Taking care of the critters | VailDaily.com

Taking care of the critters

Kathy Heicher Special to the Daily

For many homeless dogs and cats, a trip to the local animal shelter is the end of the line. Not so at the Eagle County Animal Shelter.

Located on the west edge of the Eagle County Fairgrounds, the local shelter is a facility where happy endings prevail. The shelter is now in its sixth year of operation as an official “no-kill shelter.” Last year, 801 of the 824 animals that passed through the shelter were adopted.

Credit the shelter’s success to the hard-working volunteers of the Eagle Valley Humane Society, strong fiscal and staff support from Eagle County, innovative educational programs and some forward-thinking policies.

“Ours is the only government-owned and operated shelter in the state that is considered a “no kill’ shelter,” says a proud Deb Brown, director of Eagle County Animal Control. The local shelter recently received a national award for innovation from the National Association of Counties.

Brown and Eagle Valley Humane Society Director Char Quinn credit a variety of factors for the success of the local shelter, not the least of which is a close working relationship between the two agencies.

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“That’s very unheard of,” says Quinn.

The local Humane Society was established in 1974. After a few years of persistent lobbying by Society volunteers, the county stepped up to the plate and offered animal control and shelter services. These days, the county allocates about $550,000 annually to shelter operations, including salaries and capital facilities.

Adoption excels

The title “no kill” is applies to shelters which can claim a 95 percent or greater adoption or re-claim rate on animals.

“It’s a little controversial. When people hear the phrase “no kill,’ they think we don’t euthanize animals at all – I’m not sure that’s possible,” says Brown, who has been with Eagle County Animal Control for over 10 years. Last year, 23 animals that came to the shelter had to be put down, she says. Those animals had insurmountable health problems, such as cancer, or were injured to the point there was no chance of recovery. There are also a few truly vicious animals that are brought to the shelter that have to be put down.

“We are not euthanizing animals to create space. We’re only euthanizing the ones that need to be euthanized,” says Brown.

Neither is the local shelter making their “no-kill” claim by transferring out difficult-to-adopt animals to other facilities. In the past five years, Brown asserts, only eight animals have been transferred to other shelters and that was because the receiving shelters asked for them.

There is no time limit for how long an animal can be retained at the shelter. One of the shelter’s success stories is Riley, a golden-retriever mix who was in the shelter for four months before the Humane Society was able to match him with a Glenwood Springs woman. The woman, a stroke victim, wrote a letter explaining how she was looking for a two- to three-year-old, quiet dog who could support her when she had balance problems, and who was trained in basic manners. Shelter workers knew Riley was the perfect match.

Brown recalls that one dog stayed at the shelter for just over a year before it was matched with an owner. The average shelter stay is two to three weeks.

“This is truly a no-kill county. That makes people feel better about bringing animals in here,” says Quinn.

Homes for the furry

The Humane Society and Animal Shelter work together on an extensive educational program promoting responsible pet ownership.

For example, the county’s policy calls for a two-week waiting period (with some emergency exceptions) before pet owners are allowed to surrender a pet to the shelter. During that time, the owners are encouraged to find the animal a new home.

“The shelter should always be a last resort for placing an animal,” says Brown. Also, before the shelter accepts an animal, the owners are held responsible for making the pet adoptable, meaning it must be neutered or spayed, and up to date on vaccinations.

Brown says 50 percent of the animals that people offer to the shelter are actually placed in new homes before they get to the facility.

A strong emphasis on limiting animal reproduction is also a factor in the success of the shelter. No animal goes out of the shelter without being spayed or neutered. The Humane Society, a nonprofit organization that operates on an approximate $90,000 annual budget, works with local veterinarians in offering twice-a-year discounts on animal altering. The agency also offers financial assistance to pet owners who can’t afford the operations.

The Society also covers the costs of neutering feral cats, which Quinn says, is a huge factor in keeping down the numbers of unwanted pets.

“Last May, Glenwood had 105 kittens in their shelter. We had one,” she notes.

Quinn, who is a salaried, full-time employee of the Humane Society, also makes good use of the media in encouraging animal adoptions. She’s the host of a weekly radio show called “Pause for Pets” on local FM radio. The up-valley pubic access television offers regular coverage of adoptable animals. Local newspapers have also been generous in running regular features about the animals available for adoption. The stories and photos get a tremendous response.

“We have a kennel full of celebrities,” jokes Brown. After a local newspaper ran a story on a boxer pup that overcame great health odds, the response was so great that the Society ended up with the names of 40 people on a list of potential adopters.

Pleasing pets

and owners

Many people bring pets to the shelter because they cannot manage the animals. The Shelter, in conjunction with the Humane Society, offers six free obedience lessons with professional dog trainer Mark Ruark with each adopted dog. The Society pays for Ruark’s time.

Ruark also works at the shelter every Thursday, offering the dog inmates some basic training. Mannered dogs get a better reception from the people who are


“My number one job is to keep this dog in his new home forever,” explains Ruark, as he walks a happy dog on a leash near the shelter. He’s happy to help support the cause.

The Humane Society offers “Pet Adopt-A-Thons” several times a year at community events and local businesses. The events promote both adoptions of shelter animals and public awareness of animal issues.

The society also has a number of fund-raising programs, ranging from working at the annual Community Fund Rummage Sale, to offering pet photos with Santa, and some fund-raising parties. The animal-friendly people of the county respond well.

When applying for the award from the National Association of Counties, the shelter staff explained the justification for the program is the fact that it works; and offers public service along with responsibility.

“We get lots of compliments. We’re very proud of what we do,” says Brown.

County jail inmates work with shelter animals

By Kathy Heicher Special to the Daily

Steve, an inmate of the Eagle County jail, spends six days a week working at the Eagle County Animal Shelter. He spends two-thirds of each day cleaning up and feeding animals, and the remainder is used for training and working with dogs.

Steve’s work is part of “Pen Pal,” a new work-release program started last spring. The project was the brainchild of Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy, who believed qualified inmates would benefit from a work-release program that offers benefits for others, as well as themselves. The Eagle Valley Humane Society jumped at the suggestion, figuring that trained dogs makes the pets more adoptable and the daily work-outs relieve animal stress.

Vail Rotary donated money to jump-start the program. The participants work one day a week with dog trainer Mark Ruark, who teaches them how to handle dogs and teach the animals basic commands. About a dozen inmates have participated in the program to date.

Steve, who is nearly finished serving his sentence at the jail, says he welcomes the opportunity to work with the animals.

“You can tell you’re making a difference with the dogs. It is a win-win situation for both the dogs, and myself,” he says.

He acknowledges that it’s easy to get attached to the animals. One 10-week-old puppy was his favorite.

“I was in love with it, but my job is to see them trained, and help them get to a good home,” he says.

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