Bonnie Hays among best in nation for returning pets to owners
Tucked in a quiet building off Tualatin Valley Highway, Hillsboro's Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter on Southeast 24th Avenue is setting an example for shelters all over the county.
The Washington County shelter returns twice the number of lost cats to their owners as the average U.S. shelter and 20 percent more dogs. In fact, the animal shelter has one of the highest rates of returning lost pets to their owners in the country.
On July 24, Bonnie L. Hays will be hosting its annual Dogs on Parade fundraiser at the Hillsboro Tuesday Night Market to raise money for its animals and set an even greater precedent for shelters around the country.
Local dog lovers are encouraged to bring their friendly dogs out on the town to raise money for the county's animal shelter.
The shelter takes in everything from lost cats and dogs to great bearded dragons and even small livestock like pigs and goats.
While the numbers vary from week to week, the shelter may hold around 20 cats and 15 dogs at any given moment. Most of those animals will be returned home to their rightful owners.
Bonnie L. Hays staff are able to return about 70 percent of all dogs brought in to the shelter to their proper owner and 13 percent of all cats, according to Bonnie L. Hays Animal Behavior and Outreach Coordinator Jennifer Keene.
Those numbers have risen significantly since 2012, when 50 percent of dogs were returned to their owners and only five percent of cats Keene said. Those numbers mirror the current national average.
"We do the best that we can with the resources that we have," Keene said.
The group at Bonnie L. Hays working for the animals of Washington County includes 24 staff members and 65 volunteers.
It's those workers, Keen said, who are the key to the shelter's success. Shelter technicians spend a lot of time online searching for the pets' owners when lost animals are brought into the shelter.
"They know all the places to look online," Keene said. "Sometimes, the animal has never been in the shelter, but the shelter techs will help connect a person who has posted a found dog with the person who posted about losing that dog."
The shelter keeps microchip scanners in its trucks, Keene said, to help return pets to their homes as quickly as possible.
"Our officers scan (lost pets) as soon as they have them," she said. "If they're wearing an ID tag, the officer will call the number on the tag. We would be so happy to return all of our animals in the field with no fees and no fuss."
While the shelter makes every effort to return lost animals to their proper homes, it also makes sure to turn itself into an adequate temporary home, Keene said.
Dogs at the shelter are trained by shelter staff or volunteers twice a day, working on whatever skills they need to make them better companions when they are adopted, Keene said. They listen to music, are read to each day and are given frozen stuffed toys to chew.
"It's important that (the dogs) have the mental stimulation that they need so they're not feeling trapped and they're trusting people," Keene said. "(We want) to make them happier while they're here and to make them better candidates for adoption."
There are no current plans for a new shelter building, though county officials are aware that it could do with some updates, Keene said.
"This building was built at a different time in animal welfare," Keene said. "It wasn't built for the way that we care for the animals today."
One main area of concern for Keene is the shelter's backyard. Right now, dogs have to be kept on leashes every time they go out to the backyard area, even though it is fenced off.
"Many of the dogs that come to us are escape artists," she said. "With the train tracks and the busy road so close by, it's just too dangerous. I would love to see areas where they could run around more freely."
Keene also noted that the dog and cat kennels are outdated.
"No shelter being built today would have the cat kennel designs and dog kennel designs we have," she said.
Keene mentioned that the shelter could do with an indoor training facility. Many shelters today have "real-life" rooms with a couch, coffee table and rug, like a typical living room, where pets can learn to behave in an actual home setting, Keene said.
This month's Dogs on Parade will include demonstrations by a K-9 search and rescue team, a dog musical and contests for best trick, best costume and owner look-a-like.
The parade takes place Tuesday, July 24, at the Hillsboro Tuesday Marketplace at the Hillsboro Civic Center plaza, 150 E. Main St.
The annual event is the shelter's only fundraiser of the year. The event is open to the public and free, though there is a $5 suggested donation for the Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter.