THE ISSUE: Many more kittens and puppies are born in the US every day than can be placed in good homes.
LOCAL IMPACT: To maintain its no-kill policy, the Mount Shasta animal shelter transports its overflow pet population to a shelter in Portland and sometimes has to turn away people who want to drop off animals.
Kim Latos, who runs the Siskiyou Humane Society animal shelter in Mount Shasta, is a little bleary-eyed this morning. Four tiny kittens were found under some bushes near the Dunsmuir Brewery a couple of days ago, and Latos has been bottle feeding them every hour to keep them alive. She hasn’t had much sleep for the past two nights. (Three other kittens of the same litter were found dead in the bushes).
For Latos there’s a lesson here, one she never tires of repeating: “If I have one message for your readers, it’s to spay and neuter their pets.” Some 70,000 kittens and puppies are born in the US every day, she notes, many more than can be placed in good homes. Four hundred dogs and cats are euthanized every hour in this country.
Tomorrow morning Latos will be driving 13 dogs to Klamath Falls. They’re part of the shelter’s overflow population, and they’ll be transferred to a specially equipped van operated by the Oregon Humane Society and taken to a shelter in Portland.
The cooperative arrangement with the Portland shelter is one of the reasons Mount Shasta has been able to operate as a “no-kill” shelter for the past 14 years. To maintain that policy, the shelter must also sometimes turn away people who want to drop off unwanted pets, putting them on a waiting list.
It’s part of a steady transition from past shelter practices, a transition from “warehouses for unadoptable animals,” as Latos puts it, into more caring and humane facilities where animals have a lot of direct, one-on-one contact with staffers and volunteers, and where troubled animals receive attention for behavioral problems.
Prospective pet owners are screened at the Mount Shasta shelter through their footprints on social media and through court records. Before an animal is turned over to them they undergo a thorough counseling session, the gist of which is, “Do you realize how much time and energy it’s going to take to properly care for this animal?”
For many it’s a positive experience: Eve Thompson of Mount Shasta describes her adoption of one of the shelter’s puppies as “a magical and miraculous experience.”
“At the shelter they treat each animal as if it were their own,” she says. “We’re lucky to have a facility where they care for the animals the way they do.”
The word “emotional” comes up often in discussions about the shelter. Adopting or having to give up a pet can be a very emotional experience. For staffers working the shelter’s front office it can also be a stressful, and even sometimes dangerous, experience. It is not all that unusual for people to become verbally or even physically abusive when they’re told the shelter currently has no room for their unwanted pet.
One irate man grabbed Tyler Pendleton by the head and started to gouge his eyes out when Pendleton told him they might not have room for his cat.
Fortunately Pendleton survived that assault. What keeps him going, he says, is the satisfaction of bringing together animals and caring owners, and rescuing mistreated animals from harsh environments.
Front office worker Erin Wagner sums it up this way: “We all have days when we go home and cry, sometimes out of joy and sometimes out of sadness.”
One sad fact about shelters, no matter how well they’re run, is that some dogs become less adoptable the longer they’re in the shelter.
After only a few weeks in a kennel, notes Pendleton, “there’s a dramatic change in behavior, more barking, the dog becomes more irritable, more easily aggravated. For them, it’s like being in jail.”
The good news: Last year nearly 95 percent of all animals at the Mount Shasta shelter were adopted.
The shelter is in the process of expanding its operations into a building just to the rear of the present facility. It’s the former home of the shelter’s thrift store, which has moved to a more central location in downtown Mount Shasta. The move was made possible by a special bequest, earmarked for the expansion, from a donor who’d passed on, and from another large contribution from a private donor, as well as some matching funds.
Once the move is complete, the shelter’s dogs and cats will have more space, with separate quarantine rooms for ailing animals of both species. But even after most of the shelter’s operations are moved to the new building, the dogs will have to remain in the current, dilapidated and crumbling building.
The shelter is supported almost exclusively from private donations and sales at its downtown thrift shop. There’s been a decline in revenues over the past year and a half, with the result that the shelter’s staff is now down from 11 staffers to eight.
“This is definitely affecting our ability to provide the services we’ve been able to provide in the past, in particular limiting our ability to go out on calls to rescue animals in distress,” says Latos.
The Siskiyou Humane Society’s animal shelter is at 1208 North Mount Shasta Blvd., across from the city park. It is open 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
For information on how to make donations to the shelter, its adoption and intake policies, or how to get your pet spayed or neutered, go to www.siskiyouhumane.org, visit their Facebook page at Siskiyou Humane Society Adoption Center, or call 926-4052.
The Humane Society’s thrift shop is at 110 Lake Street and is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.