- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - Hastings native Connie Hansen has never met a tarantula she didn’t like.

One of the founders of Start Over Rover, the no-kill animal shelter in town, the former nurse-turned-real estate agent has long seen the importance of defending the lives of creatures great and small. When she was a youth, the message was driven home by her mother, Beth Kellar, through the story, “Charlotte’s Web.”

As an adult, her philosophy is summed up in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, displayed prominently at the shelter: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.”

“I think how we treat those who cannot advocate for themselves tells our whole nature,” Hansen told the Hastings Tribune. “I’m not fanatical about it on my own, I’m fanatical about it as a society that we spay, we neuter and that we don’t take a puppy or animal in the prime of its life.”

Hansen, who has been a real estate agent in Hastings for more than 25 years, recently was named president of the Hastings Board of Realtors. Hailing from a long line of family members involved in the real estate business, she is still absolutely passionate about the ever-changing face of the industry.

Her latest venture, New View Real Estate, is a discount brokerage business she runs today alongside her two daughters, Anne Halbert and Dayna Grimmett, also real estate agents.

“I still love real estate,” she said. “It has become so complex to navigate, like everything else in our society. From when I started 20-some years ago, it’s probably quadrupled in complexity. It’s especially difficult for people doing their first home and people who are leaving their homes for the last time.”

Real estate is but one of Hansen’s many passions, however. A two-time breast cancer survivor, she helped found a support group for those dealing with the disease that remains active today at Mary Lanning Healthcare. A long-sober recovering alcoholic, she continues to reach out to women struggling with addictive behaviors as a board member of The Bridge substance abuse program. As a master-certified hypnotherapist, she has helped numerous people through both taped and live sessions to alleviate pain, quit smoking and lose weight.

She envisions using her training professionally at some point should she ever decide to leave the real estate business behind. But, before all that, it was her fascination with spiders that set her down the path of wanting to protect the underserved - first, as a nurse, then later, an animal rights advocate.

Her first pets were most certainly unconventional. As a student at Hastings High, she convinced her mother to allow her to raise a pair of tarantulas found in a batch of grocery store bananas by her sister’s then-boyfriend.

“I couldn’t pass them up,” she said. “The female was on an egg sac, and the male was the biggest, hairiest, furriest guy you’ve ever seen.”

When the eggs did hatch, the microscopic-sized baby tarantulas quickly spilled out of the grossly undersized container that housed them, filling the house with hundreds of the virtually undetectable crawlers. While most did not survive, a small percentage did, surfacing time and again inside the home for years.

Neighbors insisted the family fumigate to eradicate the infestation. But that was never an option, Hansen said.

“We don’t kill spiders in our home,” she said. “The neighbors asked us to have our house fumigated, which made perfect sense since they lived real close on either side, but we could not do it. Hundreds were roaming around the house. The biggest thing we had to do for a number of years was check our shoes and clothes. If we stepped on one we’d get bit and it would be really painful.”

Though venomous, a tarantula bite isn’t known to be lethal, she said. Other family pets included guinea pigs, cats and white rats procured from the county fair by Hansen’s mother.

It was from this unusual assortment of pets that Hansen developed a love for animals and creatures of all sorts, she said. That passion was later reinforced as an adult by her relationship with Paige Clark of Kenesaw, a local animal rights advocate.

“Slowly but surely she got my family involved in it,” she said. “It was like Paige made us understand the plight of these animals. And then we couldn’t ever go back to our safe lives in the sand anymore.”

After more than eight years of caring for animals out of her home, Hansen teamed with a network of women doing the very same thing and opened Start Over Rover in 2011. Aided by a sizable donation from a donor who had recently come into an inheritance, the shelter has been finding homes for displaced and at-risk animals ever since.

“Our goal is always to adopt them out,” she said. “To get them homes, get them healthy and get them rehabbed if they are from puppy mills.

Still a board member today, Hansen devotes as much time as she can find to fundraising for the nonprofit organization. She credits community involvement for making the shelter a success.

“If the community hadn’t embraced us from day one, we couldn’t have done this,” she said. “From the first month, we were never without enough funds to feed or vet them. We see the worst and best of humanity, and the best has far outweighed the worst so far.”


Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com

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