Animal Aid PDX Celebrates 50 Years


The Grassroots Organization Gets a Mid-Life TransFURmation

It doesn’t get much more grassroots than a nonprofit whose mission sprouted on the grounds of Laurelhurst Park in Portland. It was there that Animal Aid’s founders, Jack and Kathryn Hurd, began rescuing abandoned pets and rehabilitating injured wildlife in 1969. The couple not only opened their hearts and home to these animals, but gave them a voice through Jack’s career as a radio talk show host.

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“As listeners tuned into Jack’s show, learned the plight of the animals the Hurds were saving, and shared their own stories and struggles as pet guardians, the concept of Animal Aid took shape,” said the shelter’s Director of Operations, Paige España.

The Hurds’ first step in assisting the community was to enlist the help of local veterinarians and pet supply stores who were willing to offer their services and products at a reduced rate. Jack and Kathryn paid for some expenses from their own pocket, and eventually Jack’s listeners began to donate as well. Over time, the couple acquired a core team of volunteers to help with fostering, adoptions, delivering food, and whatever else came up.

Flash forward to today, and the now 50-year-old rescue is still driven by the compassion of its volunteers, supporters, and a small dedicated staff. Animal Aid is focused on providing individualized care and a lifelong commitment to each of its animals, including those referred to as “Heartstrings pets”—those with special medical or behavioral needs.

Animal Aid PDX today. The organization also operates a free-roam shelter for cats, a network of foster homes for dogs and cats, and two partnership programs to help fun urgent veterinary care and dog spay/neuter surgeries.

Animal Aid PDX today. The organization also operates a free-roam shelter for cats, a network of foster homes for dogs and cats, and two partnership programs to help fun urgent veterinary care and dog spay/neuter surgeries.

“We’re focused on quality over quantity, which to us means providing as much time and resources to each animal as they need and working diligently to make thoughtful adoptions that result in forever where their personality and needs are the right match for a family’s expectations and capacity” España explained.

To accomplish their mission, Animal Aid operates a free-roam shelter for cats, a network of foster homes for dogs and cats, and two partnership programs to provide funding for urgent vet care and canine spay/neuter services.

“One of the really cool things we’ve been able to do is carry forward the collaborative relationship with local veterinarians that the Hurds helped establish 50 years ago, and our Animal Aid Cares Fund is a direct link to that,” said España. “Through this program, we partner with vet clinics to provide a monthly stipend they can pass along to their clients facing urgent and overwhelming medical or behavioral expenses.”

Many changes have taken place for the nonprofit over the decades, and particularly in the last two years as they embarked on a full shelter remodel, adding several new animal care rooms and renovating all existing spaces to allow the organization to increase its rescue capacity by 25 percent.

“We looked at all the ways we could improve our programming, and increasing our rescue capacity was at the top of the list. As a result of our renovations, we can do just that, in addition to increased enrichment for cats and dogs and improved work spaces for volunteers and staff. We’re just putting the final touches on everything, and already we’re seeing a positive impact on our ability to serve the homeless cats and dogs in our community.”

— Beth Ernst, Animal Aid Board President

In order to make the upgrades possible, Animal Aid kicked off their Shelter TransFURmation Remodel Capital Campaign in 2017, offering supporters the chance to help pay for the renovations with naming opportunities in recognition of their sponsorship. Learn more at or by attending Animal Aid’s open house on July 20th that will mark the official unveiling of the remodel.

In addition to their open house, be sure to mark your calendars for Animal Aid’s 50th anniversary party, Apawllo 50, when the rescue will celebrate in style.

“Animal Aid’s roots stem from building connections with others, animals and humans alike. So whether you can join us at our open house this summer, our 50th anniversary party this fall, or drop by the shelter for a visit sometime in between, we’re excited to welcome everyone to our rescue and celebrate this commemorative year with the community that made it possible.”
— Paige España, Animal Aid Operations Director

Nonprofit celebrates saving 10,000 homeless pets...positions to save even more

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1,000 Miles in 24 hours

Every Sunday around midnight, a bright red schoolbus bearing photos of pets pulls into a parking lot filled with people holding leashes and empty pet carriers. The bus, which has been outfitted to safely carry as many as 225 pets, has been driving all day and night, and this is the halfway point. Staff and volunteers hustle to unload animals that had come dangerously close to being euthanized but are now safe thanks to one California man.

Rescue Express founder Mike McCarthy started the free transport service with the goal of giving abandoned pets a second chance at life. “California shelters are forced to euthanize 40,000 animals a year,” says McCarthy, “while there is a shortage of adoptable animals in Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.

The organization’s first transport took place on Valentine’s Day, 2015. One bus running every other weekend quickly turned into a fleet of three buses and weekly transports after requests from California shelters quickly multiplied. This June, the number of pets rescued —including dogs, cats, rabbits and even pigs — surpassed 10,000. The nonprofit hopes to another 12,000 this year. 

All for free

Smaller rescue transports traveling the country are funded by fees charged to the rescues that utilize them. McCarthy chose to offer Rescue Express’ lifesaving service free of charge to prevent shelters’ and rescues’ lack of funding from resulting in needless euthanasia of adoptable pets. Each transport spans over 1,000 miles between Los Angeles, CA and Burlington, WA; weekly transports cost $3,000-$4,000. The organization operates exclusively on funding from donors and grantors such as Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA.

Due to the high demand for rescue transport, Rescue Express recently expanded its operations with a second location in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. The organization is currently recruiting sending and receiving rescue partners in order to coordinate a second rescue route along Interstate 15, transporting animals from Southern California to Las Vegas, NV, Salt Lake City, UT, Boise, ID, and Montana. 

Why transport?

The bulk of pets abandoned and surrendered to shelters and rescues in the northwestern US and Canada tend to be large dogs and older dogs and cats. Demand for small dogs, puppies and kittens in the region has skyrocketed in recent years. When potential adopters don’t find these animals in shelters, they turn to pet stores, breeders and all too often, puppy and kitten mills. The pets they purchase are most often fertile and go on to reproduce. By transporting animals from the southwest, groups like Rescue Express are saving thousands of animals a year, giving NW residents the opportunity to adopt, preventing support of animal mills, combatting pet overpopulation, and raising awareness about the importance of spay and neuter.  

The organization’s story has been featured far and wide, by print, broadcast and digital outlets.

Rescues interested in being added to the list for upcoming information can contact for information.

Shelter Alliance a great success for the animals

In 2006, despite valiant efforts by Portland-area rescue organizations, 39% of animals entering local shelters that year were euthanized. That same year, representatives from 10 local animal organizations created ASAP, the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland. A decade later, shelter intake has dropped 30%, and the live release rate is at an astonishing 94%.

ASAP — which handles 90% of shelter animals in a four-county area of 2 million citizens — is based on collaboration. The coalition’s Guiding Principles state: “We recognize that all stakeholders in the animal welfare community have a passion for and are dedicated to saving animals’ lives. We are committed to the belief that . . . we need one another, and that the only true solution is to work together.”

Collaboration of this scale signaled a cultural shift. Multnomah County Animal Services Shelter Manager Ann Potter says, “Collaboration takes a ‘shelter’ problem and makes it a community problem. Each partner in the coalition has strengths they can share, and weaknesses that other agencies can help bolster.”

Two years in, the coalition invited community input on terms like “adoptable,” “healthy,” and “treatable” to help standardize definitions for recordkeeping and grant applications. A grant from Maddie’s Fund enabled the group to collect and analyze shelter data that revealed that the greatest impact in saving lives would be made by helping cats, who had a 49% live release rate at that time.

ASAP determined it would need to spay/neuter an additional 10,000 cats annually to significantly and sustainably decrease the number of cats entering local shelters. To achieve this, Spay & Save was formed — a program primarily funded by PetSmart Charities — providing subsidized spay/neuter services to low-income cat guardians and those feeding feral or stray cats. The reason for this, says Cat Adoption Team Executive Director Karen Green, is “the majority of the animals dying in our shelters were cats and offspring of unowned or community cats, or who had low-income owners.”

A tremendous success, Spay & Save has expanded to offer surgery, basic veterinary care, licensing and microchipping, plus special transport through volunteers and Petco events. Karen Kraus, executive director of Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon, says ASAP’s purposeful inclusion of feral cat issues “spread the word to a much wider audience about the importance of spaying/neutering pet cats, along with feral and stray.”

More than 61,000 cats have been fixed through Spay & Save since 2010. Program Coordinator Kayte Wolf says, “Even if someone who calls does not qualify for our program, nine times out of 10 we can refer them to another affordable option.” In 2012, the coalition launched the Neighborhood Pet Project, a one-year ASPCA campaign providing free veterinary and behavioral care to eligible cat and Pit Bull owners. ASAP shelters have seen a 50% decrease in cat intake since the program started.

Transport is another important element, both between coalition members and outside rescues/shelters. Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter Manager Deborah Wood says, “The question we ask every day is, ‘who can help us save the most animals and help them find the perfect homes?’” In 2015, more than 1,500 animals moved between partner organizations — 958 were transferred to outside organizations, and 8,200 came to coalition shelters from outside groups. Transfers save lives because each organization has unique veterinary and behavior resources, and adopters’ preferences vary by area. According to Lisa Feder of Humane Society for SW Washington, “When you realize you have the entire coalition as a resource it makes it much easier to find a solution to a particular animal’s needs.”

What holds everything together is a constant supportive relationship between ASAP partners. Several committees meet regularly, including the Lifesaving Committee, comprised of operations managers. Monthly meetings foster connection and friendship, shared information, discussion of trends, and brainstorming. Feder says, “It gives us an opportunity to meet face to face and get to know our partner managers a bit better. It makes it easy to pick up the phone and ask questions or for help.”

Through these connections, Cat Adoption Team’s ‘Fostering 4 Rock Stars’ program — which created quality foster homes for thousands of cats — was modeled at three local shelters. In 2015, CAT Director of Operations Kristi Brooks and Potter of MCAS co-presented the concept to a national audience at the HSUS Animal Care Expo.

As Wood says, “...the relationship among our shelters is unique nationally. The organizations and staff put their egos aside to work as one for the sake of the animals. We work as a group, and each shelter also has raised the bar to do exceptional work on its own. We see each other as friends and colleagues. It reflects on the kind of place the Metro area is, and on the individual integrity of the shelter leadership. This is something people in our community should take a great deal of pride in.”

Learn more about ASAP at Also worth a look: and an exciting new community movement, PetopiaPDX. Check it out at


“What I like about Spay and Save is knowing the reasonable cost makes it possible for responsible people to take care of their animals and prevent the birth of animals who would not have the chance of a loving home.”

—    S&S volunteer

“I had no idea what an impact Spay & Save would make. And how quickly. What a success it has been for all the shelters involved … and cats.

—    S&S volunteer

What has impressed me is realizing that people from ALL walks of life love their animals and want to do the right thing.”

—    S&S volunteer

 “One client named Joyce had a pregnant mama cat who stumbled into her life and changed it for the better. Joyce is agoraphobic and never leaves her apartment. After the cat arrived gave birth to kittens, Joyce didn’t know what to do because she couldn’t afford to spay the mama and care for the kittens. She also had no way to transport them anywhere. We sent a volunteer to her apartment (after many reassurances) to pick up the mama cat for her spay surgery, and take the kittens for surrender to OHS so they could get fixed, vaccinated, and adopted to loving families of their own.”

When the mama cat was returned to her, Joyce was so impressed with the way that we had gone that extra mile to help her. She was so grateful, and since her situation was unique, it is something I will never forget.  I am so happy that we can help more people like Joyce.”  

—    Kayte Wolf, S&S

Daniela Iancu, founder of Animal Community Talks, has worked and volunteered with veterinary practices and animal welfare organizations in the Portland area for the last decade. Her happy home includes a wonderfully supportive husband and two senior felines.


Saving Lives takes a Village

We are the Village 

How to have a broken heart 

Bob Webster’s heart swelled for every adoptable dog he met. Browsing kennels from Salem to Portland, he saw the wonderful qualities in every set of puppy-dog eyes looking back at him. “They could be loved. They could be loving somebody right now. From an adopter’s perspective it’s hard. I want to help them all.” 

Single, active, 40-something Bob is an experienced adopter and lives on a large property with no kids or other pets. At 6’7” he seemed perfect for a gentle giant of a dog, especially one in need of extra attention.   

Bob was determined to use his unique situation to help a hard-luck case, which he found online with a regional rescue: an adult Rottweiler mix who had been in foster care for a long time. For this dog, the rescue required a commitment to working with a professional dog trainer. Bob dove into the challenge, working around the clock on training and socialization, which his new pal learned quickly.  

Then the unfathomable happened. In a surprise encounter with another dog, there was a terrible fight. Bob got hurt trying to break it up, and it proved fatal for both dogs. The second dog died from his injuries. Bob’s dog — after extensive heart-wrenching discussions with the rescue group, the trainer and the veterinarian — was euthanized.  

Bob (who is not using his real name here) is devastated. The life he tried to save is gone, along with another. 

The life and death struggle of rescue  

Shelters and rescues maintain detailed data on animals received, adopted, euthanized, returned after adoption, or transferred to other facilities. They have no means of tracking how every dog or cat fares in life after adoption, but outcomes like Bob’s are exceptional. 

While Bob’s case is unusual, it does highlight one important, sobering truth: adopters engage in a transaction unlike any other. A life hangs in the balance.  

Given increasing save rates and declining euthanasia rates in the Northwest, these days few dogs or cats die while waiting for adoption. Now, they live or die based on whether they can overcome the health or behavioral problems that made them homeless in the first place. 

“Everyone needs to know that there are no time limits in shelters in our area, so people don't need to ‘save’ dogs from shelters,” says BJ Anderson, executive director at Willamette Humane Society in Salem. There is no clock ticking, no “pull date” for shelter animals in our region. Thanks to hard-won save rates and collaborative efforts between shelters and rescue groups, the old “time limit” idea is an outdated one.  

Old challenges have been replaced by new ones. Anderson says, “Our shelter sees two trends in our local dog population: younger, larger, poorly-socialized dogs with mild to moderate behavior issues that impact adoptability; and geriatric, cute, desirable dogs with compound medical issues that require a lot of resources to be considered adoption candidates.”  

In the new model of cooperation, agencies can shift animals around the region to give them the best chance for rehabilitation and adoptability. 

Diane Young operates one of those agencies, Salem Dogs, which handles special-needs animals. Under her watch, dogs get medical and behavioral care while she searches out adopters most suited to their needs. Often, the ideal family isn’t the first one to express interest. “Adopting a young Border Collie to a sedate senior citizen home is usually not a good idea,” says Young. “Same with placing fragile dogs in homes with young children. Adopters need to cooperate with rescues to make the best match.”  

This brings front and center a primary pain-point between rescuers and adopters.  

“We have had people yell at us when we explain a particular dog would not be a good fit for them,” says Bobbi Roach, who volunteers with Oregon Dog Rescue in Tualatin. She wishes she could tell every adopter: “Please trust the rescue volunteers that work with the dogs every day.” 

Flexibility is key  

Roach likens her job to playing matchmaker between friends. “It’s a very real challenge, and often leads to fits of hair-pulling and head-banging,” she says. Adopters might arrive with their hearts set on a floppy-eared dog, but, “That floppy-eared dog may not like your children. You live in an apartment and Floppy Ear has severe separation anxiety, which will not endear him or you to your neighbors while you’re gone nine hours a day. You have a cat, you say? Floppy Ear hates cats.” 

The future of saving lives 

Pacific Northwest shelters are winning in the mission of saving lives. The Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, combining animal welfare resources in the Metro Area, has achieved an 89 percent drop in euthanasia rates in nine years. Just down the freeway, Willamette Humane receives half as many animals as it did a decade ago, and saves a larger percentage of those. 

Professionals like Anderson are now tackling the next life-saving challenge: preventing animals from becoming homeless in the first place. This will require a shift in expectations. “We live very busy lives and expect our pets to accommodate our schedules — to be quiet when left alone and grasp housetraining in 24 hours; to always get along with kids and cats and dogs, and to never have issues like resource guarding.” With more families properly prepared to handle behavioral challenges, veterinary expenses, and the pitfalls of moving with pets, shelters will move beyond being the “halfway houses for pets surrendered due to lack of resources or knowledge,” and more will stay in their homes for life. 

The Citizen’s Life-Saving Toolkit 

In the work of saving more lives, it takes a village, a city, a state, a region. Here is advice from our rescue experts on how every individual can lend a hand: 

1.     Advocate, but do it with care. “The social media fervor for rescue isn’t really doing the best it could,” says BJ Anderson. It may help to share adoptable pets on Facebook, but only if your post links directly to details about the animal’s current status. Remember too that California municipal shelters with higher euthanasia rates don’t reflect our local reality.  

2.     Remember the most basic things are the most effective. “Adopt a rescue dog, spay/neuter every dog and cat, license/chip every dog and cat, keep ID on at all times, and comply with leash laws,” says Diane Young. 

3.     If you’re looking to adopt a dog or cat, “trust what volunteers tell you,” cautions Bobbi Roach. “If it’s a good match, they’ll be more than happy to adopt to you.” 

4.     Expect the unexpected. Pet-friendly rental deposits and landlord restrictions can be steep. Veterinary expenses can run into the hundreds and thousands, especially as pets age. BJ Anderson hopes veterinary insurance will become the norm to help people budget. For eye-opening price ranges on everything from grooming to pet sitting to emergency surgery, visit

Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Meet the Rescues: Underdog Railroad Rescue

What matchmakers do 

Underdog Railroad, a small nonprofit rescue in Portland, saves dogs locally and from high-kill California shelters. Dogs are fostered until healthy, then placed in forever homes.

It all started five years ago, when URR founder Jody Kurilla saw a 10-year-old Poodle on Pet Connect who was to be euthanized the following morning in San Bernardino.

Jody booked a flight (two to get there, two to get home), and the next day had Fifi onboard. “She cried and cried, so I held her, and told her she was going home. She went to sleep, and slept all the way home.”  Fifi’s been home ever since.

Pet Connect thought Jody did a great job, and soon called about another dog. Jody responded, and this one — also scheduled to die — was adopted quickly.

Intrigued, Jody contacted local rescues, asking: “Am I crazy? Should I do this?”

“Pixie was one . . . she said she thought I’d do great work and that I should.”

URR is devoted to those who will be killed if not rescued, who “no one is coming for,” including “medical, old, or behavioral dogs,” says Jody, adding that they take all ages and breeds — “a variety of dogs.”

Jody says the rescue isn’t “looking for numbers,” but for great matches, one tail at a time.

“We’re like dating . . . a matchmaking service.”

And they’re serious. Recently a woman with cats was considering an adoptable dog. Volunteers did a home visit, spending no less than two hours, “just to make sure the dog and cats would do fine,” Jody smiles. They did.

The all-volunteer group is foster-based, “so we really get to know the dogs and can make great matches.” They share stories and photos on Facebook “from the time they’re received until they go home,” says Jody, adding, “People love it.”

This inspired the creation of a video — launching soon as part of a new campaign — based on a piece by a performance artist at MOMA. Jody hopes the film will move others the way Fifi moved her.

The stories are endless. A favorite of Jody’s shows the before and after of a little guy left in the drop box at a shelter. Ugly with mange when he arrived, Jody says his ‘after’ shots “make you go What!? Can’t be the same dog.”

Following the mantra of one tail at a time, Jody says if they are anything, it’s careful. “We’re taking the dogs that no one has responded to . . . headed for euthanasia. Then we’re working to get them in front of that someone (they are out there) for whom this is their forever dog.”

In five short years, URR has written countless love stories that without them would have ended before they began. Their dreams for the future are no less profound, and continue their legacy of love.

Because that’s what matchmakers do. And Underdog Railroad does it well, one tail at a time.

Get to know them and see stories you won’t forget (for all the right reasons) on Facebook, and at

—    Kristan Dael

Meet the Rescues: Pixie Project

Here for ALL of them

Homeless pets come to The Pixie Project from everywhere -- overcrowded rural Oregon shelters, “Texas, California, strays, owners who can't keep them, it's all a combination," says executive director Amy Sacks. "We're here for all of them."

At this nonprofit animal rescue and adoption center located in NE Portland, adoption is a fun, positive, family-friendly experience that’s all about getting pets into lifelong homes.

"Our dogs and cats go through a LOT of behavior assessment,” says Sacks, “and they are carefully matched to improve the success of a happy adoption.”  

Sacks believes a bad adoption can ruin the future for other homeless pets later in a family's life. 

"If people get a bad fit they’re likely to go out and buy their next dog or cat. To me, you can save one dog, or save all the dogs that family may adopt in the future if you make a great match."

Sacks and her team are diligent about ensuring every pet they deem adoptable is behaviorally and medically ready to be homed. "Whatever has to be done to get a behaviorally sound dog or cat ready for adoption, we will take care of," she says, which sometimes includes extensive surgery.

The belief that spay/neuter to prevent unwanted births is key in minimizing animal suffering is one reason The Pixie Project also operates The Scott Wainner Pixie Care Clinic, providing low-income and homeless pet owners access to vital veterinary care including spay/neuter, emergency services, dental extractions, amputations, mass removals, and other life-saving surgeries.

"When you have senior people with 12-year-old animals, and you look at resources spent, it's better to address the need of the pet owner and keep that pet home where it is cared for and loved," Sacks says. "Typically that pet has been with their beloved owner their entire life. Why should a senior feel forced to surrender a pet due to expenses? Senior animals have very limited adoption opportunities. Why separate them?"

The Pixie Project team is committed to the adoption process start to finish, interviewing applicants carefully, and discussing what they seek in a beloved companion. They also tell clients up front that a "perfect match" may take time -- but it’s worth it.

"The more we can make adoption an experience people love, the more people can trust this system and the less animals are put to sleep,” says Sacks.

Want to help?

"We always have a need for foster parents, and being in a home setting lets us better assess a dog or cat when it's time to place them." Also needed are donations (including vehicles) and volunteers. Other ways to help include attending a fundraiser or purchasing Fetch eyewear or items on Pixie’s Wish List from Amazon. Learn more at

—    Christy Caballero

Meet the Rescues: OFOSA

Wanted:  OFOSA Heroes

What began in 2001 with just five animal-loving people has become what is today one of the most active shelters in the Northwest. Chalking up 1600 adoptions in 2015, OFOSA Board President Cathy Nechak expects they’ll complete well over 2000 adoptions this year.

Partnering with Best Friends Animal Society and other leading organizations, in recent months OFOSA has been called upon by Best Friends to help the “little Cajuns” — animals left behind or lost and unclaimed during and after the Louisiana flood.

“We got five heartworm-positive dogs,” says Cathy, underscoring one of the things for which OFOSA has historically been known: caring for those others will not. “These dogs have a 99 percent chance of survival,” Cathy says. “I don’t expect them to die.”

An interesting thing came up when preparing to transport these dogs, which included puppies. “Where’s the mom?” Cathy wanted to know. Told they thought OFOSA wouldn’t want her, Cathy asked, “Why, is she not nice?” They replied, “Oh, she’s wonderful!”

Mom made the transport. “We don’t leave moms behind,” says Cathy — “not our style.”

What is their style is being heroes to pets who have none — and doing it right. “When things get tight, others cut staff. We don’t,” says Cathy, adding, “I’m a firm believer in having one caretaker for every 12 dogs. They need to be fed, kept clean, exercised and loved.”

Which brings us to the critical focus currently in play for this important member of the NW rescue community: closing the gap. This time, OFOSA needs heroes.

Adoption fees generally cover exams and tests for disease, vaccinations, microchipping, and flea, heartworm and other treatments as needed. Sometimes the cost of these necessary steps are just a dollar or two less than the adoption fee for the pet.

As year-end approaches, OFOSA needs to close the gap in order to continue its important work. 200 OFOSA Heroes contributing just $10 per month can do just that.

Could you be a Hero? A member of the OFOSA 200?  In addition to the joy of knowing you’ll be helping to save yet another 2000 (or more) sweet pets’ lives, you’ll have the honor and the pleasure of bragging rights. Contributors will receive an “OFOSA Hero” digital “badge” to share on social media, and a great bracelet that goes with everything — but looks especially great with the sparkle in your eye that says: “I saved a life and I liked it!”

Be a Hero. Call or email OFOSA today, and feel the love.

OFOSA holds adoption events weekly at partner PetSmart stores in Cedar Hills, Hillsboro, Wilsonville, and Tanasbourne. They’d love to meet you, talk more about how you can help, and introduce you to some of the amazing little rock stars — including many “little Cajuns” who survived unimaginable tragedy but are smiling and full of life . . . and ready to meet the new love of their life!

—    Kristan Dael

Note: Carolyn Ackerman, owner/operator of Let Carolyn Paint it, has been beautifying homes and commercial buildings with painting and other services for 20 years. A lifelong animal lover, Carolyn’s business donates 50% of the proceeds from every job to animal rescue. She supports OFOSA by underwriting this story.

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