County shelter works to ensure animals thrive

URL: County shelter works to ensure animals thrive

By Shauli Bar-On

When the Santa Clara County Animal Shelter received Red three months ago, he was a “train wreck,” said Kim Burgess, interim supervisor of the shelter.

Red has several perceived problems that make it less likely for him to be adopted. He is a 8-year-old pit bull and is intimidatingly large.

“Older dogs get overlooked,” Burgess said. “Very rarely do they get chosen. … People just don’t understand the need for the older dogs.”

The 30-year-old shelter, at 12370 Murphy Ave. in San Martin, currently holds some 170 kittens, several dogs, horses, pigs, goats, ducks, roosters and pigeons that were either found on the streets or brought in by their owners.

The shelter works with Animal Control to return lost animals and find homes for strays. Animal Control is a “fantastic partner,” Burgess said. “They are the enforcement side of the house. We’re under the same roof.”

The number of incoming and adopted animals fluctuates daily, Burgess said, and it is always challenging to find a home for the older animals.

“Cute and fuzzy go first,” she said.

To promote the adoption of the older animals, the shelter reduces the adoption fee from the normal $100 to $200 payment, to under $20. The shelter also kicks in food and treats for the first few weeks.

Despite all odds, the shelter found a what Burgess called a “perfect match” for Red, and he will be going home with his new owner in a few days.

“When Red leaves,” Burgess said, “those will be the happiest tears I have cried in a while.”

Even with the difficulty of finding a match for older animals, the Santa Clara County shelter is considered a “no-kill” shelter.

“We do not euthanize for time and space,” Burgess said. The only reason the shelter would put an animal down sleep is if it is suffering or displaying traumatized behavior, she said.

Burgess previously worked as a police officer in Marina alongside her husband but decided to follow her animal-loving passion and work to better the lives of stray and lost animals.

“I have more of a social worker heart,” she said, calling working as an officer “really disheartening because I wasn’t making the impact and changes I thought I could be.”

Several volunteers help foster puppies and kittens that need daily personal attention until they are mature enough to thrive on their own in the shelter.

Gwen Dorcich just completed her first sponsored foster. Three kittens, Harry, Grayson, and Tootsi, were with her for seven weeks before they were ready to be returned to the shelter.

After having recently returned the kittens, she was eager to visit them again.

“The volunteers are so dedicated and compassionate,” volunteer Nancy Witthaus said. “That’s always what impresses me.”

Witthaus brings her two grandchildren Payton, 13, and Cassidy, 11, to the shelter every Wednesday to help pet the animals and make them feel loved.

“It might not feel like you’re helping,” Cassidy said, “but you are helping. It’s mutual.”

Nancy Witthaus said her grandchildren were the ones who persuaded her to take them to the shelter because of their love for the animals.

“Yes, they are shelter animals,” Witthaus said, “but their lives are so greatly enriched by the volunteers.”

The shelter’s next challenge is finding a home for Bobby, a black and white cat that has been with the shelter for six months.

Bobby, whose owner abandoned her, is estimated to be 15 to 18 years old,” Burgess said.

In many other shelters, Burgess said, Bobby would have been euthanized.

Several weeks ago, the shelter sent a cat diagnosed with irreversible kidney failure to hospice care rather than putting her to sleep.

“We want to make sure she thrives for the remaining years the universe gives her,” Burgess said.

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