The fight that reached a million . . . one dollar at a time

Oh, the stories — heartbreaking and full of sorrow, tender and full of hope, serendipitous and full of love.

Since founding Chase Away K9 Cancer in 2006, Cera Reusser has heard countless stories from across the country.  All with a common thread — the love of dogs who have fought or been lost to cancer of one form or another.  And all with this goal: to put an end to the dreaded disease that steals the lives of too many dogs — one in every three affected.   

Six years ago, this writer shared the story of Reusser and her dog Chase, a beautiful champion whose life was taken too soon.  The grief, anger, and ultimately the passion for this dog fueled Reusser to establish Chase Away K9 Cancer, a grassroots effort to fight cancer . . . one dollar at a time.

At events Reusser attended with her dogs, dollars were collected by pups wearing vests displaying this mission. Moving through the crowd, Smokey, another of Reusser’s dogs, would give a kiss for dollars tucked into his vest.

With time the cause got legs, spurring hundreds of events across the nation, from small happenings like bake sales and raffles to large-scale competitive canine events.

“If people can think it, they can do it.” Reusser says.

Today Chase Away K9 Cancer is a division of the National Canine Cancer Foundation (NCCF), still collecting donations one dollar at a time, still true to its roots. As it was at the start, every penny goes directly to NCCF, supporting canine cancer studies and research grants. 

Reusser still tears up when speaking of Chase. But her girl lives on through the foundation her memory started, as well as through Reusser’s current trio of black Labs — Rikki, Chase’s first-born daughter, is now 11. Elsie May, Chase’s granddaughter, will turn eight in a couple weeks. Olie, Chase’s great-grandson is nearing age three.

All three, who Reusser refers to as R-E-O, can be seen locally at dock diving, AKC and agility events, even 11-year-old, Rikki.  “It’s not about the titles or ribbons,” says Reusser, “It’s about dogs having fun and raising K9 cancer awareness.”

That awareness is a huge part of what Chase Away K9 Cancer is about. One campaign, for example, called Check Your Dog Day, asks owners to take a few minutes once a month to give their dogs special attention — doing a thorough head-to-tail, nose-to-toes examination, checking all over and noting any new or strange lumps or bumps and following up with the veterinarian if something looks, feels or just seems not right.

Early detection is key in successful treatment and prognosis of canine cancer.

Promoting the campaign through social media and at events, Reusser receives many notes from people who discovered a lump, had it checked, and found it was cancerous, but that after removal the dog will live.

“It is so gratifying to see the message being shared and getting out there and working,” says Reusser, who always exclaims aloud upon reading these notes: “Hey…Chasey, we saved one!”

Yes. One. One dollar at a time. For the love of dogs.

~ Epilogue ~

Nine years after the heartbreak of losing Chase, and forming Chase Away K9 Cancer, Reusser’s organization reached the milestone of one million dollars in donations. 

Recently, Sniff Dog Hotel hosted a Halloween party, matching all donations to Chase Away K9 Cancer. The evening brought in more than $2,000.


Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), Pedro & Lorali (parrots), three chickens, and memories of Jake, her heart dog who recently passed on. Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.

Cat Adoption Team announces 35,000th adoption

Mildred with her adopters

Mildred with her adopters

SHERWOOD, OR (May 20, 2015) – The Cat Adoption Team (CAT) is pleased to announce that a five-year-old cat called Mildred became the organization’s milestone 35,000th adoption when she went home with her new family on Saturday, May 16. 

Jenn Stephens and her daughter Lily weren’t thinking about adopting a cat when they first visited Purringtons Cat Lounge in late April. At the time, Stephens wasn’t even aware that cats at Purringtons are part of CAT’s outreach program; in addition to the 100 or so cats available for adoption at CAT’s main shelter in Sherwood, dozens of cats are housed at locations throughout the Portland metro area. 

After spending about an hour with the cats at the café, the mother-daughter duo started falling for a full-figured orange-and-white cat named Mildred. However, Stephens explained, she rents her home and didn’t have her landlord’s permission to have a cat… yet. 

Stephens decided to ask her landlord to reconsider the no-pets agreement. “I offered to pay any pet deposit and cover the costs of any damage,” she said. 

A few weeks later, with her landlord’s approval, Stephens returned to Purringtons to adopt Mildred (who the family has renamed Queso). She had no idea just how special this adoption would be! 

In an unexpected turn of events, Mildred is not only the 35,000th cat adopted through CAT, she also has the honor of being the 35th cat adopted from Purringtons Cat Lounge since it opened earlier this year. 

Before joining the Stephens family, Mildred had moved through several homes. She was surrendered to a shelter in eastern Oregon when her original owner passed away, and then transferred to CAT in March as part of the Nine Lives Transfer Program. Mildred had moved in with other CAT cats at Purringtons Cat Lounge just a few days before the Stephens’ first visit. 

Mildred at Purrington's

Mildred at Purrington's

As life-saving rates for shelter animals continue to improve in the Portland metro area, CAT has been able to expand its transfer program to help cats like Mildred. Last year, about 80 percent of the felines CAT took in came from shelters and rescue groups, especially from organizations faced with overcrowding or low adoption rates. 

“Collaboration saves lives,” said Karen Green, executive director of CAT. “Taking in cats from other shelters gives them another chance for adoption, and partnering with offsite adoption locations provides even more opportunities for cats and kittens to meet the right families." 

CAT has helped 35,011 cats and kittens find loving homes as of May 18, 2015. 

As for Mildred? “I think she’s doing fantastic,” said Stephens. “We love her.” 

A Brief History of CAT 

In May 1998, 35 homeless cats were the start of the Cat Adoption Team, which occupied just 2,900 square feet of its current building. Now 17 years later, thousands of cats and kittens have found homes through the organization. 

In an effort to expand adoption opportunities beyond its shelter in Sherwood, CAT partners with its first offsite adoption locations, including Pet Loft and local PetSmart stores in 2000. 

In 2002, CAT becomes the first animal shelter in Oregon to open an in-shelter veterinary clinic. 

CAT receives 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in late 2004. 

In the spring of 2005, CAT hires its first foster coordinator to lead CAT’s kitten foster program; the program continues today as a national model for fostering to save more lives. 

The 10,000th cat is adopted from CAT in early 2006, the same year that CAT becomes a co-founder of the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland.    

In June 2008, CAT opens the first Portland-area pet food bank, distributing free cat food to financially struggling cat owners. Today, the program serves homebound individuals and seniors in Washington County. 

Mildred at home

Mildred at home

The Thrift Store Benefitting the Cat Adoption Team opens at its currently location at 4838 S.W. Scholls Ferry Road in Portland. All proceeds from the store benefit the felines at CAT. 

In April of 2012, a pipe bursts causing a flood that damaged more than 60 percent of the shelter. A number of building upgrades are completed as a result of the flood. 

Housing and program changes in 2014 give shelter cats more space and better access to behavior modification and enrichment, reducing the average shelter stay by more than half. 

2014 at CAT:

  • 2,440 cats and kittens were adopted
  • CAT took in 2,446 cats and kittens
  • Volunteers provide 40,183 hours of service
  • More than 2,850 cats/kittens have spay and neuter surgeries
  • 102 foster volunteers help care for 823 kittens and mama cats 

Cat Adoption Team is located at 14175 S.W. Galbreath Drive in Sherwood. For more information, visit catadoptionteam.org or call (503) 925-8903

# # #

About the Cat Adoption Team

The Cat Adoption Team (CAT) is the Pacific Northwest’s largest non-profit, feline-only shelter committed to finding a home for every cat it takes in. CAT’s mission is to save the lives of homeless, unwanted, sick, and injured cats and to work with our community to provide feline expertise and quality programs and services for people and cats. CAT has found homes for nearly 35,000 cats and kittens since it opened in May 1998. As a 501(c)(3) publicly supported charity, CAT relies on the generous support of individuals and organizations.

Fences For Fido unchains 1000th dog

Portland-based, all-volunteer nonprofit Fences For Fido (FFF) builds fences free of charge for families with dogs living outdoors on chains. The organization reached a great milestone March 28, unchaining its 1000th fido in Gaston, Oregon.

“Cupcake,” a sweet Shepherd mix, was given a fence, as well as a new insulated doghouse by 6th grade students at Chehalem Valley Middle School in Newberg.  The build took place on the eve of FFF’s 6th anniversary.

"Each dog we unchain is known and loved regardless of the number," says FFF Founder, Kelly Peterson.  "The number is important and symbolic only because it demonstrates what we have accomplished together."

Those accomplishments include helping put in effect Oregon's Anti-Tethering Law (HB 2783) a year ago.  The law has been instrumental in helping animal control and law enforcement see to the untethering of many dogs, including Cupcake. 

Sweet 16 for Life-Saving Team

The Portland area can proudly claim to be among the safest in the nation for homeless pets. With unprecedented high save rates and steadily-shrinking euthanasia rates, the community is fighting back the epidemic pet overpopulation and overcrowded shelters that still claim the lives of more than three million animals every year in the US. 

Across the country, shelter euthanasia rates are significantly higher for cats than for dogs, and Portland is no different. But Portland-area cats have notable, formidable, and highly determined allies in the fight to see fewer and fewer of them die in local shelters.  Specifically, the region boasts the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland and its 10 member organizations, including Cat Adoption Team in Sherwood, which is the largest guaranteed-adoption cats-only shelter in the Pacific Northwest. 

Tucked into an unassuming building in a suburban industrial park, Cat Adoption Team, or CAT, turns 16 this month.  When CAT opened its doors in 1998 with 35 adoptable felines, cats entering other local shelters had less than a 50% chance of leaving alive.  “That’s really the way it is in pretty much every community, even those that are doing well with dogs;” says CAT Executive Director Karen Green.  “Almost universally cats are behind dogs in save rates.”  Jumping feet-first into the area of greatest need, CAT vowed to shelter only cats, and to save every healthy or treatable feline in their care.  Within two years the shelter had adopted out 1,000 cats. 

In 2006 – the same year CAT celebrated its 10,000th adoption – the shelter joined nine other founding organizations to launch The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland.  The Alliance intentionally dubbed itself ASAP to underscore the urgency of its mission.  Aggressively working a strategic mix of spay/neuter programs, education, outreach, and adoption promotions, ASAP hopes to end euthanasia of all healthy or treatable animals in area shelters.  Member shelters agree to email or call each other to network animals that previously would have been euthanized for space, health, or behavioral reasons.  CAT – with its on-site veterinary clinic, network of foster providers, and feline-only environment – often can take felines who are doing poorly in other settings and help them get adopted. 

The majority of CAT’s felines come from other organizations.  “In 2013, over one-third of our cats came from Multnomah County Animal Shelter,” says Green.  “About 85% came from shelters throughout the area and beyond, including over 300 from Willamette Humane in Salem.” Although Salem sits outside of ASAP’s geographic reach, Portland-area efforts have been successful enough that shelters occasionally have room to relieve overburdened shelters in communities without the networking power of an organization like ASAP.

Now, as area shelters gear up to celebrate June as Adopt-a-Cat Month, CAT’s Sherwood shelter might as well be Party Central. Community-wide, shelters now save 87% of the cats they receive. The big push for adoptions and spay/neuter are paying off.  CAT provides over 3,000 spay/neuter surgeries and 2,500 adoptions a year.  The shelter has nine remote adoption locations, a cat food bank, 600 active volunteers, and 100 foster homes.

Having nearly doubled the save rate for shelter cats in just a few years, ASAP’s ultimate goal of eliminating unnecessary euthanasia feels within reach.  It will happen, says Green, but the next 4% increase in the save rate might take as much effort as the first 40% boost.  “It’s addressing those last few harder-to-help cats now.  We’ve saved the healthy cats and dogs.  Now we’ve raised the bar and we’re saving the ones that have treatable health or behavior problems.”

Sitting at her desk with her office cat Fuchsia purring beside her, Green says this 10-year-old black cat is one example of the rescues that will take more effort and resources.  Fuchsia was adopted through CAT when she was young and came back to the shelter years later when her adopter died.  “At her age, she’s really low-maintenance.  I think the best fit for a lot of people is a low-maintenance cat versus a young and crazy cat that’s going to be knocking things down and climbing up curtains and pant legs.”  But many adopters are drawn to kittens and pass up the middle-aged and older cats.  “So it’s about changing things in the community to find those opportunities for cats,” she says.

Getting the save rate closer to 100% will also require investment in treating illnesses and behavioral problems.  Most conditions are treatable, but can overtax a shelter’s human or financial resources.  For example, it can take four weeks to treat ringworm.  “That’s extremely time-consuming and expensive; last year we treated 60 cats for ringworm even though our designated ringworm room has space for only five cats.”  If shelters can invest the weeks of treatment, however, cats can go on to live full, healthy lives.  Still others will live long and happy feline lives if they find adopters who can administer daily insulin for their diabetes or treat similar chronic but manageable conditions.

Buying these cats the time they need will require more community support, Green says.  More people opening their homes to foster pets would provide them the precious time to complete a course of antibiotics for a respiratory infection, wean a litter of kittens, or take a break from the stress of shelter life – all of which help make the animals more adoptable.  Shelters will need to provide more comfortable environments as well, which requires a healthy supply of shelter volunteers and likely means more financial support for capital improvements.

Green’s current project is making shelter improvements such as adding portals that allow cats to move from one kennel to another.  “We need to find a way of giving the care they need so you see them in a less stressful environment,” she says.  Soon each cat will have an individual behavior plan.  For younger, more active cats, the plan might include regular playtime that involves jumping and tumbling after enticing toys.  Others might be soothed by regular lap time or brushing and grooming sessions.  “We see these sassy cats that get swatty in the shelter.”

Green points out that grumpy cats are likely to get passed up by adopters, but they usually have completely different personalities in a less stressful environment.  “If people take a chance and adopt them, they report back later and say they never see that behavior at home.”  For most health and behavioral problems, reducing stress and creating shelter environments where cats can do better and stay longer is the key to saving more lives.

While year-round work focuses on putting more adult cats into adoptive homes, June also marks the beginning of kitten season.  “If you don’t work in this field, you might not recognize what a problem it is.  Because cats are pretty seasonal breeders, cat rescue is a fairly seasonal business.  Not that there aren’t cats needing help the rest of the year, but during that time of year, the shelters need more help from the community, more donations, more volunteers, more foster providers.”

Kitten season is the reason that National Adopt-a-Cat month falls in June each year, raising awareness and working to draw more adopters into local shelters.  Even with Portland’s highly successful delivery of spay/neuter services throughout the community, annual kitten season brings too many deliveries of its own, and shelters have their individual strategies for the season.  At CAT, the last Saturday in June is Kitten Palooza.  At the Sherwood shelter, CAT will showcase 75-100 kittens in the group’s largest adoption event of the year.  Even kittens who aren’t yet old enough to go home can meet their future families and be pre-adopted during the event.

The kitten adoption blitz helps manage the shelter crowding and increased illness rates that typically accompany kitten season, and helps reserve shelter and staffing resources for the harder-to-save adult cats who need more time to meet their future adopters.  The strategies are labor-intensive and time-consuming, but they’re working.  Still, says Green, “We can do better than an 87% save rate with Portland cats. There are more lives to be saved.”


Michelle Blake lives and writes in Salem with three big dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband. She serves on the Oregon State Council of The Humane Society of the United States and is active with Fences for Fido, which builds fenced yards to free dogs from chains.

10 years, 10,000 saved dogs

Family Dogs New Life Shelter (FDNLS) celebrates its 10-year anniversary with a gala Saturday May 4 at Castaway in Portland.  Titled, “X Marks the Spot, Celebrating 10 years of XOXOs,” FDNLS honors all who have helped save more than 10,000 dogs through the years.  The event features live music, food and wine, a cash bar, live and silent auction, and the premier of “Finding Love, Giving Life,” a FDLNS short film.  Learn more at FamilyDogsNewLife.org.

Turning 8 and doing GREAT

fetch_familydogsnewlife.jpg

Family Dogs New Life celebrated eight years of rescuing and sheltering local dogs Feb. 29 (leap year birthday!) in what has been a great year:  the group was voted #1 Shelter/Rescue in Spot’s 2012 Top Awards.  A note plucked from the group’s website says, “In honor of our big day we’ve decided to give ourselves a little present . . . the gift of love, the gift of loyalty, the gift of Gretsch!  That’s right, on this special day we’ve decided to invite our lil rock star Gretsch to become the newest member of The Family Dogs!”

At the shelter since 2010, the search for Gretsch’s forever family has not been fruitful.  Happily the search is over:  Gretsch is now one of their own, and home for good — a fitting birthday present for the group that keeps on giving.  Happy Birthday, FDNL!  Learn more at FamilyDogsNewLife.org.

Beaverton Vet Celebrates One Year of Emergency Care

Dr. Shawn Thomas and Vet Tech Julie Spencer splint Kipper's Leg.

Dr. Shawn Thomas and Vet Tech Julie Spencer splint Kipper's Leg.

Dr. Shawn Thomas cradles an English bulldog puppy in one hand and reaches out to greet his visitor with the other.   No worries, he assures:  the puppy isn’t in need of treatment.  He belongs to the doc and has been visiting along with his littermate.  The puppy is handed off to a vet tech and the energetic doctor takes his guest on a tour through the building, pointing out recovery rooms, a surgical center and hi-tech diagnostic tools — including a state-of-the-art X-ray machine.  “This one is just two weeks old,” he says.  The equipment testifies to how well things are going at Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency, Thomas’s practice that is celebrating its first anniversary.

Indeed, the practice is growing.  “It’s definitely gotten better,” says the doctor.  So much better that Thomas hired a second vet last fall and is hoping to add a third by summer.  He attributes the success to the hard work of his staff, who he considers family, and “picking a good place; knowing there was a need for emergency medicine in this area.”

Located just off of NW Cornell Road in Beaverton, Thomas says his is the only emergency service in a 12-16-mile radius.  And, unlike conventional vets, TVE is open 5pm to 8am weekdays, and round the clock on weekends. 

It is weekends when staff sees the most patients, with the most common concerns being upset stomachs, vomiting and diarrhea.  They also see plenty of fractures, as well as more serious concerns like injuries from car accidents and issues that require surgery. 

The variety is what keeps Thomas engaged and enthusiastic about his work, he says.  To date he’s seen more dogs than cats and an occasional ferret or rabbit, but “no reptiles . . . yet.”

An x-ray showing Kipper's fractured front leg

An x-ray showing Kipper's fractured front leg

When asked how people can prevent winding up at the emergency room with their pets, Thomas says most of all, pay attention.  “Trust your gut instinct.  If your animal seems off, it’s off.  The number-one thing that we see is people saying, ‘I wish I had brought him in two days earlier.’”  The doctor says animals have a greater capacity than humans for pain or discomfort.  “We are weenies compared to animals – they will go days without showing anything.  If they eat half as much as they usually do, watch them and see if that becomes a trend.  I’m not saying run them in if they ignore a meal, but use your gut instinct.”

Currently working an average of 80-100 hours a week, Thomas is excited to get that number down to about 60 over the next year so he can spend more time with his wife, Christina, their 4-year-old daughter, and a baby on the way.  Though the hours may seem grueling,   Dr. Thomas says he wouldn’t have it any other way.  For this doctor, realizing the lifelong dream of being a veterinarian is something he says wouldn’t have happened without the support of his family, and one he wouldn’t trade.

This past year has also brought great appreciation for his community of colleagues with whom he regularly consults.  “I’m not the type of guy who thinks he can do it all on his own,”  says Thomas, once again reflecting the seriousness with which he takes his profession and his desire to provide the highest level of care for those who find their way to his open door in the middle of the night.

Local therapy dog recognized at 9/11 ceremony

A Eugene woman and her fluffy gray Keeshond, Tikva, flew to New York last month as invited guests for the 9/11 Day of Remembrance.  Tikva is a therapy dog, and she and her handler, Cindy Ehlers, spent two weeks at Ground Zero following the terrorist attacks a decade ago, giving comfort to rescue workers.

Rose City Vet 100 Years of Care

Rose City Veterinary Hospital will host its 100th birthday celebration Sunday, July 24, noon-4, at the clinic in SE Portland.  The festivities, including refreshments, games, prizes, and more, will provide fun for the whole family, and all are invited to attend. 

Several nonprofits with whom Rose City works will help celebrate.  The Oregon Humane Society will have adoptable dogs on site and The Portland Animal Welfare (PAW) Team will be in attendance

This centennial is not only a landmark for Portland’s first veterinary hospital, but honors an interesting time in Portland’s history.