Pebbles and Jacques will be home for Christmas, even if home is the Gastineau Humane Society shelter.
The queen-sized tortoiseshell cat, Pebbles, has been in and out of the shelter for at least the past seven years. Jacques, a skittish retired sled dog, came to the shelter in September 2012 and — according to GHS Executive Director Chava Lee — has no intentions of ever leaving.
And that’s okay by the volunteers and veterinary technicians who take care of the animals — dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and chinchillas — every day.
“They all need attention, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas day or Super Bowl Sunday,” Lee said. “Someone has to be here.”
A few of the organization’s board members will be at the shelter to work Christmas day, as will veterinary technician Liz Snyder.
Snyder has worked at the shelter for four years, with a few years off in between. When she takes Jacques outside for a little fresh air, he lets his leash fall slack and positions his head along Snyder’s shins. His milky pale blue eyes — as big as quarters — dart around as Snyder strokes the top of his head.
Lee suspects that Jacques, who might be 10 or 11 years old, was abandoned after he was no longer fit to be a sled dog. He has a bad back and doesn’t like people to touch his hips. He’s an undeniably handsome dog who, after a few minutes around a new person, can transition from intensely apprehensive to somewhat uneasy.
“He’s like our mascot,” Snyder said. “He’s really beautiful and he’s just the sweetest guy.”
Snyder said Jacques has been visited probably 30 times in the past 15 months. No one has ever come to visit him a second time. Although someone did adopt him once, he was brought back the next day.
Jacques’ fearful disposition seems almost endearing when Snyder tells about how he will sometimes slip away from a volunteer while out on a walk and will come running back to the shelter.
“There’s an active effort to get him adopted and he makes an equally active effort to stay here,” Lee said. “We’re essentially Jacques’ family. He wants to live here and this is his place.”
As for Pebbles, her story is quite different. Lee said she’s been brought back to the shelter maybe a dozen times.
“It always happens to be, ‘We’re moving’ or ‘We can’t keep her’ or somebody has an allergy or something like that,” Lee said recounting some of the reasons people have returned the portly feline to the shelter. “The cat has bad moving karma. She needs to have somebody who just wants to keep her forever.”
Pebbles is one of the shelter’s “country cats.” “City cats” are kept in one room and are fed freely. Country cats are kept in another room and are on regimented diets.
Inside one of the shelter’s visiting areas, Pebbles displays her full size when walking across the room to steal some affection from an outstretched hand.
“She’s on a diet, but it’s not working,” Snyder said.
When asked why she thought people kept bringing Pebbles back to the shelter, Snyder joked, “I don’t know. Maybe she ate all their food or something.”
Pebbles is not roused by the friendly teasing. In fact, she seems simply delighted to be at the center of attention.
“She’s also getting up there in age,” Snyder said. The shelter estimates Pebbles is about 14 years old.
Snyder guesses that Pebbles and Jacques might be “lifers” at the shelter.
Lee said that the humane society makes additional efforts to encourage people to adopt a senior pet, like offering discounts on adoption fees and gift certificates for veterinary care, but that not enough choose to do so.
“It’s hard for people to adopt older cats or older dogs,” Lee said. “But they’re really great animals.”
It’s certainly not the humane society’s intention to have long-term residents. Alas, Pebble and Jacques might now be where they always will be.