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Cover Story: A Well-Earned New Home; The Humane Society of Southern Arizona

A Well-Earned New Home; The Humane Society of Southern Arizona

Story By Claire Sheridan | Renderings & Plans Courtesy of HSSAZ

Many Tucson Dog readers are likely familiar with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona (HSSAZ); their great work has been well-documented. Last year 5,807 animals were taken in, 4,515 found new homes, and 211 lost pets were reunited with their humans. HSSAZ provides low-cost spay and neuter services, vaccinations to public pets, and medical services for all of the shelter’s animals patiently awaiting their forever homes. They provide education to humans in the form of Dog Days in the Desert summer camps for kids, seminars about animal care best practices, court-mandated animal cruelty education classes, and pet first aid; they have even offered Rattlesnake Avoidance Training.

What is less well known, perhaps, is the fact that all of this good work is being accomplished from a physical plant that is more akin to a mobile army surgical hospital, or MASH unit, than to a modern animal shelter. Not a single square inch of the aging campus is wasted. Similar to the old television show, M*A*S*H, it is the people who work at HSSAZ who make the place shine in spite of whatever difficulties and challenges they may encounter.

Originally donated to the HSSAZ in 1944, the current location was formerly a residential property that has been continuously retrofitted to accommodate its use as a shelter. Dr. Santana Overton is the primary care provider veterinarian to the animals who reside at the shelter. She practices her healing arts in a space that appears to have surely once been the broom closet of the former residence. From this space, which narrowly allows an average-sized human to pass between the exam table and the wall, Dr. Overton examines each and every shelter resident upon his or her intake to HSSAZ. Here she also provides ongoing care. Everything short of surgery takes place in this small space, and no animal, regardless of size, is able to avoid Dr. O’s loving care.

Lost animals who are reunited with their humans often rely upon the friendly folks who operate the Lost & Found call center. There are two full-time staff members, Tanya Valasquez and Sandi Drye, whose job is to answer the approximately 500 calls per day that the shelter receives about missing and misplaced/found animals. They handle this volume from a long narrow space that barely allows their office chairs to roll backward from the mounted desk without hitting the wall behind.

In spite of the close quarters, the ladies of the Lost & Found call center make room in their office, and in their hearts, for the so-called “office pets” (see cover photo). The shelter environment is a challenging one for many animals. In an attempt to help the shelter’s resident pets to cope with the stresses inherent in being in their kennels and runs, the HSSAZ staff allow individual animals to hang out in offices while they work. This practice not only helps the animals, but also contributes to the atmosphere of compassionate caring created by the staff. Who doesn’t love seeing a wagging tail, purring cat on the desk, or napping puppy curled in the corner?
During our visit to the shelter the television star Nicholas the dog, performed his duty as the office pet of the day in the Marketing Department’s modular home. In an effort to unite pets with their forever homes, HSSAZ partners with local media outlets, including television stations, to feature individual pets. Nominated “Staff Favorite,” Nicholas is a complete love who doesn’t especially relish being in his kennel. Like many dogs at the shelter, Nicholas jumps and barks at his kennel door when people come to look for a new pet. These behaviors are a common symptom of being stressed by the shelter environment, and they are not usually representative of the dog’s personality. As such, it can be difficult for potential pet parents to see past the kennel to the sweet animal within. In real life, Nicholas loves nothing more than to be with his humans, and to play with toys.

Another resident, Firefly, has been described as a special needs kitty. According to her online profile, she would be best as an only pet, as she doesn’t do too well with other cats or dogs. She also would prefer a household without children. She was the mother to a litter born at HSSAZ, and all of the kittens have since been adopted. Only Firefly remains. While Firefly may come off as aloof, the staff at HSSAZ extoll her virtues, and it is not uncommon to see her out of her enclosure as someone’s office cat of the day while she awaits her forever home.

The shelter will be moving to its new, state-of-the-art facility on Roger Road just west of Oracle, with a scheduled occupancy date of January 2, 2018. This new facility has been impeccably designed with the careful eye and experienced input of HSSAZ’s expert staff. Years working in a challenging environment have given the staff a lot of understanding upon which to build its wish list and its definitely-must-have list for the new facility.

Some of the new building’s features include nonporous and sealed floors. This detail is important because the floors will help prevent the leaching of microbes, and this will help minimize the spread of illness. In addition, a high-tech HVAC air handling and containment system will filter out additional germs and help prevent the spread of airborne illnesses like kennel cough, which is very common in shelters. Kennel cough is particularly challenging because it spreads very easily, and is difficult to contain in an environment that lacks adequate ventilation. Having separate areas with individual controls will allow for quarantine of sick residents, and help minimize the other animal’s exposure to infection.

In the new shelter, feline residents will be delighted with new, larger enclosures. Cats will also have access to individual outdoor areas in each of their enclosures. This is a huge upgrade, as the cat area in the current facility only allows for indoor space, and cats are housed in small kennels about the size of a medium dog crate. Additionally, shelter dogs will be relieved that the play yard and meet-and-greet areas are no longer adjacent to their private dog runs. This separation will allow individual dogs to have more one-on-one time with their prospective humans, without the stress of other animals barking through their enclosures. At the same time, this feature will give the resident dogs a more peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

The spay/neuter clinic time and space is shared between the resident animals and the public’s pets. Due to space constraints at the current location, this means that shelter resident animals are limited to spay and neuter surgeries on Tuesdays. This reduced surgical capacity increases shelter residents’ length of stay, which currently averages 34 days. Larger clinic space in the new facility will allow greater opportunity to perform operations for shelter residents. This is a very important development; the staff projects that it will lead to a greater number of animals being served annually, with up to 1,000 more animals getting new homes as a result. (The clinic currently performs over 6,000 spay/neuter surgeries per year.) At the same time, the hope is that the increased surgical capacity will decrease each animal’s average length of stay by two to three weeks.

In the past few years the shelter has seen an increase in the number of pets coming to the shelter with complicated medical issues. Fortunately for those animals, there is the Second Chance medical fund, which is earmarked specifically for pets with those complex medical needs. One of the animals who benefitted from these Second Chance medical funds is Willie, a 5-year-old Chihuahua mix. Willie, who came to HSSAZ as a stray, is a sweet little guy who loves his kennel mates. Unfortunately, one of his eyes was infected, and needed to be removed. The surgery was paid for by the Second Chance funds. Like the entire budget of the HSSAZ, all of the funds come from donations and fund-raising events; HSSAZ does not receive any federal or state government monies for its operation. HSSAZ’s 2016 annual income was comprised of donations from the public (74%), payments for services (16%), and special events and other fund-raising (9%).

Each year, the HSSAZ puts on many fun events around the community to raise awareness and funds. These events include: Putt for Paws golf tournament, (Put on by Tanya Barnett of The Reliance Group Real Estate. Last year, Tanya happily presented a check for $10,000 to HSSAZ.) Puttin’ On The Dog (see Tucson Dog’s first edition story on our website), and many more. One of the big upcoming events is the 3rd Annual Sweat For Pets on October 22, 2017 at the University of Arizona Campus Mall. For more information, and to register, check out the events page on the HSSAZ’s website. The Tucson Dog magazine is thrilled to be a sponsor of this event and will be there with a booth and a team that will walk too.

In addition to receiving donated funds, HSSAZ could not operate without its volunteers. There are over 1,500 active volunteers; between 700 and 800 of these folks provide foster homes for the shelter animals. In 2016, volunteers donated 148,645 hours of their time to the HSSAZ. One unique program that relies on volunteers is Fostering Adoptions on the Streets of Tucson, or FAST, which started last year. Through this program, dogs are taken out of the shelter and are given exposure to potential new homes in the real world. This allows potential new pet parents to meet dogs in a more normal environment than the shelter can provide, with the goal of making adoptions happen more quickly.

For more information on how you can volunteer, join in one of their fundraising events, donate money, or adopt a new member of your family, please visit the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s website at: www.hssaz.org, or visit them in person at their current location: 3450 North Kelvin Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716.

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