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Its dogs' and cats' needs haven't changed just because the country is shut down

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Lisa Beggio, executive director at the Columbia Humane Society, plays with Luna — one of about 12 dogs housed at the St. Helens shelter now.Meet Luna.

Luna is a young mother experiencing homelessness, but despite those challenging circumstances, she's still cheerful, energetic and upbeat. She loves to exercise, loves her favorite foods and loves spending time with her young family.

She's also covered in shiny black fur, measures in at 3 feet tall, weighs about 45 pounds and is one of 12 canine residents at the Columbia Humane Society.

Luna — along with the other animals awaiting adoption at the humane society — is also dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Right now, the Columbia Humane Society (2084 Oregon Street in St. Helens) isn't open to the public, but is still continuing its mission of successfully rehoming and training adoptable animals.

"We are still doing adoptions, we're just not open to the public," said Lisa Beggio, executive director at the Columbia Humane Society. "Now everything is done by appointment. We are setting up times with people to come in look at animals … they're interested in."

While that format may not be as convenient for the public, Beggio said that it actually presents some advantages in the adoption process. Among them are the chance to spend more time with potential adopters and also to complete home checks. The humane society, Beggio said, normally hosts 17-20 dogs and 15-20 cats, though both those numbers are lower right now.

"It makes for a much better adoption process, a better adoption model, because we get to spend time with the adopters," she said. "We are getting to be more hands-on with the adopters, talk to them more and it's way more focused. That's exactly what the adopters need, what our pets need — they need all of our focus so that's been very nice."

The home checks have become especially important during the shutdown associated with the coronavirus pandemic. Because so many people are locked down in their homes, many have considered adopting pets for the first time, but many of those people, Beggio said, may not ready to be pet owners long-term.

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Two-year-old Luna stretches her legs in the exercise compound (with Executive Director Lisa Beggio in the background) at the Columbia Humane Society in St, Helens on Monday, May 4."A lot of pet adoptions are happening because people are bored and don't have anything to do," she said. "I get tons of emails saying 'I have nothing to do so I'd like to get a pet,' and I'm like, 'OK. What are you going to do when you go back to work?' We think a lot of the placements that are happening are going to end up being like 'Oh no. Now we need to give the dog back.'"

In the screening process, Beggio and her co-workers ask potential adopters about their financial stability, how they'll care for the pet once they return to work, and where the pet will live.

"We are being very careful who we place with and screening those people," Beggio said. "We had a puppy that we were placing and when I asked (what would happen when work life resumed), the guy was just like 'It will be left in the back yard.' So I said 'Well, we appreciate your time. Have a great day.' That's not what we're looking for for our pets. We're trying to weed those adoptions out, but I'm guessing probably on a national level we're probably going to see that increase as time goes on."

In addition to closing its lobby and switching to adoption visits by appointment, the Columbia Humane Society is now relying almost solely on its staff of three (two full-time, one part-time) to handle everything.

"We have restricted our volunteers because we were afraid volunteers were going to bring the sickness into our staff and we can't afford to get sick because there's only three of us so we were very restrictive on that," Beggio said, noting that the humane society normally gets 200 to 300 hours of volunteer time per month, but is now operating with around 50.

Volunteers help with enrichment — basically, quality time playing with and exercising the animals — cleaning and much, much more.

"They don't care what's going on in the world. They still need to be cared for and they deserved to be cared for."

Lisa Beggio, Executive Director, Columbia Humane Society

"We've had to step up and do those things, too. That's fine. Nobody has any problem doing it, it's just a little bit more," Beggio said, adding that "We've come to realize how much we rely on our volunteers for all the things they do. And let's face it, (the animals') needs don't change. They don't care that there's a pandemic going on. They still want to be fed, watered and medicated twice a day and exercise and get petted and loved and bathed and groomed. They don't care what's going on in the world. They still need to be cared for and they deserved to be cared for."

That care comes at a price, though, and like so many other businesses in the world, the Columbia Humane Society is facing financial challenges. The humane society's annual budget is about $180,000 — most of it for staff salaries, utilities, insurance and supplies — with approximately $20,000 coming from now-canceled fundraisers.

"Our donations are down, which is understandable for the times. People are uncertain about whether they're going to have a meal next," Beggio said. "We had to cancel all of our fundraisers so we don't know what that's going to look like for the year and that's $20,000 out of our budget … that will probably go missing."

Despite those shortcomings, the humane society is working to serve and care for its dogs and cats, planning as best it can for an uncertain future, sharing food with local pet owners in dire straits and more.

"It's a labor of love. We do it for (the dogs and cats). We do it because they deserve it," said Beggio, who's worked with the Columbia Humane Society for 20 years. "We see these animals come in and they're broken and haven't been well cared for and they just kind of come back. When they really should have no reason to love a human again, they can still do it."

The Columbia Humane Society is accepting donations here, or through its Facebook page and Instagram account.


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