Humane Society celebrates 40 years

Group to mark its anniversary with auction and dinner Saturday

Posted: Friday, November 07, 2003

When an animal comes to the Gastineau Humane Society, it is given a bath, plenty of food, a clean blanket, its vaccinations and a dry place to sleep.

It's also given a name.

"We name every animal that comes in here," said Chava Lee, executive director of the Gastineau Humane Society. "You can't say 'Oh, you want to adopt C-167.' It increases their humanity when they have a name."

Forty years ago, a group of volunteers started Juneau's only animal shelter in a shack donated by the city under the old Douglas Bridge, said Lee. The volunteers were upset about the living conditions for animals in town.

"I've been here 30 years, and I can remember people talking about throwing litters of kittens or puppies into (Gastineau) channel or using them in crab pots," said Lee.

Thanks to the three animal control officers and the 15 other full-time employees at the shelter, abandoned animals are getting much better treatment these days.

The not-for-profit Gastineau Humane Society is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with an auction and dinner Saturday night. The event is a fund raiser, but also a thank you to the many supporters of the shelter throughout the years, Lee said.

A walk through the Gastineau Humane Society is like taking a walk through a high-quality hotel for cats and dogs. One dog, who came in with the name Tripod but who likely will have a new name when he's adopted, lounges in an office, letting a paw heal from surgery.

Cats act like cats - sometimes curious, sometimes coolly indifferent - in "communal cat rooms" that have furniture, carpet and scratching posts. Dogs are sometimes allowed to watch dog movies in a "meet and greet room," where potential owners get a chance to socialize with the dogs outside of the kennel.

Dogs are walked twice a day, trained by a staff trainer, and "socialized" by volunteers who play with the animals.

"I dare say that our dogs get more walks than the majority of dogs in Juneau," Lee said.

With an annual budget of about $500,000, the shelter can house 30 dogs and up to 70 cats at any given time. It adopts out more than 500 pets a year, after spending about $500 per dog on health care, food and licensing,

The shelter is funded by private donations, grants and contracts with the city to provide animal control and pet licensing, Lee said.

Chris Garrison, part-owner of Alaska Litho, donates time and services to the shelter.

"They're just so honest and sincere, and they're really there for the animals," Garrison said. "It's obvious they're there for the animals and they're not there for just the job."

He's adopted five pets from the shelter and donates the printing for its monthly newsletter.

"It's hard being out there because you look at all those animals and your heart just goes out for them," he said.

Two years ago Nancy Simpson and her roommate heard of a year-old dog named Lucy from Hoonah with 12 puppies that the shelter couldn't handle because of a lack of room. The roommates agreed to adopt Lucy and nurse her puppies to health until good homes could be found for them.

"We fed (Lucy) liver and rice five times a day for about three weeks. She got better," Simpson said. "The puppies all grew and were all darling, and the animal shelter was wonderful."

The shelter delivered food to the house for the dogs, provided health care and training, and found homes for all of the puppies but one, which Simpson chose to keep, she said.

Becky Hinman-Frank, a pet-behavior counselor at the shelter, worked closely with Simpson and the puppies. She is in charge of making sure that potential owners are matched with the right dog and that the dogs are ready for household life when they leave the shelter.

That involves some animal training - Hinman-Frank is a certified pet dog trainer - and a temperament test for the dogs.

"With the in-house behavior enrichment and training ... they're happier and healthier when they leave and they stay in their homes longer," Hinman-Frank said. "And that's the whole point, to have animals stay in their homes for life."

For more information on the Gastineau Humane Society's anniversary celebration, contact the shelter at 789-0260.

• Christine Schmid can be reached at

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