Story and photos by Emily Dieckman
Down a dirt road, in Northern Tucson – almost in Marana – lies Tucson’s first no-kill shelter. The fact that it’s a little bit out of the way has a poeticism to it: It parallels how far out of the way the HOPE staff members are willing to go for their animals. Executive director and co-founder Susan Scherl said the shelter, which was established in 2006, has morphed into a sanctuary over time.
“Puppies and kittens will always get adopted,” she explains. “We started taking in seniors and special needs, and after a while, we realized some of these animals will never be adopted.”
This means HOPE takes on special cases, like animals from other shelters who might be struggling with behavioral or medical issues. This also means HOPE doesn’t look like your average animal shelter, with dogs lined up in rows of kennels. When I took a tour of the 4.5-acre grounds on a breezy January day with Scherl, board of directors president Lara Bucci, and board member Julie Nelson, we started by visiting the trailer, which acts as a separate wing of the shelter.
The two dogs in the trailer, recently rescued off a euthanasia list from Santa Cruz County, each have their own rooms, filled with all sorts of stuff to make the dogs more comfortable – toys, beds, crates with the doors left open. Classical music is playing in the background. All of the animals at HOPE stay in large community rooms, or even have rooms of their own. The HOPE crew is especially careful about keeping animals separate before they’re dewormed, de-flead, de-ticked, and spayed or neutered.
In 2020, as the coronavirus raged on and nonprofits everywhere came upon hard times, the team’s attitude didn’t falter one bit. Scherl decided to revamp the shelter’s existing board of directors, and Bucci was elected as president.
“I’m kind of flying blind here,” Bucci grins, carrying a box into the shelter. “All I have is a love for dogs and a knowledge of sales.”
That love and knowledge has been enough to help HOPE see some major upgrades in the last year. They’ve repainted the building and had large swaths of trees cleared out, making way for a potential future expansion. In the last year, an Eagle Scout also built the shelter not a patio, but a cat-io, an enclosed outdoor area for the cats.
At a larger shelter, it’s not feasible for every employee or volunteer to know every animal. But the team members and animals who were in the shelter that day were a tight-knit group. We visit over a dozen cats lounging happily across two rooms, then more dogs, each with their own rooms: little Dexter, who is wearing a tiny sweater; Jax, who is waiting to be neutered and who captured my heart; and Buddy, who is filled to the brim with energy and love.
Sandy’s Success Story
Heather McShea, our Sales Manager here at The Tucson Dog Magazine, adopted her Wheaton terrier mix, Sandy, from HOPE back in 2019, after meeting her at the magazine’s annual WOOFStock event. Sandy was 11 at the time, and McShea thought she’d be doing something nice – and relatively easy – by taking in an older, presumably mellow, dog.
“She was not easy at all,” McShea laughs, recalling how, when Sandy had first arrived home, she’d been afraid to go outside, aggressive with other dogs and full of nervous energy.
Sandy had come to HOPE after spending years with another family, spending all of her time outside. HOPE had addressed an array of medical issues before making Sandy available for adoption and provided McShea a thorough rundown on Sandy’s background.
When Sandy’s aggression issues continued to be problematic after about three months, McShea called HOPE, unsure what to do. They let her know the Complete Canine, a local dog training facility, was offering free training for dogs adopted from HOPE. McShea was astonished by how quickly she improved thanks to the advice of the Complete Canine team. After just a few days of muzzle training and using compressed air to correct troublesome behavior, Sandy’s issues faded away almost completely.
“It was a struggle, but she’s definitely worth it,” McShea says. “She’s so sweet, and she’s quirky, and she’s kind of blind, but she loves to play. Now, I even see her outside rolling in the grass and enjoying the sun. She likes being outside!”
This Is Why We Do It
Touring HOPE felt like touring a friend’s home – and not just because the shelter was originally a house, but because of the way they treat each other and the animals. At one point, Bucci asks where a dog named Lily went, and when Scherl says she got adopted, they all share a moment of excitement.
When Nelson hands me a brochure, she points out the dog she adopted from HOPE, Rocky, and the dog Bucci adopted from HOPE, Stewie. You get the distinct sense they know and love every animal who has ever passed through the shelter. Bucci picks up Dexter and cuddles with him while we all fawn over him, and over the pictures in the brochure.
“When I feel like I can’t fundraise one more dollar, I look at a picture,” Bucci says, “And I say, ‘This is why we do it.’”
Hope Animal Shelter is located at 8050 N. Joplin Lane and hopenaimalshelter.net. If you’d like to get involved with helping HOPE Animal Shelter, get in touch! The shelter has wish lists on Amazon and Chewy, and they welcome volunteers who can help with everything from animal care to landscaping to plumbing. Call 520-792-9200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.