The need arises frequently — nowadays averaging two calls per week. Priem has many stories about the cases she’s handled — FETCH has cared for more than 110 animals since 2013, helping keep families together. “I’m not one to brag, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my FETCH team saved a couple of lives here and there,” she says.
She tells of one patient who arrived at the ER needing but refusing life-saving care when staff moved to take her dog. She said, “If I can’t have Jonathon with me, I can’t go on living.”
Staff got Jonathan into her hospital room to wait for her after surgery. ”His little nose was pressed against a crack in the door for an hour; he knew she was coming,” says Priem. “When she arrived, he hopped in her bed to lick her face, and she soon went back to sleep. From that second, I knew we needed FETCH.”
Another story tells of a gentleman with a life-threatening infection who’d put up his dog in a motel and then walked several miles to the ER. A long-haul driver, after receiving help — for himself and his dog —told Priem, “You don’t even know me, and you rescued my dog from a motel.” The grateful gentleman said he was going to look into helping others this way when he got home.
Felix, a 25-pound cat, was left behind in a mobile home. Unable to care for or even lift him, the owner agreed to surrender him for rehoming. “Please find him a good home,” she begged Priem, who said there were three holds on Felix at WHS by prospective adoptive families the first day. Ultimately he was adopted by a counselor, and is reportedly now helping her with grief counseling.
Still another case was a woman who had been homeless for eight years. She had three old dogs who themselves needed medical care. With the help of WHS, the dogs got better. The woman also got better, then found a job and an apartment. “This is a woman who was on the streets for eight years, often going without food so she could feed her dogs!” Priem repeats, still overjoyed with the outcome.
Other cases underscore the value of FETCH to not only the humans it serves, but the pets.
One gentleman came in, leaving behind two Rottweiler/Pit mixes, which were ultimately surrendered to WHS.
“Ozzie was dangerous,” says Priem. “The best trainers at WHS worked with him for 10 months. They didn’t give up. We all saw a special light in his eyes, but there were times . . . I’d get ‘the call’ that he might not make it.
“Then one day it all just clicked, and Ozzie was a different dog. Shortly after, a veteran who had just lost his therapy dog came to WHS. Ozzie walked right up to him. The shelter staff told him, ‘He is your dog!’”
The partnership with WHS is vital to the success of FETCH. “At the drop of a hat an animal can get care and boarding at the shelter, while being in the protective custody of the Salem Health Foundation,” says Priem. “I’ll call and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got two Yorkies.’ They’ll ask if they need vaccinations; I’ll say yes, and they’ll say, ‘Bring them in.’”
“We’ve had pets at WHS for weeks at a time, belonging mostly to people facing health emergencies. But also who are homelessness, elderly, or have no family support.