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Lack of funds and overpopulation are just some problems organizations face, but there are ways to help

COURTESY PHOTO: ORPHAN CAT RESCUE OF OREGON - The pandemic has only intensified the already heavy burden placed upon Oregon's animal rescues. For one, donations are down as people struggle to keep their own households afloat.

Shannon Shafer, founder of The Orphan Cat Rescue of Oregon, is lucky if she gets more than four hours of sleep at night.

Shafer, like many small animal rescue owners, works full-time in addition to operating her rescue in Dundee. Sometimes, she works 18-plus hours a day between the rescue and her other job.

The pandemic has only intensified the already heavy burden placed upon Oregon's animal rescues. For one, donations are down as people struggle to keep their own households afloat. For another, the animal population, especially the feral cat population, has soared.

"One of the biggest issues this year was not being able to spay and neuter kittens," Shafer said. When COVID-19 started to spread, veterinary offices stopped performing all non-emergency operations for months, leaving rescues unable to fulfill their usual duties.

For instance, rescues couldn't adopt out any animals that were unfixed, per policy. With significantly less pet turn around, space filled up quickly and fewer animals could be rescued.

Rescues like Shafer's also couldn't continue their trap, neuter and release (TNR) programs during this time. TNR programs prevent feral cat overpopulation in communities, which in turn stops the spread of disease and premature death.

When an area is overpopulated, many kittens will die before they reach one week because their mothers do not have enough milk. The kittens that do survive can have litters of their own as early as five months.

"All it took was one season of no spaying and neutering and now we're in bad shape," Shafer said, comparing cats' breeding habits to rabbits. "It will take years before it will even out. Easily years."

Even now, with spaying and neutering happening once more, vet offices are backed up as pet owners and rescues alike scramble to get their animals fixed. Some places are booked out three weeks, others 18 months. PMG PHOTO: GARY ALLEN - Richard Atwood, co-owner of Newberg dog rescue Pawsitively Saved, poses with two rescue animals.

To make matters worse, there is currently a shortage of veterinarians and vet techs, leading to hours-long wait times, even for urgent or emergency cases. While many rescues are allotted several spaying and neutering spots at vet clinics, rescue owners cannot predict when their pets will need other medical care.

"We sometimes have to wait in urgent care lines for three or four hours," Brittany Hazel, co-founder of Hazel's House Rescue in Newberg, said. "We can't do that every day."

Another huge medical problem rescues faced this year was the spread of feline panleukopenia virus, the cat version of the highly contagious parvovirus commonly associated with dogs.

"Everyone in Oregon who works with cats has come across it at least once this year," Hazel said. "It used to be once in a blue moon."

When the virus hit Hazel's House Rescue, Hazel and her wife, Kendall, immediately closed their doors to the public. To keep all their animals healthy, they spent $15,000 to $20,000, completely depleting their emergency fund. Trailblazer's Foods, a jam and salsa processing facility in Gresham, donated $5,000 during this time, which helped them bounce back financially.

"Once you get (panleukopenia) it into your shelter, you need to shut it down," Shafer said, whose rescue had the virus last year. "It spreads like wildfire."

Cats aren't the only animals having a difficult time during the pandemic.

Richard Atwood, co-owner of Newberg dog rescue Pawsitively Saved, said most dog shelters across the country are at full capacity.

Atwood has seen a lot of dogs adopted since the onset of the pandemic, but as the country slowly starts to reopen, many dogs are also being returned to shelters.

Known as "pandemic dogs," these canines are being returned for a variety of reasons but mostly because of behavioral problems. Due to feelings of isolation, people who otherwise wouldn't adopt animals bought dogs, only to become overwhelmed with their pets' behavioral issues, which were never trained out of them, months down the line.

Atwood's rescue regularly pulls dogs out of high-kill shelters in California, which give dogs seven days to be adopted before they are euthanized. Atwood said he believes that most of them are good dogs and that any behavioral problems they might have can be easily fixed with training.

"They're euthanizing dogs just because of space," Atwood said. "It's terrible."

What help do rescues need?

Many small rescues in Newberg and Dundee run 100% off donations. When donations run dry, owners are forced to pay out of pocket.

"My credit cards are full this year," Shafer said. She operates Orphan Kitten Rescue of Oregon out of her home, with help from her daughter Nicole Focht. "Only a few donations have been made, which is understandable. People have been out of work for a long time."

Still, Shafer said, one serious medical emergency could decimate her rescue for an entire year. A mobile home park fire in Dundee earlier this year almost did just that. Several cats died and the ones that survived needed serious medical treatment. Luckily, the Dundee community came together and helped pay the bills.

Dog rescues are also struggling financially. "Most (dog) rescues need financial health," Atwood said. "Saving dogs is very costly. We can't adopt them out for as much as they cost to rehabilitate."

For instance, Pawsitively Saved sometimes spends between $2,000 to $3,000 on each dog that has medical issues. In comparison, Atwood's adoption price is typically $400 per dog.

"The problems they have are perfectly fixable even if they cost a lot of money," Atwood said. "They're wonderful dogs."

Rescuing healthy dogs can be expensive, too. Before Atwood can take dogs from shelters in California, he must pay for their vaccines, health certificates and transportation. He usually invests between $150 and $250 in the dogs before he ever lays eyes on them.

After they are in his custody, the dogs need to be fixed, which costs a little over $100 when done through the charitable organization Homeward Bound.

"I hate asking for money," Atwood said, adding that running a shelter is a seven-day-a-week job and he is looking for a volunteer or paid staff person to care of fundraising for him. "I don't know the proper ways to go about it and frankly, I don't have the time."

Atwood also said he's always looking for more volunteers who are willing to help in even the not-so-fun ways, such as giving baths, trimming nails and cleaning up after dogs.

In addition to donations, Hazel is also asking that people simply "spread the word" about her rescue.

"Tell a friend, share us on Facebook," Hazel said, adding that they are also very active on TikTok and Instagram – and that people should follow them.

Hazel pointed out other rescues in the area that need help, including the Newberg Animal Shelter, which is always overflowing with animals, and ARK Boutique and Rescue, which can use blanket and towel donations.

Every shelter operates differently, Hazel said, but "we're all making a difference."

For more information on how to support, foster or adopt from Orphan Kitten Rescue of Oregon, visit Shafer's Facebook page at bit.ly/3yIXW5D. To donate or volunteer at Pawsitively Saved, go to Atwood's website at pawsitivelysaved.org. To learn more about and donate to Hazel's House Rescue, visit Hazel's website at hazelshousepdx.com.


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