Finding Forever Homes
March 8th, 2013 by Susan Hess
Bobbie and Max Linder with their adopted dog, Charlie.

Bobbie and Max Linder with their adopted dog, Charlie.

Classical music plays in the big airy room. In the adjoining office, a treadmill seems like an odd piece of employee exercise equipment for such a small place. Yet the dusty prints on the treadmill belt look very small. Then it sinks in—the treadmill and the classical music are for the dogs.

The Hukari Animal Shelter sits at the end of a road lined with industrial buildings. At first glance, it looks like a new house. Last year, the shelter took in 231 dogs. Most were strays local law enforcement picked up. Less than half of those were reclaimed by their owners. A smaller number of dogs came here because their owners gave them up—surrendered, the staff calls it.

The shelter houses two cooperating entities. Hood River County owns the building and pays a kennel attendant to come two hours a day to clean the kennels and put out food for the dogs.

Hood River Adopt A Dog is the nonprofit organization that does everything else. It provides medical care, socialization, exercise and training, and finds a home for dogs like Charlie, a tiny Yorkshire terrier.

Adopt A Dog has a staff of three part-time employees. Executive Director Linda Vandenberg credits the legion of volunteers for making the organization work. Volunteers provide foster homes for dogs until they are adopted, take dogs to veterinary appointments and come to the shelter twice a day to walk dogs in every kind of weather and on the treadmill. They also raise money, because the county provides no funding.

Ryder, a pit bull, works out on the treadmill at Hukari Animal Shelter.

Ryder, a pit bull, works out on the treadmill at Hukari Animal Shelter.

Some dogs, like Charlie, need almost all of the services the staff and volunteers provide. He arrived with eyes crusted over, ears infected and skin embedded with cheat grass. Parasites had left him malnourished. Charlie’s teeth were so badly infected that one abscess had gone through his cheek. The vets estimated he was 9 years old.

It had been a rough life. For at least part of his life, Charlie had been used for breeding. But not a lot is known about his last owner. That person spent several hundred dollars taking Charlie to a clinic, but ran out of resources and surrendered the dog.

“Sometimes people have a change in life circumstances,” Linda says
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If possible, Adopt A Dog tries to keep the dog with its owner by giving them information for problems like barking, aggression and house training. But in some cases, the dog needs a new home.

Veterinarians operated on Charlie to remove cheat grass and all but three of his teeth. As with all of the dogs, he was microchipped, neutered and given the required shots. His matted fur was clipped.

While waiting to be adopted, some dogs stay at the animal shelter. The kennels are roomy and filled with toys. Speakers play classical music, which calms the dogs. Volunteers walk the dogs twice a day. Behind the building are several fenced areas so the dogs can be outside at times.

“We try to make the environment less stressful,” Linda says.

The best waiting situation is in a foster home. Even with all the staff and volunteers do, dogs at the shelter spend 20 hours a day in the kennels.

“It is so much easier to adopt a dog out if it’s been in foster care,” Linda says.

There is always a need for more foster homes, because foster families often adopt the dog. Of the organization’s 136 adoptions last year, 22 were by foster families.

Regardless of whether the dogs stay at the shelter or in a foster home, Adopt A Dog’s volunteer veterinarian Cynthia Mills says dogs gain skills at the facility.

“In my work, I see dogs all the time that I’m leery of,” Cynthia says. “They don’t connect with people, and I see how completely socialized they become in the time they are at AAD. The volunteers who work with the dogs are so good with them.”

The goal always is to find good permanent homes for the dogs. Descriptions of all the dogs are posted on http://www.petfinder.com, a nationwide database of dogs waiting to be adopted. Linda says it is common for people to come from Portland, British Columbia, Idaho and California to adopt a dog. Adopt A Dog also posts ads on GorgeNet and Craigslist.

The Hood River News features a pet of the week. Last fall, they featured Charlie. Bobbie and Max Linder saw the article with the photo of a still-scrawny dog.

“Max had gone down to the Eagles last October and stopped at the Hukari Animal Shelter on the way home,” Bobbie says.

Within an hour, the two were meeting Charlie and one of Adopt A Dog’s adoption counselors.

The Linders’ previous dog, Blue, recently had been hit and killed by a car.

“We weren’t going to adopt another dog after our Blue because of the pain,” says Max. “But it was a lonesome three months. We’d had Blue for 12 years.”

Charlie required more trips to the Tucker Road Animal Hospital. More cheat grass came to the surface and had to be removed, along with one more tooth. Someday his fur will be long and lustrous, but it is still growing out from when Bobbie took him to a groomer to cut more of his matted fur.

Charlie is wary of men, but Max doesn’t seem to mind.

“He’s quite a ladies’ guy,” he says.

“I haven’t been to the bathroom by myself since we got him,” Bobbie says with a laugh.

Charlie shares the house with the Linders’ three indoor cats. He has taken over one of the overstuffed chairs in the living room. He runs and Bobbie walks the acre behind the house every day.

“More people ought to go get a dog at the Hukari Animal Shelter,” Bobbie says. “They need a home.”

For more information, visit Hood River Adopt A Dog website or call (541) 354-1083