A chorus of dog barks rise above the din of milling customers, busy volunteers and exotic bird chirps in the brightly colored office and shop. For some, this atmosphere is a little abnormal. For the Auburn Valley Humane Society, this is everyday life.
While some may ask what makes this humane society different, Paul Morgan, executive director, assures that it’s in everything they do. No two organizations are the same and for Auburn Valley, that makes all the difference.
Founded in 2011 as a non-profit, Auburn Valley branched out of the King County Humane Society as a separate entity, in the hopes of relieving some of the weight caused by an overbooked shelter. Opening its doors on January 1, 2013, Auburn Valley serves as a private nonprofit shelter, having the ability to put more emphasis on the animal, rather than the person, giving specific care when needed and finding the animal a respectable home.
Unlike municipal organizations funded by tax dollars. Auburn Valley is funded through philanthropy, tax dollars, their own pet shop and a thrift store open to the community. Through the various forms of revenue, the shelter has less requirements on how money is spent and can give special care to specific issues.
The shelter operates in a variety of forms, taking in stray animals found from the public, animals taken in by animal control, owner surrendered animals and animals transferred over from other shelters who were set to be euthanized. All of these animals are given housing, medical care and are evaluated for adoption.
Unlike other shelters that treat only dire medical needs, Auburn Valley gives care to those in shelter equal to that of a vet. For the majority of animals adopted out of the shelter, their medical care cost nearly three times that of their adoption fee. While most animals can be adopted for less than one hundred dollars, each animal will often receive $300 to 400 in medical care before they are considered safe for adoption. Medical can include spay or neutering, but often also includes dental care or medication.
According to Morgan, this makes all the difference in length of stay. With medical care and individual kennel units, animals entering the shelter are adopted or transferred in little over a week. Animals were previously two to a kennel or had one kennel to call home. The shelter recently made the switch, giving each animal a kennel space for food and sleeping and another space for deification.
The result was a length nearly one third of before; what would be 27 days at the shelter for an animal turned into only nine days for cats and seven for dogs. By housing less animals at once, there was a quicker turnover, meaning more animals could come through the system and find permanent homes faster.
Increased medical care has another benefit for the shelter – decreased euthanasia. Morgan is quick to remind that the shelter doesn’t consider themselves a “no-kill” shelter, as the term is confusing to clients and is defined differently based on each shelter. For Morgan, if he can save an animal, he will. While euthanasia costs around 35 cents, Auburn Valley may instead treat the animal using medicine or a procedure worth $800. Despite the knowledge that they choose to spend more money to keep an animal alive, Morgan says the shelter is backed up by the hundreds of donors that support the cause each year.
In 2017, the live release date for the shelter was 98.6 percent, a number they are proud of. Many other shelters in the area are struggling to increase their live release date, some only hitting 90 percent or less. For the shelter’s two percent that do get put down, a very detailed evaluation is put in place to determine if the animal must be put down.
Feral, un-adoptable cats are put through the Barn Cat program; local farms, horse ranches and golf courses can choose a cat to take care of mice, resulting in one less cat being put down. Other cats are sent back into the community through the Trap, Neuter Release program.
In other cases, the shelter transfers animals to another shelter to give them medical care Auburn Valley is unable to provide. Last year, 66 animals were transferred to another shelter. For the 27 animals that were mitigated as un-adoptable, they are still put to the test before euthanasia.
Auburn Valley chooses to euthanize an animal for three causes only, the animal must either be beyond the capability of caring for medically, a public safety hazard or are required by law to euthanize the animal. It is for these cases alone that animals are euthanized, leaving hundreds that could have been previously listed for euthanasia now in homes or programs.
While the shelter primarily focuses on preparing an animal for adoption, there is much more that takes place on a day to day basis; nearly a dozen programs run through the shelter.
The shelter offers a Public Medical Fund for community members that are personally unable to afford medical care for their pet. Based on donor gifts, the shelter can support owners in getting treatment for their pet.
For senior citizens unable to feed their pet financially, the shelter partners with Seattle Humane Society to distribute dog food for animals in need.
If an owner has an extreme medical issue and is taken to the hospital, pets in the home are often sent directly to shelters and adopted in two to three days. For the owners that are able to come out of the hospital in seven or 10 days, it can be devastating to realize their animal has been sold and transferred. The shelter’s Pets in Crisis program keeps animal while an owner needs medical care. If the animal needs to stay for more than a few days, the shelter transferred the animal to one of their veterinary partners, who keeps the animal until the owner is out of the hospital.
Pets Without Me supports senior citizens and their pets, creating a plan for the pet if the owner were to pass away or need extreme medical care. The shelter checks in with the owner every six months and provides fridge and door notes leaving instructions for the animal should the owner be unable to care for it.
Auburn Valley believes that commitment to caring for animals starts from the beginning.
“If you put a pigeon in a little boy’s hand, the potential of him throwing a rock at it in the future diminishes greatly,” Morgan said. The shelter developed Humane Education, teaching compassion to world for children. The shelter developed a six topic curriculum usable in a public classroom, matching all twelve grades. Topics include “Taking Care of Pets” or “Welfare Professionals.” These materials are provided to teachers to incorporate into classroom activity.
For students needing a little help in language arts, Auburn Valley offers the Shelter Buddies program. Young students come to the shelter and practice reading out loud to the shelter cats, resulting in increased confidence in reading, while working with a listener than offers no criticism.
Young Girl Scouts are invited to join the Girl Scout Badge Program; scouters can come into the shelter and volunteer, receiving a badge for their work.
The shelter also offers the Pets of Domestic Abuse program. According to Morgan, 92 percent of women with pets in a domestic violence situation will not leave out of fear their pet will be killed or harmed. Most women’s shelters do not take pets, making it a tough decision for a woman who needs to get out of a relationship. The shelter offers to provide care for the pet once the woman enters a program, and offers to reinstate the animal once the woman has found permanent housing.
Morgan chuckles, saying, “We’re way more than a dog pound.”
With no shortage of programs to run, Morgan adds that everything is possible because of the volunteers. Aside from veterinary personnel, the shelter only has five full time staff. For everything else, over 400 volunteers take part in shelter activity. These volunteers do anything from bookkeeping to dog-walking, boasting 30,000 hours of community service for the shelter last year. Because of the amount of volunteers, staff at the shelter can focus on more detailed, difficult work, leaving volunteers to augment some staff duties. The number of volunteers continues to grow; the shelter offers two volunteer orientations a month, along with monthly training classes.
Through the volunteers, animals in the shelter are happier and healthier. Each dog is walked no less than three times per day and cats are constantly interaction with. Morgan says this makes the “final product” better as a whole. Despite the amount of programs in place, the shelter is increasing only increasing in number. Auburn Valley is trending nearly 2400 animals coming into the shelter this year, a 25 percent increase from 2017. While the shelter had the goal of increasing adoption rates by 12 percent in 2018, the actual number raised to 21 percent. Because animals are well cared for medically, clients are quick to adopt.
Morgan believes that the shelter’s high view of pets is partially because of a cultural shift. In the past, dogs were considered farm animals. As urbanization increased, pets moved from the farm to the backyard, to inside the home, to the bed. Many pets are considered a part of the family, especially in the Pacific Northwest.
This belief drives the shelter to continue to grow; future plans include expanding the campus, adding an indoor dog park or kitty cafe and building on their humane education program. Morgan believes all the work is worth it.
“Our organization is an advocacy program,” Morgan says.
When asked how he maintains his job as the executive director, Morgan believes all the work is what he should be doing.
“This is not a job, this is a lifestyle,” Morgan says. “I work six days a week, if not seven or eight days a week.” Morgan is actually from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where his family still lives. He works for six to eight weeks and joins his wife for a mini trip for a week in-between. After 25 years of marriage, Morgan says it works well for them.
For Morgan, a lifestyle with animals in nothing out of the ordinary. As a teen he worked at a puppy mill in a mall, selling puppies to clients. At 18, Morgan opened his first pet store, housing mostly fish and reptiles. After opening a couple of stores, Morgan sold his business and started a new company with a fellow employee from the puppy mill. The two created a chain of grocery-store sized pet stores, selling products wholesale. The company, Pet Supply Warehouse, opened 10 stores in the same year that PetSmart opened 600 stores, resulting in the two selling their company to a larger chain.
Morgan then worked at a humane society in San Diego, along with two different shelters in Idaho. After semi-retiring for three years, Morgan entered a municipal shelter, which he admits he never wants to go back to.
“Municipality wise, you’re lucky to move a beach one grain of sand at a time,” Morgan says. “With a non-profit, you can move the beach literally in buckets.”
Today, Morgan owns a potbellied pig named Hamlet, a dog named Stella, a few cats and various lizards he’s taken care of for years.
Morgan maintains that Auburn Valley is nothing out of the ordinary, but other organizations see it differently, coming to the shelter to observe and use similar tactics. Morgan reminds that no two organizations or shelters are the same and clients must view them as such. With more than 3900 shelters in the US, each one has a different philosophy. Morgan likens it to a religion; everyone believes in something, but each belief system is different.
The one link between any shelter – a love for animals. For the Auburn Valley Humane Society, there’s no reason to stop until every animal finds a permanent home. “Everyday we come to work here and work ourselves out of a job,” Morgan says.
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