A reprieve for death-row pets

By Jennifer Langston

Herald Writer

STANWOOD — A new animal adoption center planned for the Stanwood area will rescue dogs and cats sitting on death row at other regional shelters.

The complex on 17 acres of wooded property off I-5 will also offer training classes for people having trouble with their pets. Eventually, it will include a trail network where locals or highway travelers can walk their dogs.

The spacious new adoption center, which will include veterinary and grooming facilities, is a dream realized by a group forced out of its shelter on Camano Island three years ago after the sewage system failed.

The new Northwest Organization for Animal Helpcenter, or NOAH, scheduled to open next fall, won’t take in strays or abandoned pets from the public. It will only rescue adoptable animals that other area shelters can no longer house.

"It’s sort of the new wave of the future in making an impact on pet overpopulation," said Austin Gates, executive director of NOAH. "Rather than duplicating other services … we will only accept animals that are facing death at other shelters."

The Progressive Animal Welfare Society estimates that about 3,500 healthy and adoptable animals are put to death in Snohomish County each year.

The PAWS shelter in Lynnwood only euthanizes animals that are too sick or dangerous to make good pets, which amounts to about 5 percent of the animals brought in, said Richard Huffman, director of advocacy and outreach.

John DeWispelaere, manager of the Everett Animal Shelter, said his shelter hasbrought down its euthanization rate in the last two years. Still, about 35 percent of its animals are killed.

Some of those are unfit for adoption. And some— particularly older dogs or large breeds like Labradors — aren’t much in demand, he said.

He estimated the Everett shelter could provide 50 to 60 adoptable dogs a month, especially with a recent increase in unwanted pets. People who have lost jobs or are moving away from the area are giving up more animals.

Other private organizations do take animals scheduled to be killed, but there’s never enough room save every pet, DeWispelaere said.

"What they’re doing is not unique, but they’re going to be another resource, and it looks like it’s a well-funded operation that’s going to be a benefit," he said.

NOAH used to provide animal control and operate a shelter on Camano Island until the sewage system at the county-built building failed in 1999. The largely volunteer organization opened a thrift store in Stanwood to raise money for a new home, but that fund-raising went slowly, Gates said.

Almost two years ago, Orin Edson, a Snohomish County native and founder of Bayliner Boats, and his wife Charlene approached the group and offered to donate up to $3 million to build a state-of-the-art no-kill shelter.

"They’re very committed to helping animals," Gates said. "They’ve just sort of brought new life into NOAH."

The group recently received building permits from the county and has begun moving dirt around at the site just east of I-5 at 300 Street NW.

The adoption center is designed to make both the animals and people shopping for pets comfortable, Gates said. The dog area will have heated floors, with rugs and furniture outside the kennels to make it homey. The dogs will have big runs, and the cats will live together in open colonies with sunbathing porches.

Dogs will get veterinary care, spaying and basic behavior training before they are adopted so people won’t end up with a pet that jumps all over them or drags them down the street by the leash.

NOAH also will help people locate the kind of pet they’re looking for at other area shelters, keeping a wish list of animals to keep an eye out for, she said.

This won’t be a dingy, dark, smelly shelter that depresses people, Gates said. Right now, animal shelters only get about 15 percent of people looking for pets, while the rest go to pet stores or breeders.

NOAH hopes to improve upon that by making the adoption center bright, airy and appealing, with the kinds of plants and music you might find at a shopping mall.

"Typical shelters are mainly designed to maximize space, get animals in and out. They weren’t necessarily designed for what’s more comfortable for the animals or more appealing for the adopter," she said. "It’s really going to be a nice, nice facility."

Jennifer You can call Herald Writer Jennifer Langston at 425-339-3452

or send e-mail to langston@heraldnet.com.

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