I like to think that I’ve earned chits in the sub rosa world of animal rescue. Way back when, on the Big Island, I returned from a blustery hike to find a tiny Doberman-mix cowering under my still warm car. Her ears had been butchered and she suffered from some sort of skin disease. But after a visit to local island vet Charlie Campbell, he pronounced her fit; and the sassy smart-as-a-whip Kala became a favorite during my teacher years at Hawaii Prep Academy, even one year making it into our yearbook in a classic school portrait.
Then there were the two wild kitties I managed to capture from a litter dumped at the dump; the two skunks I raised (mama dead on the side of the road); the cat I brought home after a humane shelter event on the streets of the San Francisco financial district. (She lived to be 23!) And finally little street dog Nibby, named after a Scharffenberger chocolate bar.
I’m quite certain that Nib earned me the most gold stars as he had been severely starved and abused and bit whoever came near him — except me. Me he seemed to trust immediately so we bonded, perhaps for eternity. (Dog-people will understand this.) He died a couple years ago and, finally, last year I started to wonder, “Who will find me next?” — for I’m a firm believer in some kind of synchronous attraction where the human and animal worlds verge.
On my birthday a year ago it happened: a rambunctious, four-pound rascally puppy and parvo-virus survivor named Jackson had his picture posted by a friend of mine on Facebook. It was love at first sight. Despite his impossible ways, I know I’ve been granted a present by the angels of rescue-heaven. He is, as one recent person said, “the coolest chill dog.” He’s a red-haired whirlwind, except when he’s being a cuddly lover-boy. But either way he’s a gift.
Anyway, this is all to say it’s the reason I am so grateful for our community no-kill shelter and keep a close eye out for their news. So it was last week that friend Robbie Siobahn Richeson posted a picture of a litter of five chi-mix pups that had been brought up to our shelter from Bakersfield. She was fostering them at home. As she says, “My six-pack is just good at socializing other dogs.” These little mites were being loved-up and warmed-up by one of Robbie’s corgis. (They have since all found home — hurray!)
Then I thought, good time to talk to the shelter and find out what’s new. So a couple days ago, I sat with Sara Tokarz, shelter manager, and Sandy Clancy, board president, at the South Pacific County Humane Shelter. Our shelter is phenomenal: clean, well-run, and full of loving staff and volunteers. (Their Facebook page: tinyurl.com/y84yrkbw )
In fact, it’s the first thing Sara says when I ask about the strengths of this non-profit. “We have an amazing group of volunteers and a volunteer system that’s always getting better. Not that we couldn’t use more medical or hospice foster volunteers — we always needs those.”
“We have probably 60 volunteers on the roster,” adds Sandy, “and maybe an active core of around 30.”
The range of activities for volunteers is wide: cleaning, walking dogs, cuddling kitties, front desk and receptionist help, people who do laundry or help with the dishes. But there are other more technical helpers too because there’s a lot of data that is gathered at the shelter. They’ve recently changed over from a paper-based to a digital data system (Pet Point) that allows them to track all their rescue animals. Of course, financial donations are always welcome. The shelter has an annual budget requirement of around $170,000.
Sara is a full-time manager and as Sandy says, “We are so lucky to have her!” Though she is shy about mentioning this, Sara actually has PhD in medical and molecular genetics. And how she got to our community is a great dog story.
As she tells it, “I brought a big pit bull named Percy from another shelter where he was going to be euthanized. When I brought him in I noticed the job opening here and I thought — why not? I’d been about to take another job but my parents live near here [Longview/Kelso area] and now here I am!”
Percy’s story ended well too. “He went out for eight months, but there was turmoil in the family and they just couldn’t keep him. So I thought, well, he might be pretty happy and comfortable here. That’s ok. He’d been here almost two years when about a month ago a trucking couple traveled down — they were doing long-haul — to adopt a little female pit bull puppy. At the time I thought, ‘How is that going to work out in a truck?’ And another family seemed to be interested in Percy. But the trucking couple couldn’t get Percy out of their minds, so they came back in last Monday and picked him up. Now they’ve decided to just drive truck in the city so they can have more time with him. And the other family took the female pup!”
There you go — magical rescue juju in action. But there are so many wonderful rescue stories. Here’s another one about Tulip, a Golden doodle, who was brought into the Oceanside Animal Clinic because she had open sores. Her owner asked to have her put down, but no dice. Doctor Katherine asked that Tulip be surrendered to her and then brought her to the shelter. Sandy herself took on this medical foster duty. Eventually they figured out that Tulip had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, meaning her skin was hypersensitive and would damage easily. In the meantime, though, Sandy had fallen in love and decided, “She’s a keeper!” So now Tulip’s part of the Clancy family. (Fostering duty is important and sometimes difficult, but the shelter gives training to folks who are interested.)
Sandy points out that this has been a rough year for budgetary reasons, “We definitely support the minimum wage increase, but it has been tough on our budget.” This is also because when our shelter has “vacancies” they take in animals from other kill-shelters in other states.
“We have the capacity for 21 dogs, one in a kennel,” says Sara, “and for cats we have two colony rooms — a big room with about 20 capacity and a smaller room of about 10. Then we have a cage room too. We had a hard Thanksgiving though with a couple emergencies.”
I loved talking to these two passionate, dedicated and professional women running our shelter. They head up a team of equally committed staff and volunteers. This holiday season, if you have an inclination to help with animal rescue, now’s the time to step forward. Please don’t patronize puppy mills when there are so many wonderful and delightful animals that need homes right in our own backyard. Christmas is a time of giving, and our homegrown shelter is certainly one of the most deserving organizations of its kind.