The serene setting seems almost deceiving. Soft purrs from a cat echo in the lobby of the Seattle Animal Shelter, while distant dog barks can be heard from behind heavy doors.
Yet, beyond the foyer lies a massive maze of rooms, resembling more of a feline-canine-creature hotel than an animal shelter.
“It doesn’t have the feel of a typical animal shelter,” said Don Jordan, the shelter’s director. “It’s very inviting.”
Each section houses a particular species, from dogs, cats and rabbits, to birds, goats and even the occasional peacock — all of whom are taken care of on a daily basis by a small team of permanent staff members and several of the hundreds of animal-shelter volunteers.
And despite the mild chaos that comes with the territory of owning a pet, the shelter runs like clockwork, thanks to its committed workers.
“We have about 600 volunteers that participate at our shelter,” Jordan said, “and over 350 foster families in the community who take in over 1,200 animals each year.
“Every morning, starting at 8 o’clock, our workers spend the first four hours hustling to clean, feed and medicate all of the animals in the shelter,” he continued. “And at any given time, we can have upwards of 200 animals.”
For the remainder of the day, the shelter opens to the public, during which community members can drop by if they have an interest in adoption, or if they’ve lost or found an animal.
“We see anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 animals every year,” the director explained. Broken down into simpler terms, that equates to anywhere between 10 and 15 animals every day.
“If we don’t get them adopted,” he noted, “they can add up pretty quickly.”
But, for the last few years, the Seattle Animal Shelter has found homes for 2,800 animals each year, nearly doubling the annual adoption rate of a decade ago.
Noting the shelter’s progress, the recent growth of its community support system continues to have a positive impact on the number of animals adopted from the shelter.
For example, the Seattle Animal Shelter now works with a number of different local organizations to help maintain the quality care and placement of every animal.
In some rare circumstances, “we’ve partnered with the Woodland Park Zoo to take care of a few exotic animals that we’ve taken in,” Jordan said.
Recently, when 40-pound hybrid cats — which are prohibited in the City of Seattle — were brought into the shelter, the zoo served as their home until they were
transferred to a zoo in Texas.
When dealing with illegal animals, “we don’t ask any questions,” the director stated. “We simply take them in and find a place outside the city where they’re allowed to live.”
In addition to larger organizations, the shelter’s individual volunteer base stands as a significant factor in its success.
According to Kara Main-Hester, the manager of volunteer programs and fund-raising, “Our volunteers donate 25,000 hours of in-shelter service. It’s a huge program.
“Volunteers do all of the walks, all the socialization,” she explained. “They do a lot of the basic care that isn’t food, water and shelter — from taking dogs to Green Lake to doing events with the animals in the community.”
And volunteer hours spent at the shelter doesn’t even begin to include the time donated by the shelter’s foster families. Because the shelter does not like to keep animals for more than a few weeks, foster families take in animals that are subsequently placed on the Internet for adoption.
“The longer they’re here, the more stressed and cage-crazy they get,” Jordan said, “which is why our foster-family program is so important.”
Explaining that the shelter has a no-kill philosophy, Jordan noted, “We won’t euthanize any animal that can be adopted.”
But now, with hundreds of foster families available to temporarily take care of the animals while the shelter finds them permanent homes, Jordan considers the program pivotal to increasing the number of adoptions.
“It’s truly our success story,” he said.
Yet, as the manager of fund-raising, Main-Hester also emphasized the community’s donations as a major reason for the shelter’s accomplishments.
Looking at the annual funds donated to the shelter each year, she considers their program “incredibly lucky.”
“We’re fortunate because we don’t have to worry about whether we can take care of the next rabbit or cat that comes in,” she said. “We can just take them in and help them find a home.”
According to Jordan, the shelter spends roughly $100,000 on animals’ medical care every year, all of which can be covered by donations.
Money aside, the community’s impact also comes in smaller packages.
“We’d love it if people bring just a can of food,” Main-Hester said.
“If someone brought in a can of cat food for the next 365 days, they’d be our biggest donor,” she joked.
She lists the most in-demand items as canned cat food, sturdy dog toys and natural dog treats, but she noted that all donations are welcome — whether it’s giving a stuffed animal or spending a few hours volunteering.
Yet the animals aren’t the only ones who benefit from the community’s connection with the shelter.
“I love spending time here,” said fourth-year volunteer Dai-Lih Lee, who works specifically with cats and kittens. “I want to make them look good and happy to help them find a home.”
Main-Hester, who also started out at the shelter as a volunteer, describes her job as more than just rewarding.
“Working here, you see the impacts of your work every single day,” she said.
“You couldn’t ask for more.”