Bringing home a new best friend

Sara Tokarz, shelter manager at the South Pacific County Humane Society in Long Beach interacts with “Otis,” a 3-year-old toy fox terrier. “We're a no-kill shelter,” Tokarz said. “We're dedicated to giving them the time and attention they need.”

LONG BEACH — The first advertisement featured a sympathetic Uncle Sam leading a horse with words “Help the horse to save the soldier.” What began in 1877 with a simple goal to secure humane treatment for working animals and livestock during transit provided the inspiration for The Humane Society of The United States (HSUS) launching in 1954. Today HSUS helps more than 7.6 million animals annually at shelters like the one for Clatsop County in Warrenton and the South Pacific County Animal Shelter in Long Beach.

When the South Pacific County Animal shelter first opened in 1996, it was nearly inundated with dogs.

“The Peninsula has gotten control of the situation with dogs,” said Sandy Clancy, board president for the South Pacific County Humane Society, “But cats are still an issue.” The spring and summer, when litters occur, brings an abundance of cats, to which the shelter designates two entire rooms. The dog admittances are less predictable. A no-kill shelter, many of the dogs are brought in from high-risk areas in California and Louisiana with assistance from the Oregon Friends of Sheltered Animals (OFOSA). Wings of Rescue, a donation-based charity, has flown more than 7,000 at-risk pets from high-risk shelters since 2009.

In August, the worst flooding since Hurricane Katrina washed over Louisiana. As homes and businesses were inundated, pets were abandoned or lost in last-minute evacuations. Some of these pets have been relocated to the Peninsula, where staff is hopeful they can find a new place to call home.

“The last couple months we’ve been getting dogs from the Louisiana floods,” said Sara Tokarz, shelter manager, South Pacific County Humane Society. “There are shelters who lost a lot of animals, and the few surviving ones were brought here.” Currently the shelter has two schnauzer puppies whose journey began in the Louisiana bayou before being displaced by the floods.

Some come seeking a cocker spaniel while others are bent on bringing home a breed of boxer. When it comes to finding a new best friend, the shelter offers variety and occasionally pure pedigrees.

“There’s actually a significant amount of pure-bred dogs,” Tokarz said. “Twenty to 30 percent of dogs (nationally) are pure-bred that have been abandoned.” The shelter keeps a list of contacts for those looking for specific breeds.

“We go back and look at it each time we get a new dog,” Tokarz said.

Every pet needs a home, but not all find one, particularly those that may need it the most. Dogs suffering from skin issues, allergies or eating problems are often the last to leave.

“Pit bulls tend to be here a little bit longer,” Tokarz said. “Some of the dogs with allergies are here sometimes for a few months.” Often the issues are medical related. One dog arrived so emaciated that a feeding tube was necessary for ingesting food. But it isn’t all dogs and cats that they help. Baby ducks, rabbits, ferrets and pigs are some of the atypical animals that have been brought to the shelter over the years. The Wildlife Center of the North Coast in Astoria typically handles the more peculiar pets.

“We’re a no-kill shelter so we’re dedicated to giving them the time and attention they need,” Tokarz said. The shelter takes in community animals that sometimes have behavioral issues. Cati Foss, owner of Arnicadia Dog Training, is often called in to help with dogs that need training. The popularity of pet adoption has increased as awareness has grown.

“We see repeat people coming in,” Clancy said. “People are recognizing that great animals are coming through. There’s a lot more awareness now nationally.”

When it comes to pet adoption, many people mistakenly believe that pets from shelters are problematic.

“We get a lot of people who want a puppy because they’re convinced that you have to raise it as a puppy to have a good dog,” Tokarz said. “Some people have a concern that there must be a problem animal, that it’s the reason why it’s in the shelter.” In reality, a pet’s issues are addressed before they become available for adoption. Each is spayed/neutered, given proper shots, micro-chipped and behavioral issues are addressed before availability for adoption. Another misconception is that adult dogs come with baggage, but typically adults dogs are house-trained and calmer overall compared to puppies.

“Puppies are great if you have the time and energy to put in,” Tokarz said. “But getting an adult dog has a lot of advantages too.”

From preventive medical procedures to pet food, the shelter offers programs for low-income pet owners and alternative avenues in pet care. Recent funding acquired through a grant has allowed the shelter to lower the price of the spay/neuter program from $35 to just $10. A pet food program allows owners in need to pick up food at the shelter where boarding is also available.

“We have a lot of services for people who are struggling,” Clancy said.

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