Our View: Nonprofit revives old animal shelter in Modesto

July 23, 2013 

JBL Shelter 4

Tina Wristen sorts plastic piping after removing it on Monday morning (07-22-13) from the adoption center at the old Animal Services Center on Finch Road in Modesto, Ca. Wristen is a volunteer with Wags and Whiskers Rescue. The county has agreed to lease the buildings to the rescue and adoption service.

JOAN BARNETT LEE — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

— Way back in 1956, the city of Modesto and Stanislaus County were given property at Mitchell and Finch roads, near the airport, for an animal shelter. The city turned it over to the county, which in 1973 built such a shelter — then called the pound — and operated it there through 2010. By that time, the 37-year-old buildings were deteriorating and the site was entirely too small to care for hundreds of animals taken there each year.

The county, Modesto and four other cities built an attractive and larger shelter at 3647 Cornucopia Way, off Crows Landing Road in south Modesto. It opened early in 2011. And the Finch Road facility has been vacant ever since, unfortunately subject to the same kind of vandalism that we've seen so frequently on foreclosed homes and other abandoned buildings.

Soon, the Finch facility will be back in active use as a pet adoption center, operated by a relatively young nonprofit that seems to have a good track record in rescuing unwanted pets and finding good homes for them.

It's a plus times two: For at least the next three years, the building stays in the use that was stipulated so many years ago and, perhaps more important, the rescue group will be a significant player in the effort to reduce the number of pets that are euthanized in our community every year.

Let's be clear that Wags and Whiskers Rescue will not be operating a shelter where people can drop off unwanted or stray cats and dogs.

The organization is one of the rescues that picks up pets from the county shelter and uses foster homes to care for them. In some cases, says Jodi Baur, Wags and Whiskers director, the animals are not immediately adoptable because of mistreatment or the stress from being put in a crowded, noisy facility. Foster families work with the pets so that they are housebroken, leash trained and otherwise suitable to be adopted. Wags and Whiskers volunteers take the needed time to rehabilitate a good prospective pet with temporary behavior issues. Because of persistent crowding and the cost, the county shelter cannot keep adoptable animals for long.

The organization has other plans that should indirectly help relieve the county's persistent pet overpopulation problem. One is to offer low-cost training classes because, as Baur says, "a well- behaved dog is easier to keep." She also wants to teach people to play with their dogs, because, "if you play with your dog, you stay with your dog."

In other words, people should be adopting pets for life, as they do children, not wanting to dispose of them when something goes awry in their life.

Baur plans for the shelter to have several kennels for low-cost boarding of pets whose owners are in an emergency, such as displaced by a fire or in the hospital.

Dozens of rescue organizations operate in our region but only Wags and Whiskers had the wherewithal to respond to the county's request for proposals to operate the Finch facility. It is taking on a big task because, while the lease for the facility is only $1 for the first year and $1,200 annually after that, the nonprofit will be responsible for utilities and other operational costs.

At this point, Baur said, Wags and Whiskers depends entirely on volunteer labor, including her time. Its funding comes from donations and grants.

County officials say having Wags and Whiskers as a tenant in the Finch Road facility reduces the county's direct costs and liability for maintaining a vacant structure. The plan is that at the end of five years, the property could be used for something else. Furthermore, Wags and Whiskers has promised to rescue at least 200 animals a year from the Mayfield shelter — animals that the government partnership would have paid to have euthanized.

The county will hand over the keys to the Finch Road facility during a ceremony at 6 p.m.Aug. 1. The public is invited. An opening date for Wags and Whiskers has not been set, but we wish the organization well.

To learn more, donate or volunteer for Wags and Whiskers Rescue: www.wagsandwhiskersrescue.org, email info@wawr.org or call (209) 613-0958 or checks can be sent to 1700 McHenry Ave, Suite 65B #155, Modesto 95350.

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