of flavor, so the dog thinks it’s a treat.

“A lot of people in Michigan and other colder climates will not do it during the wintertime because there are no mosquitoes during the winter, but even if you just did it for six months during the warm weather, it makes a difference,” she said. “But we do recommend it year-round.”

Whitney said difficulty breathing is one symptom of heartworm.

“If you notice anything wrong with their upper respiratory, get them to the vet right away,” Whitney said. “Heartworm could have long-term effects or cause lasting damage to internal organs. We’re getting a lot more cases lately, so I felt we have to do something.”