Saving Lives takes a Village

We are the Village 

How to have a broken heart 

Bob Webster’s heart swelled for every adoptable dog he met. Browsing kennels from Salem to Portland, he saw the wonderful qualities in every set of puppy-dog eyes looking back at him. “They could be loved. They could be loving somebody right now. From an adopter’s perspective it’s hard. I want to help them all.” 

Single, active, 40-something Bob is an experienced adopter and lives on a large property with no kids or other pets. At 6’7” he seemed perfect for a gentle giant of a dog, especially one in need of extra attention.   

Bob was determined to use his unique situation to help a hard-luck case, which he found online with a regional rescue: an adult Rottweiler mix who had been in foster care for a long time. For this dog, the rescue required a commitment to working with a professional dog trainer. Bob dove into the challenge, working around the clock on training and socialization, which his new pal learned quickly.  

Then the unfathomable happened. In a surprise encounter with another dog, there was a terrible fight. Bob got hurt trying to break it up, and it proved fatal for both dogs. The second dog died from his injuries. Bob’s dog — after extensive heart-wrenching discussions with the rescue group, the trainer and the veterinarian — was euthanized.  

Bob (who is not using his real name here) is devastated. The life he tried to save is gone, along with another. 

The life and death struggle of rescue  

Shelters and rescues maintain detailed data on animals received, adopted, euthanized, returned after adoption, or transferred to other facilities. They have no means of tracking how every dog or cat fares in life after adoption, but outcomes like Bob’s are exceptional. 

While Bob’s case is unusual, it does highlight one important, sobering truth: adopters engage in a transaction unlike any other. A life hangs in the balance.  

Given increasing save rates and declining euthanasia rates in the Northwest, these days few dogs or cats die while waiting for adoption. Now, they live or die based on whether they can overcome the health or behavioral problems that made them homeless in the first place. 

“Everyone needs to know that there are no time limits in shelters in our area, so people don't need to ‘save’ dogs from shelters,” says BJ Anderson, executive director at Willamette Humane Society in Salem. There is no clock ticking, no “pull date” for shelter animals in our region. Thanks to hard-won save rates and collaborative efforts between shelters and rescue groups, the old “time limit” idea is an outdated one.  

Old challenges have been replaced by new ones. Anderson says, “Our shelter sees two trends in our local dog population: younger, larger, poorly-socialized dogs with mild to moderate behavior issues that impact adoptability; and geriatric, cute, desirable dogs with compound medical issues that require a lot of resources to be considered adoption candidates.”  

In the new model of cooperation, agencies can shift animals around the region to give them the best chance for rehabilitation and adoptability. 

Diane Young operates one of those agencies, Salem Dogs, which handles special-needs animals. Under her watch, dogs get medical and behavioral care while she searches out adopters most suited to their needs. Often, the ideal family isn’t the first one to express interest. “Adopting a young Border Collie to a sedate senior citizen home is usually not a good idea,” says Young. “Same with placing fragile dogs in homes with young children. Adopters need to cooperate with rescues to make the best match.”  

This brings front and center a primary pain-point between rescuers and adopters.  

“We have had people yell at us when we explain a particular dog would not be a good fit for them,” says Bobbi Roach, who volunteers with Oregon Dog Rescue in Tualatin. She wishes she could tell every adopter: “Please trust the rescue volunteers that work with the dogs every day.” 

Flexibility is key  

Roach likens her job to playing matchmaker between friends. “It’s a very real challenge, and often leads to fits of hair-pulling and head-banging,” she says. Adopters might arrive with their hearts set on a floppy-eared dog, but, “That floppy-eared dog may not like your children. You live in an apartment and Floppy Ear has severe separation anxiety, which will not endear him or you to your neighbors while you’re gone nine hours a day. You have a cat, you say? Floppy Ear hates cats.” 

The future of saving lives 

Pacific Northwest shelters are winning in the mission of saving lives. The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, combining animal welfare resources in the Metro Area, has achieved an 89 percent drop in euthanasia rates in nine years. Just down the freeway, Willamette Humane receives half as many animals as it did a decade ago, and saves a larger percentage of those. 

Professionals like Anderson are now tackling the next life-saving challenge: preventing animals from becoming homeless in the first place. This will require a shift in expectations. “We live very busy lives and expect our pets to accommodate our schedules — to be quiet when left alone and grasp housetraining in 24 hours; to always get along with kids and cats and dogs, and to never have issues like resource guarding.” With more families properly prepared to handle behavioral challenges, veterinary expenses, and the pitfalls of moving with pets, shelters will move beyond being the “halfway houses for pets surrendered due to lack of resources or knowledge,” and more will stay in their homes for life. 

The Citizen’s Life-Saving Toolkit 

In the work of saving more lives, it takes a village, a city, a state, a region. Here is advice from our rescue experts on how every individual can lend a hand: 

1.     Advocate, but do it with care. “The social media fervor for rescue isn’t really doing the best it could,” says BJ Anderson. It may help to share adoptable pets on Facebook, but only if your post links directly to details about the animal’s current status. Remember too that California municipal shelters with higher euthanasia rates don’t reflect our local reality.  

2.     Remember the most basic things are the most effective. “Adopt a rescue dog, spay/neuter every dog and cat, license/chip every dog and cat, keep ID on at all times, and comply with leash laws,” says Diane Young. 

3.     If you’re looking to adopt a dog or cat, “trust what volunteers tell you,” cautions Bobbi Roach. “If it’s a good match, they’ll be more than happy to adopt to you.” 

4.     Expect the unexpected. Pet-friendly rental deposits and landlord restrictions can be steep. Veterinary expenses can run into the hundreds and thousands, especially as pets age. BJ Anderson hopes veterinary insurance will become the norm to help people budget. For eye-opening price ranges on everything from grooming to pet sitting to emergency surgery, visit howmuchisit.org/dog-costs


Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Coastal hotels donate to local humane societies

Hallmark Resorts, a Spot reader fav for coastal getaways, is now donating a portion of proceeds from pet fees to Oregon Coast rescue organizations.  Both the Lincoln and Clatsop County Animal Shelters will receive five percent of monies received from pet fees at Hallmark’s Newport and Cannon Beach resort locations.  “We see the love and care that our customers bestow on their pets when they stay with us, but unfortunately not every animal receives this kind of support.  Therefore, we make this gesture on behalf of our customers who value their pets as members of their family,” says Kirby Blankenship, vp of operations for Hallmark Inns Resorts.  

The resort has been pet-friendly since it opened its doors 60 years ago.  Dogs receive their own sheet and towel, a custom water bottle for trips to the beach, a frisbee and treats.  The resorts also offer wash-down stations and pet exercise areas.  Learn more at HallmarkInns.com.

Your Oregon Tax Refund Can Help Homeless Animals

Portland, OR - Oregonians can turn their 2013 Oregon state income tax refund into dog food; cat food; heck even rat food! With April 15 looming, Oregonians who have a refund coming can use the Oregon state tax form to easily donate all or part of that refund to the Oregon Humane Society.

Oregon's state income tax form let's you directly select OHS as a charity to receive all or party of your Oregon tax refund. Go to line 62 (Form 40) or line 80 (Form 40N and 40P), and select the Oregon Humane Society as your charity of choice.

Don't forget to tell your tax preparer that you want to make a gift via charitable check-off. Donations help the Oregon Humane Society adopt companion animals from across the state into new homes, investigate hundreds of animal cruelty complaints, provide pet food for families in need and much
more.

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The Oregon Humane Society is the Northwest's oldest and largest humane society. OHS relies on donations to support its adoption, education, and animal cruelty investigation programs. Visit oregonhumane.org<http://www.oregonhumane.org/> for more information.
 

Great save!

The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland (ASAP) reports that the six largest public and private animal shelters in the Portland/Vancouver Metro area have saved 91 percent of all cats and dogs that arrived through their doors in 2013, an unprecedented number that’s nearly double the national average.  Since forming in 2006, participating ASAP shelters have decreased euthanasia rates by 76 percent, thanks mostly to the community of dedicated veterinarians, rescue groups, volunteers, donors and of course, adopters.  ASAP has also decreased the number of cats going into area shelters by 35 percent, due primarily to the highly successful “Spay and Save” program that has altered more than 41,000 feral, stray and privately-homed cats. 

“The people of the Portland Metro area take great pride in being green.  They should equally take credit for creating and working on sustaining one of the safest community for pets in the United States.” says Debbie Wood, Manager of the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter/Washington County Animal Services.  “Our residents are working on solutions with the shelters — be it getting behavior training or advice to keep pets in the family, getting their animals sterilized to avoid adding to the shelter population, and supporting their shelters through adoption, fostering, volunteering or donating money.”  Learn more at ASAPMetro.org.

Best Friends offers new sleepovers

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Best Friends Animal Society’s sanctuary in Angel Canyon, NV is a popular pilgrimage for many animal lovers, and now there’s a new way visitors can soak up the love of its rescued residents.  Whether staying at a sanctuary cottage or at a nearby pet-friendly hotel, visitors can sleep over with a deserving cat or dog who’ll benefit from the one-on-one time and a break from the shelter.  The arrangement does two important things:  provides the animal snuggle time (and you too while away from your own pack!), as well as revealing valuable insights on how a dog or cat does in a home-like environment away from Cat World or Dogtown at Best Friends.

Anyone who can’t do a sleepover but would still like to spend time with an adoptable, can instead make a date to take a shelter dogs into town, out for lunch, or even on a hike.  Learn more at BestFriends.org.

The struttin’ returns this September!

The first Strut Your Mutt event in Portland was a huge success last year, and organizers are gearing up for an even bigger turnout this fall when peeps and their furry companions converge at Sellwood’s Riverfront Park Sept. 28.  The event features a leisurely walk, followed by a fun-filled festival with pet contests, activities and the chance to schmooze with fellow pet lovers and pros.  Sponsored by Best Friends Animal Society, the event is part of a national fundraiser comprised of like events held across the country — all aimed at raising $1.5 million for homeless pets.

Local rescue organizations such as Family Dogs New Life, Born Again Pit Bull Rescue, My Way Home Dog Rescue and the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society are already getting their packs together in hopes of topping last year’s collective take of nearly $30,000 for local rescues and shelters.  To learn more about volunteering or organizing a pack of your own, visit StrutYourMutt.org.

Ranked top 3 for saving lives, Portland shelters win a million

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Six animal shelters in the Portland/Vancouver area, all members of the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland (ASAP), have won a Maddie’s Fund® Community Lifesaving Award totaling $1 million.  The prestigious award is given only to communities that have saved all healthy shelter dogs and cats for multiple years and demonstrate the ability to sustain this adoption guarantee” for healthy pets in the future.  Winners must also exemplify strength in collaboration and strategic initiatives that could serve as a model across the US.

Award funds were presented in May by Maddie’s Fund President Richard Avanzino at the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter (Washington County Animal Services).  The executive directors of all six ASAP shelters and other ASAP member organizations were in attendance. 

The award funds are being allocated to the six shelters based on adoption and transfer numbers while some monies will be pooled for future collaborative projects to further benefit shelter animals,” says Britta Bavaresco, co-founder of ASAP.  This generous funding is a huge boost for the community and helps our shelters meet the ongoing needs of our homeless pets, while saving even more lives by focusing on medical transfers and treatments, behavior training, adoption promotions and special efforts for hard-to-place pets.”

We are thrilled to be recognized for our life-saving efforts by Maddie’s Fund,” says Mike Oswald, Director of Multnomah County Animal ServicesEstablishing a safety net for our community’s homeless cats and dogs has been a priority for all of us.  ASAP’s life-saving commitment ranges from Troutdale to Battle Ground, from Cornelius to Damascus, and is changing the whole region, not just the City of Portland.  This grant helps animals throughout the whole metro area.”

Euthanasia in metro-area shelters dropped a dramatic 65% percent from 2006 to 2012, thanks to the efforts of ASAP.  With nearly 34,000 cats and dogs entering the six shelters last year, the community’s live release rate was a fantastic 85%, compared to the national average rate of about 50%.  Nine out of 10 dogs, and eight out of 10 cats left animal shelters alive, and no healthy, social cat or dog has been euthanized since 2010.  For metro areas with over 2 million people, this puts Portland in the top three safest communities for homeless animals, alongside New York City and Denver.

 

Small but Scrappy

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Redmond’s BrightSide Animal Center does things differently

Chris Bauersfeld has a no-nonsense way of talking that conveys the important work she has to do.  Bauersfeld is executive director of BrightSide Animal Center in Redmond, a shelter that sees a 96-97% save rate for cats and 98-99% for dogs.  “We back up what we say and feel by going high-save,” she says.  “When I got hired it was decided we would no longer euthanize a healthy animal based on space or convenience.  We embrace the idea that all animals deserve a home.”

Known as the Humane Society of Redmond since 1987, BrightSide underwent a transformation four years ago following financial challenges.  A new board and management took over, including Bauersfeld, who provided the philosophy and foundation of conviction that guides the shelter today.  The name change was an effort to let people know things are different.  “What we are doing is such a departure from business as usual that we want the community to relate to us in a new way,” says board member and volunteer Reese Mercer.

Doing things differently means not subjecting dogs to the constant stress of public viewing in the kennel.  People find an animal on Petfinder.com and then schedule a meet and greet with a counselor.  “We will spend hours with that family to feel fully satisfied that they’ve met all of the animals they could,” explains Mercer.  “That helps a lot in ensuring that our placements are sound and they aren’t going to come back to us.”

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BrightSide intakes about 20 dogs and 20 cats each week.  Cats enjoy more open space here than at many traditional catteries.  “It’s an open landscape for the cats,” says Mercer. “That’s a nice existence; when you have an animal in a shelter but it’s not locked up in a cage, it’s interacting with people and becoming more socialized and friendly.”

Some BrightSide efforts are aimed at preventing the build-up of bad habits that can derail an animal’s placement.  For instance, an animal that only relieves itself on an indoor concrete floor may have picked up that habit at a shelter where it had no other choice. 

Chris Bauersfeld began volunteering in vet clinics at age 13, and by age 15 had secured a paid part-time position.  She then became a licensed veterinary technician, and eventually moved on to clinic management.  “Working in the vet field you reach a point where you feel you have to start giving back,” says Bauersfeld.  “You know there are animals that are not cherished by their owners and they deserve to find some comfort somewhere so you begin to devote your time to them.”

Since Bauersfeld took over, BrightSide’s volunteer commitments have skyrocketed.  They currently have 15 full-time employees, but their volunteer hours equate to an additional 15 full-time employees.  “Most are at minimum wage,” says Bauersfeld, “and I’m not paid at the normal scale for an executive director, but these are the things you do when you know it’s making a difference.  We might be small, but we’re scrappy and innovative in how we accomplish things.  You have to be when you don’t have a lot of money.”

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The shelter offers resources to help animals stay in their homes whenever possible.  Bauersfeld told of a man who lost his job and couldn’t afford vet care when his companion of eight years became ill.  “He felt that surrendering the dog would be the only way that he could get the treatment,” says Bauersfeld.  Instead, BrightSide paid for treatment and worked out a payment plan so the dog could be restored to wellness and stay in the home.  “We really, really want people to look to us as a center for the community,” says Bauersfeld.  “We can help them.  We’re here for our community.” 

While BrightSide is an animal shelter, for Bauersfeld, the human side is just as important.  “We keep the animals at the center of everything we do, bearing in mind that people are important in this whole equation,” she explains.  “Most animals don’t get here on their own; there is a human element in this, and we are committed to giving the best public service we can on a budget you wouldn’t wish on anybody.  The resources are always stretched very thin and it’s a challenge.  But it’s a joy when you help re-home an animal, or you help someone take care of their animal that has a major medical problem, or the animal finds its owners again.”

Learn more about BrightSide at RedmondHumane.org or at “BrightSide Animal Center” on Facebook.

Volunteers needed for new feline spay/neuter program

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The Apartment Cat Team (ACT) is seeking volunteers to be part of an innovative effort to reduce feral cat populations in Multnomah County.  ACT is a collaborative partnership between the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon and Multnomah County Animal Services that works with managers and tenants of low-income and subsidized apartment complexes and mobile home parks.  ACT offers free or low-cost spay/neuter services to cats in these homes, as well as stray and feral cats in the neighborhoods.

Volunteers are needed to trap cats on location and transport them to and from surgery, and also to help socialize young feral kittens so they can find forever, loving homes.  Ann Potter, program specialist at MCAS, says that new volunteers have been inspired by the groundbreaking aspects of the work.  “People are getting charged up,” she says.  “If you want to get in there, get physical and get a little dirty, this is that opportunity.”  Potter points out that flexibility is required, as feral cats don’t keep a schedule.  “We’ve had trappers out at 9:00 at night because that’s when cats are feeding.”  Sound like fun?  Contact Ann.D.Potter@MultCo.us for more information.

Oregon shelter gets a bright new face

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The Humane Society of Redmond began the new year with a new name.  As of January 2013 the shelter will be known as BrightSide Animal Center.  The high-save shelter underwent a rebranding to more closely reflect its mission to provide a center for “compassion, solutions and hope.”  Shelter manager Chris Bauersfeld says the name change was necessary to reduce confusion about the organization, saying over half of those surveyed thought the rescue received funding from the Humane Society of the United States or was affiliated with Bend’s Humane Society of Central Oregon, neither of which is the case.  The Ad Federation of Central Oregon selected BrightSide as its Public Service Campaign for 2012 and spearheaded the rebranding. 

BrightSide Animal Center operates at one of the lowest costs per animal in the state while maintaining one of the highest save rates in the nation — 98 percent in 2012.  The new BrightSide website will be live March 2012.  Follow the shelter on Facebook or on Twitter @BrightSideAC.