Caring Hands Humane Society was a busy place May 13 as it always is after a stormy night.


Caring Hands Humane Society was a busy place May 13 as it always is after a stormy night.

“After storms and the Fourth of July is when we are the busiest,” Jack Brand, Caring Hands marketing director said during a recent behind-the-scenes tour of the shelter.

All dogs and cats, including a pair of puppies Gina Mounts brought in that were found as strays near her home in rural Hillsboro, start their journey through the shelter with intake.

When pets are brought in to be surrendered, center staff interviews the owner to get as much information on the pet’s health history and behavior as possible.

Brand said this information is vital in the adoption process.

All animals then immediately have an appointment with one of the center’s two vet techs or the center’s part-time veterinarian.

If the center can’t determine if the animal has had its vaccinations, like the pair of puppies Mounts brought in, they get their vaccinations. The animals also are dewormed and treated for fleas.

The animals also receive physical exams. If they have indications of illness, such as hair loss or eye or nose discharge, they are isolated in the center’s sick room.

After strays legally pass into the possession of the shelter, they are spayed or neutered and microchipped.

Temporary home

Animals that are deemed to be in good health go to a kennel or one of the cat condos.

The center has capacity for about 50 dogs and 100 cats. It can take in as many as 200 animals if it utilizes the 44 foster homes it has in the area.

Foster homes can save two lives, said Lori Smith, kennel manager and foster program director. They save the life of the dog being fostered and open up a spot for another animal to be housed at the center.

“They provide the home, love and food, and we provide the medical care,” Smith said of foster families.

Behavior tests

But before animals can go to foster homes or “forever homes” as the staff likes to call pets’ adoptive homes, they have to go through a behavioral assessment.

This is the job of animal behavioralist Christy Million.

The first step in this process is to observe the animals in their pens.

Million observes how the animals handle food and their body language in the kennel. Staff approach the animals, touch them and see if they will accept treats.

Then there is a set of formalized tests Million does with the animals.

Animals are taken into a small room. Million wants to see how the animal will respond to stress.

She approaches the animals with food, with a fake hand for safety, and then takes the food away from them. She does the same thing with toys. She said she wants to see if the animal will become aggressive and try to guard the food or toys.

Million handles the dog as if it is being examined by a vet. She touches the dog’s ears and feet.

Finally, another dog is brought in so Million can observe how the animal interacts with other pets.

“We want to see how they will act in the home environment,” she said. “A dog might not get along with another dog, but potential adopters need to know that. They may not have any other pets, and that might not be a problem.”

For dogs that have problems in the behavioral testing, there is still hope.

Hope for troubled pets

Volunteers like Michelle Schroeder help socialize animals at the center.

Schroeder, who started volunteering at the shelter after she lost her dog last fall, drives to the shelter every day from Hesston to help a stray named Peanut.

She walks Peanut and then brings him out into the shelter lobby so Peanut can interact with visitors to the shelter and become more accustomed to what it might be like for him in a home.

Peanut is a poodle, long-hair Chihuahua mix. When he first came into the shelter, he cowered in the back of his kennel.

Today, he nuzzles up to Schroeder’s fingers and looks with curiosity as visitors trail in and out of the kennel room.

Matchmaker make me a match

Schroeder also is a participant in a new program at the shelter called Matchmakers. These volunteers work one-on-one with animals for several hours each week, getting to know their personalities. The hope is the matchmaker will be able to provide information to a potential adopter about the pet’s disposition.

“I think he would do better in a home with a senior,” Schroeder said of Peanut. “He has a lot of energy. He is very loyal. He likes to run and run and play or sit on your lap and give kisses.”

Brand said he hopes the new program will help get dogs adopted who might not get noticed in a shelter setting.

“We might have a dog that hangs back in the kennel, but a Matchmaker might be able to tell you that dog is great with kids and might be the animal for you,” he said.

Who gets a home

As a small dog, Peanut has a good chance of being adopted.

The center has kennel space for 20 large dogs, but Brand said the shelter has more difficulty getting the larger dogs adopted.

Brand stopped at the kennel of a terrier pitbull mix. The animal shyly nuzzled Brand’s fingers as he stuck them through the kennel gate.

“Pitbulls are a much-maligned and misunderstood breed,” he said.

Annually, 90 percent of the adoptable dogs brought into the shelter and 70 percent of the adoptable cats are found permanent homes.

Three percent of dogs and 26 percent of cats brought to the center are deemed to be unadoptable.

The majority of the unadoptable cats are ferrule.

Kevin Stubbs, Caring Hands director, said spaying and neutering is key to keeping the population of stray cats down.

“We get ferrule cats that come from several generations of stray cats that have never been taken care of. After three generations of being born as strays, they have no trust at all for human beings anymore,” Stubbs said.

The unadoptable numbers also includes animals that are ill or aged and are brought to the shelter by their owners specifically for euthanasia.

Some animals are unadoptable because of medical reasons.

A very small percentage of animals are deemed to be too aggressive to be adopted.

However, Stubbs said the shelter will do everything possible to work with a pet so it can be placed in a home.

Those pets who cannot be adopted are euthanized on site.

No-kill

The center is working toward being a no-kill shelter, Brand said.

“A shelter does not become a no-kill shelter,” he said. “The community has to become a no-kill community. We have to have more animals going out than we do coming in. We need more people deciding to adopt than purchase.”

In pursuit of the no-kill goal, Caring Hands is pursuing more foster families and educating the public about the importance of spaying and neutering.

The shelter offers free spaying and neutering for pets for Harvey County residents.

Adoption vs.

purchase

Stubbs said he wishes to educate residents about the value they get when they adopt rather than purchase a pet.

Many of the animals that come through the shelter are purebreds. Many of the animals also come house trained and knowing basic commands. The cost for adopting a pet from Caring Hands runs about $115 per dog and $75 for kittens. There is no fee for adopting adult cats.

That includes the cost of vaccinations, deworming, microchipping and the complete medical exams the animals receive when they come into the shelter.

To purchase an animal and have these services performed by a private vet would cost about $258 for a dog and $240 for a cat.

Stubbs said the shelter offers the added value of matchmakers and other staff who can give the adopters clues on the personality of potential pets.

“We make every effort to help people come to the right decision on a pet,” Stubbs said. “We want a good match. We hope that it will be a lifelong deal. We are not 100 percent accurate but try to get you a likely companion.”

“Forever home”

Potential adopters must fill out an application. The shelter staff looks at what kind of environment the adopter will be able to provide for the pet, the amount of training they are willing to provide and ability to maintain health care for the animal.

Mounts, the woman who brought in the two strays from Hillsboro, couldn’t help but bring in a couple of visitors with her to the shelter.

Mounts’ family adopted four cats and a dachshund from the shelter.

Mounts brought Molly and her other dog, Scotty, in for a visit.

Molly came to the shelter after she was rescued from a breeding operation.

“We had bigger dogs, but we wanted a little friend for Scotty,” Mounts said.

Molly has had some health problems. She recently had to have surgery to have teeth pulled because overbreeding ruined her teeth.

But Mounts said from the first night she brought Molly home she was a part of her family.

“She is very social and mellow,” she said. “ She curled up on my husband’s neck. ... We have six children, so there is no absence of love at our house. She thrives.”