How Green Is Your Valley? For The Animals at The Animal League of Green Valley the Grass is Greener
Story by Claire Sheridan | Photo courtesy of Julius Schlosburg
“A Home For Every Pet,” the mission statement of The Animal League of Green Valley (TALGV), is the goal the shelter staff strives toward every day. The facts are staggering. The entire organization, from its executive director on down, is comprised of volunteer labor–there is not a single paid staff position. The number of programs they run is unbelievable, and the community benefit is perhaps incalculable. The volunteers come from every imaginable background; they include retirees in their 90s and teenagers who participate in YIP (Youth Intern Program). All of these people who come together to support the mission have one thing in common: their deep abiding love of animals.
Opening its doors in 2001, TALGV, a no-kill shelter, was the brain child of Margaret Roesch and partner, Bert Cowper. The inspiration came to Roesch from her work at Hospice; many of the dying people expressed concerns, not for themselves or their families, but for the animals they would leave behind. Determined to help, Margaret first galvanized a group of volunteers as foster families for the pets of the deceased before she marshaled the resources necessary to build the shelter. Today, the shelter has a maximum capacity of approximately 70 dogs and almost too many cats to count! Additionally, they board between 30 and 40 more dogs in the community at veterinarian offices and foster homes.
Volunteers continue to be the glue that holds everything together. Open to the public 363 days a year (closed Christmas and Thanksgiving), volunteers work shifts at the adoption center, thrift store, and provide animal care while visitors look for treasures in the store and new furry family members in the kennels. Most impressive is the work that goes on after the public goes home. The day begins early, by 5 AM. Volunteers descend on TALGV like worker bees returning to the hive. They bring with them enthusiasm, good humor, and a passion for cleanliness that makes Mr. Clean seem like a slob.
Compared to many shelters, the peaceful atmosphere while walking through the corridor of the kennel areas is striking. First, you may notice the smell–or rather, the lack of smell. Absent is the kennel odor, some combination of bodily waste and animal food, so common in many shelters. Second, there is the sound; absent is the chaotic barking that is the hallmark of the shelter experience. Also missing are dogs clambering on chain link fencing, desperate for human interaction or eager to communicate their displeasure with their surroundings. In short, this is less a shelter, and more like an upscale boarding facility. Heck, you might be tempted to reserve a run for yourself!
Each indoor dog enclosure offers access to an outdoor run. There are also exclusively outdoor dog areas, each equipped with several shelter options ranging from dog houses to shade-sail covered areas.
There is no detail too small. Each animal receives a thorough evaluation; a bio of the animal is written up and posted on the kennel door for visitors and prospective adopters to read. Indoor dogs have doors to the corridors, which recently had large double-pane glass windows installed at the level where a dog door would be. This feature allows the dogs a proper view, which is thought to be one reason why dogs in typical chain-link shelter enclosures may jump and “hit the fence,” to better see passersby.
Felines also have it made in the shade; cats enjoy the freedom to choose whether they hang out on a cat tree indoors or chase a toy in the outdoor “catios” that are attached to their enclosures. A keen eye has seen to it that there are aesthetic details, which contribute to the overall human-visitor experience. The cat enclosures have screen doors with wrought iron security-type bars that artistically feature cut outs of cats. Several enclosures also feature solid doors in addition to the screen doors; these doors may be closed, and a specialized air handling system turned on, effectively creating a quarantine in the event that animals carrying contagious airborne illness are brought into the shelter.
TALGV has many extraordinary programs. For example, if you adopt a senior cat or dog (defined as at least 10 years old, or an over 8-year-old dog weighing over 65 pounds), TALGV will pay for the veterinary care of that animal for life. This program alone does immeasurable good, as senior dogs and cats often languish in shelters because prospective adopters fear the costs associated with providing veterinary care and end-of-life care for older animals. They use community resources, including foster families and local veterinarians who have extra space to increase their capacity to house animals. With even greater impact, TALGV looks for ways to help animals living in homes where their humans have difficulty meeting their needs. Through the Medical Outreach program, TALGV provides veterinary care for low-income families. Established in 2006, the Medical Outreach program has rapidly grown, consuming a huge chunk of the organization’s annual budget. This program provides veterinary care beyond spay/neuter services; types of care provided include vaccinations, medications and surgeries.
In 2016, the organization spent $232,055 on providing Medical Outreach care to the community. While this may seem a high figure, the cost of keeping pets in loving homes is smaller than the cost of building additional shelter space and caring for the pets as residents of TALGV. According to TALGV, “This increase is due in part to the fact that we are seeing more severe cases, treatment costs have risen, and there are more qualifying, low-income families. Without our medical outreach program, many families would be forced to relinquish their pet. The clients are referred from social service agencies such as the Community Food Bank… This medical outreach program has become one of our most costly, but most important, as we see every day how much helping pets helps the lives of their people. …[the services] make it possible for the pets to continue providing companionship to the families with whom they live.”
If the volunteers are glue, then their volunteer leader, President & Executive Director Jean Davis is Super Glue. Having been a volunteer since 2003, Davis’ dedication and unwavering commitment to TALGV’s mission are clear. A former 8th grade teacher, Davis is a passionate, no-nonsense leader, whose dealings with middle schoolers provided her all of the experience she needs to deal with animal antics and volunteers alike. She is a rare person who has a combination of people and animal skills. Her commitment to the strategic plan of maintaining all staff as volunteers comes from her belief that volunteers produce a higher quality of work than would paid staff, and that spending money on the animals should be the priority.
Davis attributes TALGV’s success in part to the founder’s foresight to leave the organization the physical building; having a paid-for building means that they can focus on doing the work without concern for losing the space. She noted that the facility’s accolades are the result of the many hours, hard work, and dedication of TALGV’s 600-plus volunteers. Last year, the volunteers performed 124,839 hours of work. Every day, each TALGV department has a volunteer coordinator; the members of its Board of Directors all have additional responsibilities from scooping litter to medicating dogs, no one is “just” on the board.
Seven-year seasoned volunteer, Dennis O’Hara, is a favorite among the dogs. Having served as TALGV’s Santa Claus in previous years, it’s easy to see the twinkle in his eye. He readily shares a brilliant smile with animals and humans alike. “I give love without making them jump through hoops of fire. I love bringing a shy dog out to help it get adopted.”
Michelle Miner is one of the thrift store’s coordinators. She explained that, in addition to running the on-site store, another way that TALGV raises revenue is by hosting estate sales. The thrift store team comes to the donor’s location, prices the items, staffs the sale, and cleans up after, all for the same percentage (25%) that other for-profit groups charge for the service. On rare and lucky occasions, estate sale donors will opt to give the entire proceeds from the sale to TALGV. If you dread organizing the sale yourself, visit TALGV’s clean and well-laid out thrift store; if it is any indicator, the estate sale service would be a huge relief for a great cause.
Whatever platitude you choose–greener pastures, the grass is always greener–the animals at The Animal League of Green Valley are lucky to be in the care of the volunteers, and the community is much richer as a result of the organization’s good works. So, saddle up and head to the greener pastures of Green Valley to check them out!
For more information on how you can donate, get involved, to get your fix of cute animal pictures, get a jump on your holiday shopping, or perhaps find a new friend to share your home and heart, check out The Animal League of Green Valley’s website at: www.talgv.org, call 520-625-3170, or visit them at: 1600 West Duval Mine Road, Green Valley, AZ 85614.