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Guest Column: We have a responsibility to animals

Over the course of my adult life, I have provided homes for 21 rescued animals, several of whom came to me from Home At Last. I have also been a regular financial supporter of the shelter in the past. So, it is quite distressing to hear the recent reports of unhealthy animals, overcrowding, and unsanitary living conditions.

It also raises many questions: Whose responsibility should it be to care for the 600-800 animals that pass through the shelter yearly? Why are that many animals passing through the shelter in such a small community? Who is actually in charge of running the shelter at this point? What can be done in the short term to help the shelter through its current crisis? What support and structure does the shelter need over the long term in order to be viable? To me, this is a major public problem that affects the livability of our community.

It would be wonderful to see cooperation among the shelter, the city, and the county to establish a steady base funding source and a plan to move forward and improve the operation of the shelter. With the caveat that I have very little knowledge about the regulations that govern non-profits and government entities, I also offer the following ideas:

In the short term:

• I would encourage the board of Home At Last to make a public statement about how they plan to move forward and what they need from the community. They should invite the public to join them for their next board meeting. I think they will find a community ready to support the shelter and grateful to those who are volunteering to serve on the board.

• There needs to be immediate emergency intervention to ensure that shelter conditions do not degenerate after the heroic volunteer efforts of Janna Hage to halt the ringworm epidemic and get the facility clean. This could include temporarily bringing in another humane organization to help get the shelter organized and back on solid ground.

One that comes to mind is Best Friends in Kanab, Utah. They are the leaders of a nationwide no-kill movement that has spread to small towns and large cities, including Los Angeles and New York. Their facilities and resources are amazing, and Best Friends serves as a tourist attraction that brings in visitors (and dollars) to their community. In the long term:

• The shelter needs enough stable public funding to hire a paid director with a salary and benefits commensurate with the amount of effort it takes to operate a shelter. This person’s salary should never rely on donations, and should reflect the emotionally draining nature of animal rescue work.

• The director should have enough funds available to hire paid staff, including a volunteer coordinator, a marketing and education outreach coordinator, and a fundraiser/grant writer.

• The shelter needs to network with other shelters in order to alleviate any future overcrowding and facilitate more adoptions. For example, if small dogs are popular in Hood River and large dogs are more likely to be adopted out in The Dalles, trade dogs to improve their chances of adoption and create more room at both shelters.

• Oversight of the shelter operations should be established, perhaps by the city and county, to ensure that conditions remain beneficial to the animals and the volunteers and that the shelter is appropriating the funds as intended by the public entities that provided them.

The shelter needs to increase their funding for spay and neuter programs and expand their outreach to educate the community about these services, as well as provide a humane education program in area schools to improve the treatment of animals.

• The facility needs to be improved to provide a less stressful atmosphere for the animals. Dogs housed in crates or noisy concrete kennels constantly will not behave in a way that makes them seem adoptable.

The recent crisis has created a Catch-22 for Home at Last, and the public needs immediate reassurance. People want to donate money, but need to know that someone is there to receive funds and that they will be used properly.

Those who would like to volunteer need to know they will have a positive experience and not a heartbreaking one in which they encounter dogs in small cages and exposure to ringworm.

I appreciate The Chronicle for bringing this issue to light and the responses I have received from some of the county commissioners and city councilors I have contacted. We have a responsibility as a civilized society to humanely care for homeless domestic animals, especially since most are homeless as a result of human actions. Let’s continue to live up to it.

— Amy Kaser is a wheat farmer and rancher who taught for 20 years. She is a pet parent to two dogs, eight cats and a orphan bull.


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