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Going to the dogs (and cats)

Summerfield group visits Washington County animal shelter
by: Barbara Sherman TREATS AND TRICKS – Some of the Summerfield Estates residents visiting the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter on June 13 give treats to Maxine, who was available for adoption.

Lots of cute dogs and cats wait patiently to be adopted at the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter in Hillsboro, and some Summerfield Estates residents went to meet them June 13.

Residents had made a batch of treats for the dogs at the shelter, and Summerfield Estates activity director Shellee Baidenmann led the group on a field trip to personally deliver them.

Shirley Toth, the shelter's volunteer coordinator, welcomed the group and talked about the facility.

"Our purpose is to house animals in need of adoption,' Toth said. 'We are part of Washington County Animal Services and manage stray animals. Good Samaritans find them sometimes, and we get the occasional rabbit or white rat - they all come through our doors."

The first step is to find out if the animals belong to someone by scanning them for microchips.

If the owner has moved since registering with the microchip company, "our staff is good about finding people through Google," Toth said. "If we can't find the owner, we take a photo of the animal and post it hoping the owner might see it. If the animal has a microchip, we keep it for 10 working days, and if the owner does not come forward, we do a behavioral assessment and a health assessment of the animal before putting it up for adoption."

For animals without microchips, the waiting period is shorter before they are assessed and put up for adoption.

"Our adoption rate is much higher than the national average," Toth said.

"We got in a yellow Lab we named Glenda and posted her picture on Petfinder. A man saw her. He had a Corgi and had just lost his yellow Lab. He drove here from Bellingham, Wash., to get her. He wrote us letters like the dog was writing them about how she was enjoying her new home."

The Bonnie Hays staff also works with other shelters and rescue groups to find the best situations for animals.

"We got a yellow Lab that was about 40 pounds overweight like a big cube of butter," Toth said. "We named her Butter and sent her to a group that started a 'Biggest Loser' fat camp for dogs. We just got a report that she's doing well.

"We share animals back and forth between shelters, if one is low on cats, for instance. I know it's sad to see dogs and cats in cages, but this really is a happy place."

Toth explained that the shelter is funded through dog license fees, donations and county funds.

"A little girl came in and used her birthday money to buy dog food," Toth said. "One man gave a $10,000 donation because he liked the cat he got here so much. All our animals are fed by donations - the dogs never know what they're going to get from day to day."

The shelter now has about 120 volunteers who do a wide range of jobs from cleaning cages, grooming animals, photographing them and writing their stories to greeting people who come to the shelter.

When someone asked who Bonnie Hays was, Toth explained she was a Washington County commissioner who loved animals and passed away in 1996 from cancer.

Toth asked each person in the group to tell about animals they have or have had in the past and added, "I think there's a special place in heaven for people who adopt older animals."

She explained that the staff comes up with creative and clever names for the stray animals, and the shelter will take animals back if they don't work out in their first home.

"People feel bad bringing one back, but we learn more about the animal that way," she said. "In the adoption process, people fill out a 1 ½-page form in which they answer questions such as under what conditions they would bring an animal back and how much money they envision spending on the animal in a year.

"People spend time with an animal in a play area before adopting. It's important that people bond with their animals."

One of the biggest messages the shelter wants to get out is the importance of microchipping.

"People don't think they need to do it if they only have an indoor cat, but during hurricanes or tornados, animals escape, and sometimes that is the only way to reunite them with their owners," Toth said.

She handed out small treats for the Summerfield residents to hold and then brought in Maxine, an exuberant 6-month-old boxer, who eagerly went after the treats and even tried to jump up on a table.

The next dog to come in was Little Bear, a small, timid dog who was 2 or 3 years old; she ate a few treats but obviously would have been happier curled up in someone's lap at home.

Finally Layla, a beautiful 8-month-old cat, was brought into the room on a leash and made the rounds of the people sitting in a circle.

The group then toured the dog and cat areas to see the animals up for adoption, and while no one took an animal home with them, everyone left with a newfound appreciation for what the shelter does for the county's stray animals.

Deborah Wood, the shelter manager, noted, "We have the best community for supporting our shelter."

The Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter is located at 1901 S.E. 24th Ave., Hillsboro. For more information, call 503-846-7148.