By Jessica Walker
Pets can make the best companions. They don’t care if you’re not a five-star chef. They greet you at the front door before you can even step inside. They’re always eager for a cuddle on the couch or a walk in the fresh air after a hard day.
But when pets themselves are in need, resources might seem scarce. Thanks to the folks of the Oregon Humane Society (OHS), that problem is becoming less of a concern.
OHS is the largest humane society throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the third oldest in the country. They provide pet adoption services, spay and neuter services, and educational programs at their state-of-the-art facility in Portland. Reverend Thomas Lamb Eliot founded OHS in 1868 after witnessing the mistreatment of a horse. Until the 1930s, the organization worked with orphaned children in addition to animals.
OHS receives no tax dollars and operates through generous donations, which include the support of the Summer Lea Hillman Foundation.
More than 11,000 pets every year find homes through OHS. About 10,000 of these adoptable friends are cats and dogs, but others include birds, guinea pigs, and rabbits.
OHS transports animals to the Portland facility through their Second Chance program. The goal is to prevent euthanization when partner shelters throughout Oregon, Washington, California and the surrounding regions cannot accommodate or find homes for animals. In 2015 alone, the Second Chance program welcomed more than 6,000 pets to OHS.
Animals also come to OHS from local individuals, particularly when people can no longer care for their pets or cannot pay for a pet’s emergency medical treatment.
At OHS, animals have no time limit for their stay, although that’s not often a problem.
“Animals are coming in on Tuesday. By the weekend, they’re headed to their new homes,” says OHS grants program manager Nicole Lutton. “We’re really lucky. Portland has a market for people who want to adopt from shelters.”
About half of admitted animals qualify as healthy. For the remaining half, OHS administers medical treatment and behavioral training to ensure top-level care. They never euthanize pets for space reasons and maintain one of the highest save rates nationwide at 98 percent. A “no-kill” shelter must have at least a 90 percent save rate. However, OHS does not strictly define itself as a “no-kill” shelter since it accepts all animals–even ones with significant physical illnesses or behavioral issues.
OHS isn’t just concerned about caring for the animals, but also the people who love them. Nearly 2,000 volunteers help the shelter annually. Tasks can range from assisting the medical team to feeding pets to performing administrative duties.
“Volunteers come from all walks of life,” says Lutton. “There’s camaraderie because we’re all doing what we can to get these animals adopted.”
The Youth Volunteer program allows children ages 12-17 to interact with animals through socialization visits, groomings, and dog walks. Adults can volunteer to run special events, assist with educational programs, or foster care.
Volunteers also comprise the OHS Technical Animal Rescue Team (OHSTAR). Trained in first aid and technical skills, OHSTAR responds when injured pets require cliff or water rescues, or during natural and manmade disasters. They help law enforcement agencies when distressed animals need evacuated from at-risk situations.
“These are very skilled people who go through training,” says Lutton. “When they get the call, they’re ready to go.”
To acknowledge such everyday heroes, OHS presents the Diamond Collar Hero Awards in February. At a luncheon, they honor community members who do remarkable work with or advocate on behalf of animals, as well as animals that positively impact the lives of others. Past awardees include Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott and his cat Koshka. Knott rescued the abused Koshka while in Afghanistan. In turn, the cat became his loyal companion throughout his deployment and when he returned home.
“Animals bring so much to people’s lives,” says Lutton. When an investigative team rescued a large group of dogs from a puppy mill, she fostered one of the puppies as OHS worked to obtain legal custody. “It was great to see [the rescue] both from a grant standpoint with raising money for it, and on a personal level with being able to have this puppy in my life and seeing him adopted into a great home.
“Right now, [OHS is] in a place where we’re seeing where we stand within our community,” she says. “That means expanding our investigative unit, and looking into animal cruelty and animal neglect cases.”
Another area of focus is keeping pets in loving homes. “We’re currently seeing how to help people who might not have financial resources, and how they can still get the food and medicine they need to keep their pets,” says Lutton.
Whether the largest of Great Danes or the smallest of mice, as OHS knows: “There’s a furry soul mate for everyone.”