CAMANO ISLAND — Jon Lein was in his version of heaven. He perched on a closed toilet with 13 kittens roaming the bathroom stall around him. A teacup-sized tabby slept curled up in his lap while he stroked a tortoiseshell kitty nestled in the crook of his neck.
“This is the best therapy anyone can get,” he said.
The kittens temporarily camped out in the bathroom-turned-nursery at the Camano Animal Shelter. The small building is almost always at capacity, so staff have to get creative in times of overflow.
Lein has been volunteering at the shelter for three years. He comes by to spend time with the cats, working to socialize kittens and older felines who are less convinced that humans are friend, not foe.
Lein is one of about 15 volunteers who keep the shelter running along with the staff of six part-timers.
“Everyone here is just so wonderful,” he said. “The staff have dedicated their lives to these animals.”
The small team makes the most of their even smaller space.
With about 1,900 square feet, they can house 18 dogs and 67 cats. They currently have another nine cats and 13 dogs in foster homes.
Outside the lobby and kennel areas, they have a covered dog yard for playing with pups and an enclosed indoor/outdoor “catio” for felines to experience the great outdoors in safety.
As potential owners filtered in the door last month, shelter manager Tegan Locker held a Chihuahua-terrier mix who threw a seeming disdainful glare at anyone who neared.
The pup came in a few days earlier from the Everett Animal Shelter.
“They know we like the ones that take extra work,” Locker said.
The day he arrived, she said the pup was “bound and determined to let everyone know he was scary.”
But she took him on a walk to the pond and now they’re besties.
The shelter has a reputation for taking on animals that other organizations shy away from, like those with attitude problems or health issues.
Sometimes that means animals stay at the shelter for a year or more before someone adopts them. Or they’re returned to the shelter repeatedly.
“It’s easy to get discouraged,” Locker said. “But sometimes the longer they’re here, the more we learn about them. Each time they come back, we get more information.”
The nonprofit organization is contracted by Island County to take in stray animals. Anything beyond that, including taking in owner-surrendered animals, is supported by donations.
Locker has managed the shelter for the past decade. She started working with animal rescues in her early 20s, but when her husband showed her an ad for the shelter manager position, she thought he was crazy.
After some consideration, she decided to give it a shot.
“Now I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.
With the shelter’s small size, Locker said they have more time to spend with particularly needy residents.
Locker puts a focus on public outreach. Shelters aren’t historically good at showing off what they do, she said.
“I want people on the outside to see what we see,” she said. “I want people to realize the shelter system really does work.”
As a part of that effort, the shelter’s “no-kill” policy is advertised on a red banner out front. The label makes people feel comfortable coming in, but Locker said the shelter actually works far beyond the requirements for no-kill.
Moving forward, Locker said the organization could use a bit more room to breathe and a space they can tailor more specifically to animal needs.
Staff jokingly call the building a clown car — “Because there’s so much inside and so much happening that it just seems silly,” Locker said.
Behind it all, volunteers like Lein keep the organization running. They do everything from cleaning cages and walking dogs to socializing cats and taking photos for the shelter’s website.
“All people have to do is decide to help and they can be the ones to change what they feel is lacking,” Locker said.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.
How to help
The Camano Animal Shelter relies on the public for donations and volunteer services.
Visit www.camanoanimalshelter.com for a list of needed supplies and links to donation options. The website also holds an up-to-date list of animals up for adoption.
There’s no time requirements for volunteering.
“We’ll take any time you can give us,” shelter manager Tegan Locker said.
A fundraising group called “Friends of CASA” plans shelter outreach events throughout the year. They sponsor an annual dog wash, rummage sale, bake sale and others.