The Insiders View of a Humane Society

By Clay Evans

Development Director

Longmont Humane Society

It's 7:30 a.m. at Longmont (Colo.) Humane Society, and the day is in full swing already. Outside, clouds conceal a sun that will later send temperatures soaring into the high 90s, and a half dozen out of about 600 volunteers are already exercising dogs on leash at the nearby county fairgrounds. Each dog has been carefully matched with a restraint system that best fits his or her needs and personality, whether it's a traditional collar and leash, a "gentle leader," or a "sensation" harness.

"I always knew I wanted to work with animals," says dog-walking volunteer Diana Cinnamon, 67, of Longmont. "After I retired, I found [the Humane Society's] 'TLC' classes, and I've been doing it now for about two years."

Meanwhile, in the play yards next to the pand new, 58,000 square foot LHS Allen Center, behavior team member Sarah Clusman is keeping a watchful eye on 20 dogs, big and little, of every conceivable mix, peed, color and personality, as they romp and roll and take advantage of their daily opportunity to "just be dogs."

"Our play groups enable us to fulfill a basic need they have for dog-to-dog interaction and socialization," says Sarah. "They come back into the kennels feeling satisfied and content."

Inside, staff members working with dogs have already "scooped" kennels and provided a nutritious peakfast to a horde of hungry canines before they headed out for a walk or play group. As kennels free up, staff members move in, en masse, with high-pressure hoses, disinfecting cleaner and squeegees to have them all ready for happily fed and rested dogs – and most importantly, for public viewing when the doors open.

The cats, too, are getting a pawful of early morning attention. Staff members are scooping litter boxes, providing a dollop of wet food (on top of the free-choice dry food that is available for feeding all day), spot wiping kennels and providing toys for enrichment. The cats with upper respiratory infections (simple kitty colds - they're still available for adoption) are getting the same attention, but in a separately ventilated part of the shelter to prevent disease transmission.

"We try to set it up so that if staff members are working with URI cats, they don't work with the healthy cats," says kennel supervisor Cathy Durdin.

In service pods throughout the kennels, staff and volunteers are washing towels and linens throughout the day, washing dishes, stocking up on food and other supplies, and keeping up with spot cleaning in the kennels.

Just a few feet away from the kennel areas, well within earshot of all the meowing and barking, the front-desk staff members have booted up computers and are going through the daily ritual of trying to match lost pets pought in by the public or animal-control officers over the previous five days.

"We work really hard to get animals home," says staff member Dori Detherow. "We go through and if we see a potential match, we'll give a call."

On this particular morning, there were two dogs tied up in front of the shelter when staff arrived. In the new building, there are "night drop" kennels which allow people to leave animals in a secure, warm environment, but whoever came by the night before didn't get that message.

There are more than 300 animals on site on this day, including scores of kittens too young for adoption that are awaiting transfer to a foster-care program, where they will be cared for until they are old enough and healthy enough to find new homes.

In the back of the shelter, staff members are preparing for a day of spay-and-neuter surgeries on shelter animals (all animals are sterilized before going to their adoptive homes), laying out sterilized packs and supplies. Shelter veterinarian Dr. Steven Stasiak will work steadily (and efficiently) for hours on end, doing his part to ensure that LHS alumni do not contribute to the ongoing problem of pet overpopulation.

All that, and more, is in motion at Longmont Humane Society – and it's not even 9 a.m., when the doors open to the public. More often than not, there are people waiting to come in by that time. Some are looking for lost dogs or cats, while others just want to see who's in the shelter and start thinking about adoption (even though adoption services don't commence until 11 a.m.).

While Longmont Humane Society, like any animal shelter, focuses on animals, the business really is all about people. The "invisible" part of the operation includes staff gearing up for fundraising events, contacting donors, preparing newsletters and email blasts, writing grants, and everything else it takes to keep a shelter that serves more than 5,000 animals a year running.

The wildly popular summer Kids and Critters Camp also is alive with giggling and chatter at the back of the shelter. During two daily sessions, children ages 7 to 12 spend time working with the animals, participating in activities – for example, walking dogs through non-toxic paint trays to create "pawprint" greeting cards – and learning about humane values. They're not only having fun, but they will become ambassadors to their families, schoolmates and the larger community to help raise awareness about the issue of homeless pets.

When the clock strikes 11 a.m., many of our visitors already have picked out a special someone they're interested in taking home. Adoption counselors work with them to gather information to make sure it would be a good match, arrange for the potential adopter to meet in a room with a cat or to take a dog out for a walk or to the play yards to get better acquainted. If all goes well (for both pets and people), a staff member will set up time to have the prospective new companion meet with the family's other animals, to ascertain whether everybody will get along.

During the day, dogs often receive rubber Kongs that have been loaded with goodies and frozen, to give them something to work on between walks and feedings. Cats receive visits throughout the day from volunteers – including more than 160 youths age 13 and up – who play with them, pet them and groom them to keep them happy and healthy during their stay at the shelter. Throughout the day, staff and volunteers are doing everything from cleaning to walking, and adoptions to reclaims. It's truly a "three-ring circus" – in the positive sense of the word: constant activity, focused on finding homes for lost and abandoned animals in the community.

At day's end, everything runs in reverse, sort of like an old movie of a man "jumping" from a swimming pool onto a diving board. Kennels are spiffed up for the night, litter boxes emptied, new bedding laid down, evening chow served, and everyone – cats, dogs, small mammals and birds – receives anything else they might need for a comfortable night.

The doors close to the public at 6 p.m. – though on any given night there may be a board meeting or volunteer training – and by 6:30 or 7 p.m., only a few stray barks and random meows echo throughout the building, as the animals settle down for a few hours of well-earned shuteye.

After all, they'll be up and at 'em again tomorrow – both people and pets – to start all over again in hopes of finding loving forever homes for every animal.

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