By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

Shelter is a revelation

I really have no reason to go out to our local animal adoption shelter, Homeward Bound Pets. As much as I threaten to give up all my dogs for adoption on those Bad Dog Days, I know (as do they) that I don’t mean it. And with five dogs and one poor beleaguered cat already under my roof, I’d be crazy (or crazier) to go out and get any more of either.

But I recently decided to visit anyway, just to see what, if any, changes had been made out there. Turns out, quite a few good things have been happening and I want to share what I learned.

One thing that strikes me is, in the now 20-plus years we’ve lived in McMinnville, our animal shelter has gone from good to better to pretty darn wonderful, especially given the very limited resources with which it has to operate. It has always been a very caring facility, managing to look after down-on-their-luck dogs and cats in a truly compassionate manner. And it has always been a no-kill shelter, with the philosophy that all creatures great and small have the right to live out their years on this earth like God or Whoever meant them to.

A slight tangent here. In the past, I have heard arguments against no-kill shelters, because they supposedly end up full of animals with such severe behavioral or health issues that they will never be adopted, crowding out other homeless pets who could easily be adopted if given the chance. Historically, this may have been true. But in these days of Pet Finder, foster homes and an enhanced awareness of how we can deal with dogs and cats who need extra health care or training, that isn’t the case.

I checked with the staff of Homeward Bound Pets, and very, very few animals die of old age at the shelter. At times the effort seems Herculean, but their adoption rate is darn near 100 percent.

But back to my visit. The current facility — on Loop Road, just off of Highway 18 — though far, far from fancy, is well-tended, and the animals waiting for their homes live in clean and comfortable quarters. There are two cat houses and a spacious kennel for the dogs. In addition, the shelter recruits people who can foster animals until they can be adopted. These foster homes are especially needed for cats — but more about that in a minute.

When I visited Homeward Bound Pets, there were three very adorable small dogs available for adoption. I didn’t ask how old any of them were, but they weren’t puppies, so the adoption fee would probably be $125, unless the dog were older than 7, and then it would be $75. Puppies cost $150. Human senior citizens like me qualify for a 30 percent discount for adopting either a dog or a cat. And if any animal requires more than average care — special diets or ongoing medical care, for example — the shelter staff might reduce the fee even further. All dogs and cats are spayed/neutered, current on their vaccinations and parasite-free when they are adopted.

I have to say, although it’s always distressing to see a dog in a shelter instead of someone’s home, I walked away from the kennel at Homeward Bound knowing the staff would find good homes for all three of those temporary tenants.

The same is true for the cats, but I couldn’t help but feel that the sheer numbers of homeless cats created a much more daunting problem, especially now that we’re at the height of kitten season, and there are way too many cats making kittens in Yamhill County.

While I was talking to the staff, a couple of very lively, very cute kittens were playing around my feet. There were about 10 more back in the kitten nursery (kittens are kept away from the older cats until their vaccinations are complete) and many more out in the community being fostered. Even while I was sitting there, three more motherless little kitties — found on Grand Island — were brought in. They weren’t even weaned yet. They will be fostered in a home where someone is willing and able to bottle feed them until they can eat solid food.

Unlike in years past, when the shelter put a limit on the number of cats it could house, the current staff at Homeward Bound Pets will not turn away anyone needing to relinquish a cat. If at all possible, they will squeeze in one more cat.

The risk of a cat or kitten being dumped and abandoned — yes, apparently there are still people out there doing that, never mind that it’s both illegal and immoral — is just too great. There is a fee for the owner to surrender a cat, although if people find and bring in strays, like the Grand Island kittens, the shelter asks for any donation the person can afford.

The cost of caring for the population of homeless cats at the shelter is something we all need to be aware of. Even with the generous work of Carlton Veterinary Hospital, which sends out a vet and a vet tech once a week to keep the current cat population at the shelter in good health, each kitten or intact cat surrendered to the shelter will need about $300 worth of basic medical care before adoption.

That includes the cost of the spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations for feline leukemia and AIDS, and treatment for parasites like fleas or worms. So the cat you or I might adopt will be healthy, but the $55 to $75 fee we pay (less for older cats or black cats) is hardly going to cover the cost of getting them that way. The motherless kittens from Grand Island are going to cost the shelter upward of $1,000.

That might not be so daunting, except that Homeward Bound Pets has no source of steady funding. Unlike many other similar facilities in Oregon, the communities of Yamhill County don’t designate funds for the shelter in their budgets. Instead, the staff and volunteers have to regularly go to each city council in our county and ask for money, over and over again, and they may or may not get it. All other funds come from the Homeward Bound Thrift Shop, donations and fundraising activities, and fees from surrendering and adopting pets.

So if you have an extra bag of kitty litter or kibble laying around, think about donating it to Homeward Bound Pets. Every little bit helps. Likewise, blankets and towels, treats, toys and, oh, yes, time are appreciated. Volunteers are needed to walk and exercise the dogs, clean the cat house and kennels, do yard work or laundry, help with fundraising or just play with the kittens. And there’s always a need for foster homes, especially for cats and kittens. This, by the way, is most often a short-term commitment that would likely involve keeping a cat for just a few weeks.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” The problem of overpopulation and homeless dogs and cats not getting the love and care they deserve weighs on my conscience, and perhaps on yours. But when you visit a place like Homeward Bound Pets, where people are working so hard, with so much energy and compassion, to find the right home and human for the critters lucky enough to be entrusted to them, you have to have hope.

There’s always more that all of us can do to insure the humane treatment of animals, but we have a few role models out there on Loop Road.

Nancy Carlson can be reached at

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