Homeless Animal Rehabilitation and Treatment

At some point, all the planning in the world does not create a no-kill shelter.  There is always a reason that euthanasia sounds reasonable, even necessary, including age, space concerns, lack of financial resources, and very often contagious but treatable diseases.  With the exceptions of dangerous disposition and terminal irreversible disease, we started helping the shelter deal with its problem cases.  This effort evolved into the “H.A.R.T.” (Homeless Animal Rehabilitation and Treatment) Program.
 
The number of dogs euthanized in Prineville in 2003 was 108, in 2004 was 80, in 2005 was 85 and in 2006 was 23 (these 23 were severe disposition problems). The number of cats euthanized in Prineville in 2003 was 616, in 2004 was 479, in 2005 was 274 and in 2006 was 12 (these 12 were F.I.V. or FeLv positive). What made the difference in 2006 was the creation of the H.A.R.T. (Homeless Animal Rehabilitation and Treatment) Program.
 
The fostered numbers for the HART are:


The SNIP House employs a veterinarian and a certified technician.  Many of the animals being euthanized at the shelter were being euthanized for reversible, treatable diseases as well as age.  We decided to expand our program to include treating all reversibly ill or injured animals and by fostering all animals that were too young to alter and adopt.  This expansion required veterinary supervision, the skill of the technician and the commitment of the volunteers.
 
When the Humane Society of the Ochocos, and sometimes other shelters, receives or has an ill or injured animal, a call is made to the H.A.R.T. coordinator.  The coordinator contacts the veterinarian and arranges for immediate foster care.  If the animal is contagious, it goes to a foster home that specializes in that disease only.  For instance, one of our volunteer caregivers now has 22 ringworm cats from 3 shelters in her home (down from 30 a few months ago).  If the animal is extremely ill, treatment and isolation is provided at the clinic until the animal is stabilized and then the animal is transferred to the specific foster home that deals with that disease.  For instance, any kitten with upper respiratory disease currently goes to a volunteer who is a retired medical doctor.  This volunteer works closely with the veterinarian but always has appropriate medications, IV solutions, decongestants, etc. If a kitten or puppy comes into the shelter at less than 4 weeks of age, it is sent to a volunteer's home that provides bottle-feeding.  If over 4 weeks, a well kitten/puppy home is provided to give it socialization skills and to keep it away from the germs that are invariably present with large numbers of animals.  A more unusual recent case is that of a trapped feral dog now in foster care with an experienced handler.
     
This myriad of demands requires a committed and dedicated group of volunteers.  Each HART volunteer is trained to deal with one or more specific diseases.  The Shelter volunteers often foster the healthy animals.  Veterinary support is available 24/7 with our vet and also with a network of private veterinarians who have seen what we have accomplished and feel the responsibility to help us help these homeless animals.
 
Our experience has been that this is a self-sustaining program because the entire staff becomes more enthusiastic with each success.  The demoralization that affects the caregivers in shelters and animal welfare groups is healed with the certain knowledge that each animal will be helped, not euthanized.  Our volunteer training is ongoing; everyone receives "time off" to avoid burn out and we frequently have more volunteers than are needed.  Part of this may be the fact that prior to the HART concept, people who cared about the animals simply had no place to direct their efforts.  Part of it may be that there is an active retirement community here.  Part of it may be the increasing expectations that shelters do more than house and kill a community’s unwanted or homeless animals.
 
The next step for the HART concept is the completion of the HART Center.  The Center has been purchased and the money for the remodel has been dedicated in a 1031 exchange.  The Prineville Center is directly behind the SNIP Clinic and will include eight isolation and treatment rooms, a central disinfection system, negative airflow, and a multitude of ideas garnered from the architect who designed the isolation units at the regional hospital.  It will have extensive glass walls to separate each isolation room inside and every room will have exterior windows.  The remodel is approximately half finished and completion is slated for May 2007.
 
We are also developing a second HART Center in Bend, Oregon (45 miles away) to serve the shelters there.  A long-term lease has been obtained from Deschutes County by SNIP and the building is being used for some diseases even as the remodeling changes are made.
 
Although we never want to substitute the HART Centers for the care that can be given in individual homes, there is a need for strict isolation for some diseases.  In 2006, this isolation was achieved in vacant rental properties but the Centers will be far more efficient.
 
However, the Centers are not the crux of the success of the HART program.  The commitment is the core and the essential element in the success.  The idea that people, with education, appropriate expectations, and support can care for homeless, ill or injured animals is a concept that needs to be developed and encouraged.  Critical for our success is the belief that another option, beyond euthanasia, is almost always available.

The other requirement that is essential is the cooperation with the shelter management.  In the case of SNIP and the Humane Society of the Ochocos, both boards, both managements, all staff and all volunteers have been in agreement from the start.  We are all committed to ending unnecessary euthanasia and we have found cooperation easy and natural to attain this goal.  We anticipate developing like relationships in the case of the shelters in Bend and Redmond and we are moving forward as the communities understand and embrace what has been accomplished in Prineville.

We believe that compassion and caring are contagious feelings. There is tremendous pride in this small town that it has led the way in animal welfare in Central and Eastern Oregon.  Prineville has developed a model that can be disseminated in a regional and even a national way.

We are pleased with the progress made by SNIP, HART and their related programs.  We believe that our successes and the education and care programs that we conduct will benefit our communities, law enforcement departments, social service agencies, families and most importantly the animals for years to come.