By Lorraine Maire/Writing for CVAS
During the past year statistics from the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary indicate the non-profit continues to keep its small volunteer staff, and one paid employee, more than busy:
*They took in 623 dogs and cats needing shelter, food and medical care. Seven cases involved mass neglect, including over 300 malnourished, injured and ill cats that had been in colonies or the streets.
*CVAS adopted out or transferred for adoption 567 cats and dogs.
*They provided long-term care and rehabilitation for “less adoptable” and badly injured animals.
*The facility provided low-cost vaccinations for more than 900 pets.
*CVAS responded to more than 6,000 phone calls from people seeking assistance with animals.
*They logged over 5,000 miles transporting animals to veterinary appointments, emergency rooms, spay and neuter clinics, and partnership animal welfare facilities.
Since their beginnings in 2002, CVAS has seen a steady and increasing demand for services as more people become aware of how the Sanctuary can help them.
But there’s a down side to their success: the non-profit is so sought-after for help that they now face a crisis.
“The situation is clearly unsustainable,” says volunteer and Interim Board Member Mary Ikagawa. She notes that pleas for animal assistance now come from Pend Oreille and Ferry Counties, as well as far-flung points in Stevens County. “More community involvement will be needed if the Sanctuary — the tri-county area’s largest animal shelter — is to continue providing the same level of service,” she says.
Not counting building and infrastructure, Ikagawa says CVAS’s 2015 operating expenses totaled $99,400.
That year 521 animals found refuge at the Sanctuary; costs included food, equipment and supplies, utilities, fuel, repairs and maintenance, surgeries and medicine, taxes, and insurance.
And now the Sanctuary contemplates a need for salaries. CVAS volunteers hear it often: people call for help, many thinking they are calling a government-run facility, and complain that they only get an answering machine.
Frequently no one can answer the phone due to the skeleton crew of volunteers, whose first priority is feeding and cleaning. Often, return calls can’t be made until evening. Adding some paid positions would help eliminate gaps in service to the community Ikagawa points out.
The Sanctuary’s budget gets a big stretch from eight “consistently there” volunteers and from others who help when they can. A number of those volunteers are active in Stevens County’s southern half.
While the volunteers are invaluable, the big challenge is creating a stable and dependable income. Recently CVAS consulted with a shelter fundraising expert. One of their first priorities, they learned, is to hear directly from communities they serve. Shelter volunteers are also ramping up fundraising efforts. They just completed a funding drive in Kettle Falls, and their next event will be Bingo on Nov. 5 at the Camas Valley Grange.
According to their consultant, financial stability gets a big boost from recurring monthly donations. CVAS already has a small number of such donors, and they have saved the Sanctuary from financial disaster. Other boosts come from donations in memory of beloved pets. (The facility has also had some much appreciated bequests that secured the property.)
So, what causes CVAS to be overwhelmed with so many homeless pets? Ikagawa points to lack of awareness of the importance of spaying and neutering, the big driver behind pet overpopulation. As well, the tri- county area has few shelter options, particularly for cats.
“A female cat can get pregnant just days after having a litter of kittens,” she says. “Unfortunately there are many cat colonies that get little or no care at all.” Several recent colony rescues bore witness to the dismal lives those cats lead: infections can develop from ear mites and fleas, some lose an eye due to eye infections, some come in with bullet wounds, and many suffer from starvation or dehydration.
The fallout from the lackluster economy also influences population levels at CVAS. People moving to or from the area in search of work can end up bringing pets to CVAS or, when moving, leave them to fend for themselves.
Between the colony rescues, outright abandonment, and people bringing in litters of kittens, a recent count showed 170 cats at the shelter.
“And there is a waiting list of people wanting to surrender more,” Ikagawa added.
Although there are fewer dogs than cats at CVAS, the dogs there typically have extraordinary needs. The well-adjusted are easier to place, but others are “less adoptable,” she says. “They’ve come from troubled situations and require long-term rehabilitation.”
Volunteer opportunities include helping to socialize “troubled” animals, cleaning chores, carpentry skills, being a foster parent (provide care at your home until adoption, which frees up shelter space and reduces chores for volunteers), or sharing fundraising talents.
And the always-welcome help: adopt from the shelter. Ikagawa encourages adopting one of the “less adoptable” residents: “If you are patient, caring and have time to give to an animal that is older, or has been neglected or abused, the rewards when they come to trust you are wonderful…so many of these animals just thrive once they’re in a caring home.”
Other volunteers help with spay and neuter outreach efforts. CVAS partners with Stevens County Cat Care; through SCCC “fixing” a female cat costs $14 and a male is $8.
While there is no local low-income spay and neuter program for dogs, Ikagawa says Northeast Washington Humane Society provides a regular transport from Chewelah to Spokane; cost is $40. (More info at www.newhumane.org .)