Better, Kinder Kennels

Shelter Strives to Raise Money to Improve Surroundings and Increase the Likelihood of Adoption

By Kathy Ursprung

Walk into the kennel at Home at Last Humane Society and the overwhelming impression is dark, noisy, and caged.

Chainlink fencing separates the animals from one another and from visitors.

The cages are clean and have bright touches, such as dog treat buckets, but those touches don’t relieve the overall drabness.

A dog residing at Home at Last Humane Society enjoys some outdoor time in the play yard.

“The kennel has not been changed at all since this was the old Wasco County pound,” says Shelter Manager Anita Clason. “When a dog walked in and probably didn’t walk out, I guess the area was sufficient.”

Home at Last started operating the animal shelter for Wasco County in 2004. Last year, the county deeded the shelter property to Home at Last, opening the door for more extensive improvements. The county routinely euthanized animals that were not adopted. Since Home at Last took over operations, animals almost never face euthanasia.

Anita wants to make the place more welcoming for people and more comfortable for the animals they visit—and hopefully adopt. Home at Last is launching a capital campaign this month to raise money to redo and expand the kennel area.

“This is not the right environment to house a dog you want to keep sociable and get ready for rehoming,” Anita says. “An improved kennel will, in providing better care, help reduce aggressiveness between dogs, and ultimately result in more sociable and adoptable dogs. This was the No. 1 thing on my list when I took the job.”

Last employees of shelter
Home at Last employees welcome visitors to the shelter. From left, Dannie Hollamon, Erika Justiz, Samantha Stilwell, Araya O’Neal, Bev LaGow, and Geanna Ellison.

Anita, her staff, and the volunteer board of directors are dreaming big. If they can raise enough money, they plan to extend the kennel onto a concrete slab that now serves as a play yard.

“We’ll have more kennels and more room to reposition the kennels so fewer dogs are facing each other,” Anita says. “We’ve also had so many litters of puppies that we would like to have a separate room to use as a maternity room, and a separate area to section off when we have to put animals on bite hold for aggression.”

Home at Last can have as many as 55 to 65 animals in its care at any one time. The shelter depends on foster homes for part of that care. They would like to increase fostering.

“It’s always better for an animal to be in a home,” Anita says. “But so many come in on owner release and as strays. We really need more room. There’s a waiting list now. That’s one of the reasons we want to expand the building.”

Raising enough money for the project will allow the installation of better kennels: adding more windows, and resurfacing the floors and walls to make them easier to clean. Now, the floors are concrete, which means residual dampness after they are cleaned. Anita hopes to have the floors elevated, with a concealed drainage system, so they look better and stay fresher.

“One of the things we want to do is be able to start school programs and have kids come out and sit on floor pads and read to animals to help socialize them more,” Anita says. “New kennels will be much more comfortable for the dogs and nicer for people to go in. We have people who will not go into the main kennels now because they depress them so much. We depend on people visiting the dogs. It helps keep them socialized.”

Last supporters envision for the animal shelter
Glass doors and bright colors make for friendlier interaction between animals and humans in this example of a kennel suite similar to what Home at Last supporters envision for the animal shelter. Photo provided by Morgan Co.

Home, at Last, has efforts in place to help the dogs become better socialized despite their drab environment.

The Open Paws program encourages visitors to feed the dogs treats.

“The main kennel can be barking crazy and I can go back and do Open Paws, and by the time I’m done they’re completely silent,” Anita says. “It just shows how a little bit of attention goes a long way.”

New kennels will have solid surfaces two-thirds of the way up the sides of each enclosure, so the dogs won’t see each other from the side. This, too, will help calm the room.

“If I can raise enough money, the doors will have clear glass so it is easier to view the animals, rather than looking at them through a cage,” Anita says.

Removing that sense of being caged can improve the attitude of both the animals and their visitors.

“It’s scary to people,” Anita says. “It’s scary to the animals. And that’s what we’re trying to change.”

While the kennels are the priority, Home at Last has plans for other projects:

  • Clean and repair the onsite yurt for use as a classroom.
  • Expand the can and bottle operation, which is an important revenue source for the shelter.
  • Expand the play yard and divide it into areas for larger and smaller dogs, adding an off-leash play park open to the public, adjacent to the Riverfront Trail.

“We operate on public support, adoption, and cans and bottles,” says Kathy Norton, executive director and board chair of Home at Last. “The shelter doesn’t exist out there without the community, without the people of the region supporting us.”

She praises the active board, and volunteers “The animals that leave the shelter area and staff who keep the shelter operations higher quality pet because they’ve been in going strong. a positive, nurturing environment.”

Redoing the kennels creates a nicer environment and the opportunity for the shelter to provide better pets, Kathy says.

“The animals that leave the shelter are higher quality pets because they’ve been in a positive, nurturing environment.”

For more environment and the opportunity for information about Home at Last Humane Society and its kennel campaign, go to a shelter to provide better pets, Kathy says. or call at (541) 296-5189.