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Gimme Shelter … Please

Article by Clint Driscoll & Diane Alexander

Animals – March 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

For the past six years, Diane Godynick-Clements has rescued cats in Buena Vista. At last count, she had sixteen in her house, sixteen cats that she was trying to place in good homes. People know about Diane, which explains why cats get dumped off at her house without any notes, food, or support money. Once, after a Humane Society fundraiser, she came home to find a frightened dog tied to her fencepost.

But usually the stray dogs go to Marianne Dugan, who’s been taking them in since 1982. Marianne’s had up to eighteen dogs in her fenced run.

Generally, she can place them in good homes. But those who don’t find homes are destroyed — with rare exceptions. Marianne didn’t have the heart to put down Honey, found alongside the road with one pup. The pup was placed, but Honey, who had been hit by a car sometime in her past, suffered from a badly healed leg. No one, except Marianne, thought Honey was worth keeping.

Through these informal ways, volunteers in Chaffee County have filled a role that governments fill in more populated areas.

In a sparsely populated area like Central Colorado, animal control and humane treatment of stray and unwanted pets is not always on the top of the priority list.

Some people will tell you that the easiest way to handle an unwanted pet is to leave it on some county road, where it becomes an hors d’oeuvre for cougars and coyotes. This practice may not be as common as gossip implies, but it does happen — ask any deputy sheriff.

When it comes to the humane treatment of strays and cast-offs, mountain communities are no better or worse than their urban counterparts. It’s just a matter of degree. Down below, the number of stray and abandoned dogs and cats can be staggering. Up here, animal control may require no more than the local patrol officer or neighbor recognizing and returning a dog or cat to its owner.

But as local populations increase and become more seasonal, the problem of strays and what to do with them increases.

In Buena Vista, when the economy was humming along with Climax in the ’70s and early ’80s, the pet population began to climb. The Pet Assistance League (PAL) was formed then to assist in sheltering strays. With the general slump after Climax shut down, PAL disappeared — but the stray pets didn’t.

Feral cats became a real problem on the grounds of the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. Hungry, diseased, and injured cats roamed the prison grounds scrounging from trash cans and looking for shelter.

In 1991, prison employees Steve Evans and Diane Godynick-Clements reorganized PAL as the Ark-Valley Humane Society for the purpose of creating a sensitive system of trapping and euthanizing the feral cat population.

It became obvious to them that a well-equipped, well-run shelter was required to cope with the steadily increasing stray and abandoned animals.

So began Ark-Valley’s project to construct a shelter and educate pet owners on their responsibilities. At the same time Humane Society members worked to convince the towns in Chaffee County, and the county authorities, to begin creating and enforcing a viable animal control program.

Not surprisingly, town and county authorities were not excited about taking on another responsibility, especially one that cost money. But with time and heavy-duty lobbying by Godynick-Clements, Evans, Marianne Dugan, and other members of the society, Chaffee County and the towns of Salida and Buena Vista developed enlightened animal control programs which included sheltering provided by Ark-Valley members in their homes, as well as contract impoundment for unclaimed strays at the Mountain Shadows Animal Hospital between Salida and Poncha Springs.

Joe and Jan Stadler provide at-cost sheltering at their Double J Cross Kennels for non-stray dogs given up for adoption when their owners can no longer care for them, and they donate their grooming skills.

Most of the local vets — Drs. Friend and Ryff in Salida, Drs. Kettering and Hall in Buena Vista, and Dr. Hutchinson near Poncha Springs — provide veterinary consulting to the society and a discount spay/neuter service to folks who adopt animals.

For the society members, government cooperation didn’t come too soon. With the increase of the residential population in the past two years, especially seasonal homeowners, the number of stray dogs and cats has increased. Members have received numerous calls at the end of the summer, reporting cats left to fend for themselves when the Hummingbirds and Snowbirds head south. The most heart-rending is when motherless, unweaned litters are found near summer homes and campsites.

A few dogs have also been left, including one which stayed around the Buena Vista post office for several days before being shot. Its death played a role in galvanizing citizens to become more active in the Humane Society and participate in efforts to build a shelter.

No one has supported a shelter more than “Doc” and Marisabel Pruett of Poncha Springs. Because of their donations, actual shelter construction began in October, 1993, near the Buena Vista airport. The Pruetts also set up a matching fund which has been fairly successful. One of the biggest contributors was the Town of Buena Vista which donated $7,000 and the site for construction.

MANY INDIVIDUALS have contributed money or in-kind labor, including design and engineering, heating and plumbing, electrical work, and donated tap fees. The onerous task of coordinating labor and accounting contributions has been done by society treasurer, Dee Strelow.

Basic construction, from framing to finish work, has been accomplished by crews from the Buena Vista Correctional Facility under the supervision of Crew Boss Tom Talbott. According to Godynick-Clements, without their efforts the building would still be a hole in the ground.

Sometime this spring, the Ark-Valley Humane Society Shelter will be completed and open. It will be capable of housing 26 dogs and up to 90 cats, and will also provide two kennels for puppy litters. Larger animals will be held in outside pens and corrals.

Although the Society’s main focus is on dogs and cats, horses or other large animals may be held for the county pending cruelty or neglect investigations. But even though large animals will not be turned away if space is available, members hope other accommodations can be arranged, perhaps by an emerging horse rescue association.

No one can deny the passion of Diane Godynick-Clements and other members of the Humane Society. They have been fundraising tirelessly. They’ve provided food and participated as aid station attendants for the Buena Vista Autumn Color Run. They’ve given a barbecue for the participants of the Buffalo Peaks Hill Climb, and hosted a December cocktail reception for potential donors at the Beacon Art Gallery. The society has been supported by numerous individuals and groups and has so far succeeded in paying the bills.

But what of the future? Raising money is a draining enterprise and individuals, no matter how committed, can burn out. The ongoing expenses of maintaining the shelter and feeding the animals will cost at least $50,000 annually. Where will that money, a thousand dollars a week, come from?

THE HUMANE SOCIETY SHELTER in CaƱon City is considered one of the top shelters in Colorado and the nation. It has 9,000 square feet of space and runs on a $165,000 annual budget. It contracts to provide shelter facilities for Frmont and Custer counties as well as Ca$on City, Florence and Penrose. As director, Bill Wallace has the advantage of a generous endowment from the Ralph J. Wann Estate Trust, but that doesn’t cover all the costs. “I always ask for a money or pet food donation from everyone who comes in to claim their pet or adopt one. You’d be surprised, even after they pay the fine and shelter fees for their wandering pet, a lot of folks will donate. You can never be ashamed to ask.”

Nancy Ring of the Summit County shelter in Frisco explained the animal control and shelter program is subsidized by the county with additional monies brought in by the Humane Society and LAPS (League for Animals and People of the Summit), which sponsor fundraisers such as a 4K Pet Walk. According to Ring, the success of the Summit County program is based on good enforcement of ordinances, collection of fines and fees, and a very good adoption program. Seventy percent of the impounded animals are returned to their owners and 24% of the unclaimed animals are adopted. Summit County impounds about 70-80 animals a month.

Sergeant Mary Burnap of the Park County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for county animal control and the shelter facility in Bailey. She says the county subsidizes the shelter and recovers some of its costs in shelter fees and fines. Burnap is proud of her 75% record for returns or adoptions, but knows she is fortunate that many animals are recognized by county residents which helps her in returning them to owners. Adoption is taken care of by the Intermountain Humane Society.

Eagle County contracts with a private veterinarian in Minturn to house impounded strays. The shelter is paid a certain number of days’ operating costs whether the county uses them or not. The county is able to recoup about 50% of costs through fees and fines. According to Animal Control Officer Ron Burch, 80 to 90% of animals are returned to owners because of a county-wide licensing program. If a citizen takes in a stray, he or she can call the animal control office with the tag number and find out who the animal belongs to. If they return the pet, the county will not ticket the owner of the stray.

The Ark-Valley Humane Society is exploring many of the funding options used by neighboring counties. One of the most practical would be to contract shelter services with the entities responsible for animal control. In fact, the town of Buena Vista is in the process of writing a contract with Ark-Valley to provide shelter for town-impounded strays. The county commissioners are awaiting a presentation from society members so they can consider allotting money in the upcoming budget.

Cash and food donations from the Buena Vista Autumn Color Run Committee, the Buffalo Peaks Hill Climb Association, the Phi Alpha Chi Sorority in Salida, and the Buena Vista Circle Supers, have certainly helped in the short run. But a county-wide effort is necessary to sustain the shelter.

Anyone interested in helping, or joining the society, or donating money, can contact the Ark-Valley Humane Society at P.O. Box 1335, Buena Vista CO 81211 or call 719-395-2737.

Diane Alexander, when not doing freelance book editing, lavishes her attention on her horse, Woodrow, her poodle, Mickle, and her husband, Gordon.

Clint Driscoll, a freelance writer who is easily dis-tracted from writing, spends much of his productive time wondering why anyone would name a horse Woodrow.

They asked that their payment for this article be made out to the Ark-Valley Humane Society.