August 07, 2013

Official Suckage and a Pat on the Back

No updates in forever. Bad Blogger! We've done a coast vacation, time at the fair, family visits.. Oh, and the little matter of me actually passing my State Board Exams and being now an officially licensed Massage Therapist in the state of Oregon.. yah. That happened.
HOWEVER. I am still in school aiming for that ever important Associates degree, and as such have to take classes that I'd really rather not. One of those classes is Writing 121. This is a basic entry level writing class but it's absolutely required for the degree so I grudgingly attend. Our latest assignment was to write a Community Engagement piece. Pick a local organization, paint a picture in your readers mind, make them want more information. Gotcha, check. I really love what I ended up with even if it did go over the max page allowance, and I figure I'll share it here. This may very well be the only place it ends up published so I might as well..


Looking on the Bright Side

Black-Eyed Susans and fluffy green bushes urge visitors to wander down the path to the front door. A small plastic sign secured to a garden stake crackles in the breeze, directing people where to bring their bottle and can donations. Once inside, the sun drenched vaulted ceilings, brightly painted tree mosaic, and smiling faces of the volunteers welcome you in. A black cat, belly swaying low giving proof to her time as a Mama, wanders past in search of another buddy to cuddle with among the dozens of cats visible from the front door. A general feeling of contentment wafts over visitors rather than the expected stench of bleach, urine, and desperation.  A visit to the Brightside Animal Center is not at all what you would expect in an animal shelter.
Formerly the Humane Society of Redmond, Brightside underwent a complete makeover and reintroduced itself to the city of Redmond in early 2013. Why the change? “There were several reasons we made the change,” says Chris Bauersfeld, executive director at BrightSide. “One was that we were aware there was brand confusion with the Humane Society of Central Oregon. People thought that we were one and the same, that we were a satellite branch. There was also brand confusion the Humane Society of the United States. None of us are a part of the Humane Society of the United States [… ]They do not contribute to local animal shelters.”   The end result of this brand confusion was public misconception on how they were helping locally. The funds donated to the Humane Society of the United States were assumed, by the local donors, to trickle down to our local Humane Societies. This is not the case.  This misconception and the resulting lack of funding for local services combined with the negative reputation Humane Societies in general have was severely limiting the good the shelter was able to do in our community.
What was done to combat this misconception? “We got selected by the Advertising Federation in Central Oregon. [They] select one non-profit per year and they help them with branding.”  It was after many surveys and research hours, about a year, that suspicions were confirmed.  The main issue holding the animal shelter back from success was their name.  After many options were suggested and summarily rejected, the name Brightside Animal Center was chosen. “Humane Societies will soon be a thing of the past. As communities change what they need, we [independent non-profit organizations] will do more. We are not just a place to house unwanted or stray animals. We’re also a resource for people to teach them how to keep the animals in their home [and] how to better select their animal.” The name change will help our community to see BrightSide for the unique center of hope that it is.
An estimated 40% of the incoming animals at the shelter are owner surrendered.  The most common reason for bringing an animal in? “They can’t afford it anymore,” says Chris, “or they are moving. Underlying all of that is usually a behavior issue. If we can correct the issue and have the people keep the animal, then we’re all about that. The animals need to stay in their homes. But we’re here for the ones that can’t.”Brightside doesn’t stop there. In 2009 they began their spay and neuter program. In 2010-2011, while still under the old name, they rolled out a program offering low cost veterinary care for income qualified people, and in 2012 they began offering training to help teach families how to overcome the issues that lead them to consider surrendering their pet in the first place. “We’re moving away from police and animal welfare work, and more toward working to preserve the bond that people have with their animals.”  Promoting that bond is what BrightSide Animal Center is all about.
Chris estimated around two hundred animals pass through their doors every month, with an equal number of animals brought in by owners for spay and neuter services. April through November the Center is swamped with puppies and kittens.  It is a very busy time of year for BrightSide. “Right now we have over a hundred cats and kittens in the shelter, with another 30 kittens out in foster care. That’s low. We’re getting ready for the next wave.”  The lack of regulation on cat ownership is a large part of this problem.  How is Brightside dealing with the issue? “We’re forming a coalition: The Humane Society of Central Oregon, Bend Spay and Neuter, and us. We’ve gotten together and we are going to be facilitating a trap neuter program.” Similar programs exist in more metropolitan areas, but none yet in our neck of the woods. The Best Friends Animal Society reports of a similar program started in Albuquerque that saw a reduction in the influx of cats and kittens into shelters by 59% its first year. With an estimated fourteen to twenty thousand homeless cats in Deschutes County alone, a program like this is well overdue. Targeting community cats, those that don’t have a specific home but rather a community that they live in, the trapped cats will be spayed or neutered. They will also receive all the necessary vaccinations and tests, and will be returned right back to where they were found to live out their days. “Our first surgery day is the end of August,” reveals Chris. Her excitement at the introduction of this program, and the good it will do our community, is palpable.
With such a large number of animals in Central Oregon flooding the shelters every year, it is a surprise to learn of the extreme lengths BrightSide has gone in order to earn their no-kill shelter reputation.  According to the BrightSide Animal Center’s “Our Method” web page, last year BrightSide was able to find homes for 98% of the dogs and 96% of the cats that walked through their doors. Numerous others, the elderly and infirm, live out their final days in foster hospice,( nicknamed fospice by the staff.) According to the American Humane Association‘s “Animal Shelter Euthanasia” web page, an estimated 64% of animals that enter a shelter are euthanized. It is believed that in 2008 alone, nearly  3.7 million animals were euthanized in our nations’ animal shelters. It’s a number difficult to wrap your brain around.  How many creatures was BrightSide forced to put down? “Last year we euthanized nine dogs and fourteen cats,” reveals Chris.  That is for the entire year. Nearly all of these euthanizations were for issues that could not otherwise be overcome such as extreme injury or illness. It is a mind-bogglingly low number. Every animal that enters the back doors of BrightSide is expected to walk out the front doors and into the home of a forever family. Every one. And they are succeeding.
 The secret to their success is loving control. At BrightSide, prospective families don’t walk through kennels. They don’t wander past cages full of barking nervous dogs or yowling distressed cats. Prospective dog owners are handed a binder of descriptions. Adoption Specialists will take the potential family for an interview where the perfect animal is described. The Specialists will then head back to the outdoor daytime kennels and choose the best dog for that family based on personality and the familiarity they have developed with the animals in their care. By doing things this way Brightside solves several problems. “People tend to choose the animals based on looks,” Chris tells me “Either the animal will be pretty, or it will be the one huddled in the back of the kennel and they will feel sorry for it. Most of the time they will choose an animal that is absolutely not right for their family.” Black pets are the most difficult to place. The restriction on wandering visitors also reduces the stress the animals go through with a parade of strangers constantly gawking at them.
The new routine at BrightSide was met with quite a negative response from a well-intended public that had become accustomed to visiting the facility in their spare time to pet the dogs.  “We can always use volunteers to come and socialize with our dogs; take them on walks and play with them,” Chris offers, “but it’s stressful for them to have new people constantly coming in and out. They don’t know you. It isn’t good for them.” Volunteers are always in demand to do the little things that make a big difference; filling Kong toys with peanut butter, helping with the dozens of daily loads of laundry, feeding animals and cleaning kennels, the list is endless. The dogs are involved in several regular activities to keep things exciting. Along with spending their daytime hours outside under the shade of two large newly donated pergolas, “we play classical music for them at night when we’re cleaning up. It makes it less boring,” says Steve, the Reception Coordinator at BrightSide. “We also do things like doggy daycare at Zippity Doo Dog, and some take “nosework” classes,” training designed to both teach the dogs a skill and wear them out to break up the monotony of shelter life.  The staff at BrightSide is constantly looking for new ways to stimulate the pups in their care.  The public may be disappointed in this looky-loo restriction, but the adoption success numbers speak for themselves.
             Prospective cat families are able to interact and play with the numerous cats all wandering freely through the facility in order to make their choices. No one sits in a cage to be stared at. The morning routine involves a 7am welcome that is a “cacophony of meows and barks” which leads to the freeing of the felines. The cats are let out of their individual sleeping enclosures to freely wander the facilities during the business hours. “At four-o-clock it’s quite the Easter Egg Hunt to find all of the cats to get them back into their cages for the night!”  The twinkle Chris develops in sharing this lets you know she’s participated in this particular Easter Egg hunt more than a few times.
The end result of this adoption method is better family matches and fewer returns. They are creating happy pets in happy homes. . Any challenges a new home may have with their furry family member are met head on by BrightSide with their multiple free training programs and services designed to foster a long term and loving relationship between owner and pet. “If that still isn’t working then we ask that they bring the animal back to us. I don’t want to see the animal on Craigslist, we want them back here. We know those animals and we have made a commitment to them. Once they come through our doors, they are ours.”  Chris and all of the staff at BrightSide are vehement advocates for all of their animals and will never hesitate to do whatever they can to make a happy ending come true. This is never more apparent than now.
Dr. Byrd, the veterinarian at BrightSide, walks in to the office with some updated treatment information for Chris. She has some new recommendations and stats on her very delicate patient.  At her side hobbles a heavily bandaged and subdued Chance. A young pitbull mix, Chance has been all over the local news. Found nearly dead, it is believed that Chance was somehow dragged behind a truck, resulting in extensive abrasions and wounds to most of his body. The likelihood of Chance living through the care of such extreme wounds was slim, but not at BrightSide. If there is a chance, even a slim one, that an animal can leave their front doors healthy and happy to the warmth of a new home, BrightSide will take it.
Chance has had several surgeries, and it shows. His trembling frame is nearly skeletal; the effort to move his extensively bandaged body apparent in his every motion. Three legs are heavily wrapped like a macabre Christmas present up to the shoulder, as is the better portion of his back. The skin that is visible is gouged and thickly scabbed. The impulse to lay a loving hand on this brave soul plays tug-of-war with the need to find an unwounded place to lay it. His face is one abrasion after another. He’s not finished, either. Chance will have several surgeries over the next few months to attempt to repair the destroyed skin and muscles on his limbs. Mutely, Chance stands to have a soft cone collar slipped around his neck. His injuries are massive and he is still in a delicate condition and can’t be allowed to upset the healing. Despite the pain that is obvious, he is calm. He is quiet. He slowly and cautiously makes his way over to snuffle at a bowl of water, his floppy soft cone completely obscuring his entire head causing quite the positioning conundrum trying to get to it. Soft warm chuckles come from his Foster Mom from behind the director’s desk as Chris leans over to help the poor guy find his drink. Thirst quenched, he heads over for a bit of a love-inspection before settling in a place of obviously familiar content in the corner of her office. His soul is in his eyes, and a long look from him results in a gut wrenching need to do something to help.

When Chance walks in to the room, Chris is transformed.  Her caring countenance had been hiding behind a veil of seriousness up until this moment. It isn’t until she has the Chance in her office, settled into his blanket rich bed, that you truly see the passion Chris has for “her” animals.  Chance will cost BrightSide thousands upon thousands of dollars to treat. Immeasurable hours will be devoted to the constant care this valiant little warrior will need to fully heal. But at BrightSide, none of that matters. This ill-treated soldier will want for nothing; medical attention, time, energy, effort, and most of all love. Chance has been given a chance to live when, in any other circumstance, he wouldn’t have. And he is not alone. Each staff member questioned had a certain special furry someone that walked through their lives, their own personal “Chance”. James, a dog brought in with a large group rescued from a hoarder, was so inbred and neglected that his back end was completely distorted. “He looked like a frog,” Chris shares with a sigh. His medical care was donated, months were spend rehabilitating him, and he is now happily placed in a loving home living a very normal life.  This is the gift that BrightSide offers to each and every animal entrusted to their care.
Chris and all of the staff and volunteers have made BrightSide an awe inspiring and humbling success. Severely underfunded, they bridge the gap between what they have and what they need with love for the critters that share this big ball of dirt with us. According to the BrightSide Animal Center 2012 Annual Report, last year more than 1800 homeless animals passed through their doors, loved and cared for until their forever families found them. An additional 300+ were reunited with their owners while waiting in the safety of the Center (“Always microchip your pets,” advises Steve.) Last year 1971 animals were spayed or neutered, and an additional 3982 received necessary vaccinations while 312 received emergency medical care.  Donations and memberships along with grants and sales from the BrightSide Thrift Store provide the lifeblood that allows the heart of BrightSide to thrive. It is a testament to the blossoming awareness of need in our community that they continue to do so.  
 The animals in our homes and neighborhoods have an advocate, they have a voice. The homeless critters in Central Oregon have a sanctuary from which to rest, to recover, and to hope. BrightSide Animal Center is not what you’d expect in an animal shelter. However, this may be the one time when failing to meet an expectation brings about the Chance to really see things on the Bright Side.

Volunteer applications are at the front door.  



alyca said...

Very well written, Sabrina. You might submit that to the Bend Bulletin or other local newspaper as an editorial piece/guest writer...

Sabrina said...

Well, my professor didn't agree. Our perceptions on the assignment were different I guess. Got a crappy C on this paper.