Helping animals find forever homes has always been the goal for Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) but employees knew that they needed a shift in thinking if they were to save more animals.
“I know it sounds corny but really there’s nobody there for these animals,” Lori Mason, Foster Care Coordinator and Licensed Veterinary Technician, said. “They were abandoned here for whatever reason and so all they have is us and the foster parents to find them a new life.”
RASKC was formed in 2010 as a partnership between King County and more than two dozen cities to improve animal welfare in our region, replacing King County Animal Control. At the time King County Executive Dow Constantine declared that not only would King County maintain animal services, it would take steps to build one of the nation’s best agencies of its kind.
Mason has been with RASKC for more than 15 years and has been a key part in the shift in focus that has helped King County achieve a record-low 12 percent euthanasia rate in 2015, down from nearly 40 percent in 2006.
“In the old days when animals were adopted, they were adopted; they were no longer our responsibility,” Mason said. “Well, people would bring them back because they had kennel cough or upper respiratory and they couldn’t afford it. No one wants to adopt a pet and have to pay $500 at your first vet visit.”
Now RASKC does what it can to make adoptions successful for the pet and the owner. If an animal is adopted and contracts kennel cough or other ailment a couple of weeks later, RASKC’s employees will help bring the animal back to health.
”That’s Lean, keeping that animal from having to come back here and costing the County money versus handing them some medicine that might cost a couple of bucks at cost,” Mason said.
RASKC introduced a range of new programs to help more animals find forever homes, including the Angel Fund, a hospice care program, a creative barn cat program, and a beefed-up foster care program. Now nearly 9 out of 10 cats and dogs that come to RASKC find safe, loving homes.
“A lot of [our success]is the foster care program because we’re getting the animals out of here; it’s the hospice program, it’s the Angel Fund, it’s the sergeants working hard to get the older animals to rescue groups, groups helping us with dogs that have behavioral issues, our barn cat program; it’s a little of everything,” Mason said.
The goal of the foster care program is to get as many animals out of the shelter into foster homes as quickly as possible.
“My dream would be never to have a sick animal in the shelter that doesn’t need to be here. They should be in a foster home recovering because they do so much better in a home than in a cage.”
The Angel Fund, a fund made up completely of donations which are used to provide shelter or medical care for animals, is also delivering results.
“Animals used to come here with major injuries, if they got hit by a car and had a broken leg, and there was no funding at that time for those animals so they were euthanized because the County just didn’t have funding for it,” Mason said. “I was sick and tired of seeing animals euthanized for this, so that’s where the Angel Fund came from. Now every animal that comes in and needs help gets help.”
The barn cat program is another example of finding a new solution to a problem. Prior to the program all feral cats that came to the shelter were euthanized because there was no place for them.
“Now that we have this barn cat program, we fix them, we vaccinate them, we ear-tip them, we test them for leukemia and FIV, we do health exams on them, and then (former employee and volunteer) Ruth Schaefer goes out and looks for barn homes,” Mason said. “The County doesn’t charge an adoption fee because it’s not really pet, it’s a wild animal.”
And then there’s the hospice program, which lets animals—primarily cats—live out their lives in loving homes.
“They’re old, they might have kidney issues, early stages of kidney failure, or they’re hyper-thyroid but we can’t do the radioactive treatment because their kidneys are starting to shut down, but they’re not sick enough to euthanize,” Mason said. “So they would just sit there for months and deteriorate and then they’d get euthanized. That’s not fair to those cats.”
Cats in the program go into hospice homes and the County provides food, litter, medicine, veterinary care, whatever foster parents need for that animal. They stay in these homes until they become too sick and have to be euthanized.
“Some of them might live two weeks, two years, five years, we just don’t know, but it’s so much better for them to be with someone like [foster parent] Gail than sitting in a cage for six to seven months at a time.”