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Duluth woman left fortune for abandoned pets, zoo critters

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Katherine Hooey of Duluth lived a quiet, simple life.

She wasn't a big spender. She had no interest in fashion and frills. And the last thing she wanted was attention.

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But her lifelong love of dogs -- and all animals -- is making a big impact two years after her death at age 62. Despite modest means, Hooey left an estate worth $335,000. She left it all to two local animal shelters and the Duluth zoo. Each recently got their one-third shares.

"Anybody who knew Kathy, knew she was going to do this," said her sister, Sue Woods of Duluth. "It was just her lifestyle. It was her life. Through her love of dogs, she appreciated animal life in general."

Still, Hooey's family was surprised she had saved so much. She had worked for the phone company nearly 30 years, retiring in 2003. She lived in the family home in Duluth's West End. She never married, never had children.

"Her dogs were her kids," Woods said.

For her beneficiaries -- Animal Allies Humane Society in Duluth, Friends of Animals Humane Society of Carlton County and the Lake Superior Zoo -- the $111,575 gifts were unexpected and come at crucial times.

"It means everything," said Jen Frederickson, the Friends of Animals Humane Society's executive director. "The economy is so rough right now. It's one of those angel things. It truly means continuing the mission in tough times."

Hooey wasn't known to the current shelter staffs. But she had attended their fundraisers and participated in walkathons. She took in rescue dogs. She made small annual donations to Animal Allies and had walked their shelter dogs.

"It broke her heart to see these animals in these cages," Woods said. "She'd go down and walk the dogs and talk to the cats and the kittens. It hurt her. Not that they were treated badly, it was the environment they were in that really got to her."

Hooey died in October 2006 from a possible heart attack as she waited for a deaf rescue dog that she was going to adopt and train with hand signals.

Her gift to Animal Allies is one of five major contributions making their move to a new, larger facility in late March a reality, said executive director Jim Filby Williams. Because of her gift, they'll have national best practices up and running the very first day open.

The bequeaths were held up about a year because both the city of Duluth and Lake Superior Zoological Society wanted the zoo's share, said Woods, the estate's executor. The city owns the struggling zoo and is responsible for the animals, but the society is expected to take over zoo operations.

"The money just sat there a long time," acknowledged City Attorney Gunnar Johnson, who worked out an agreement.

The city has the money but will turn it over to the society when it takes over. And, as Hooey intended, it will be used for the care and feeding of the animals.

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