Meet the Rescues: Bonnie Hays

If you're a homeless pet, the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter leaves a light on for you.

The shelter takes in all stray animals in Washington County. “We are one of the safest counties in America to be a homeless pet,” says Jennifer Keene, the shelter’s Animal Behavior and Outreach Coordinator for the shelter. “We work extremely hard to make sure every animal has the best possible outcome.”

Job one is returning animals to their owners

The shelter staff not only scans for microchips and identification on animals coming into the shelter, they also actively search craigslist and other social media looking for people who have lost pets that might be a match for those in the shelter. As a result, the shelter's return-to-owner rate is "two to three times the national average," says Keene.

"When Animal Services Officers pick animals up in the field. We prefer to reunite the pet with the owner, rather than bring them in and impound them and charge more fees," she shares, adding that they often agree to deliver animals to the owner’s home. t"We always want to return the pet as quickly and easily as possible. Our officers and shelter staff are pretty awesome."

Dogs and cats not reunited with their owners — like strays with outdated microchips or no ID at all or animals whose owners choose not to come for them — find a second life at the shelter.

Animals are rehabilitated mentally and physically

The Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter has an in-house veterinarian and community partnerships with other veterinarians, so animals who aren't healthy when they come in can be saved. “For example, Roy, a stray cat recently brought in, had been attacked and his wounds were infected. Staff cleaned his wounds and treated in for infection and pain. He will recover in foster care and then be available for adoption.

Staff and volunteers also provide behavior enrichment, interventions and training for animals in the shelter in order to keep them mentally healthy during their stay and to prepare them for adoption. "We have a read-to-dogs program that's really popular with our volunteers," Keene says. "The dogs sit and listen to someone speaking to them in a pleasant voice; it's a break from the shelter environment, time like they would have in a home."

Even challenging pets find homes. While the shelter adopts out hundreds of animals every year, it also works very closely with a wide variety of local, reputable rescue groups that can be a better environment than the shelter for some pets.

"We’ve had adopters choose pets they know have cancer, or chronic illnesses requiring ongoing care, or the elderly. We’ve adopted out 14-year-old pets. It's amazing. People open their hearts to the less perfect ones and that's so encouraging."

The numbers reflect this shelter's success.

"Our success is due to collaboration between staff, volunteers, donors and community — even someone calling because they see a dog running in traffic — we really can't do what we do without our community."

Keene loves working with pets, but says, "It's also the relationship between people and their animals. I'll see a car come tearing in, practically on two wheels, and I'll just know — someone's here to pick up a lost pet! The pure joy, the pet they were worried they'd never see again, is here at the shelter, safe. It's a beautiful thing."

~Christy Caballero