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No-kill shelter matches pets, owners

MILAN -- It's kind of like an apartment complex.

Some residents move in and leave quickly. Others stay for years. Neighbors get to know each other over the course of conversations, arguments and common gripes.

Except, it's an animal shelter.

At the Humane Society of Rock Island County, about 150 cats and dogs wait to be adopted. The no-kill shelter has a waiting list of animals to get into its three hallways.

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Chuck Thomas

Carolyn Chambers stands outside the Humane Society of Rock Island County in Milan with two cockapoo puppies available for adoption at the shelter. Puppies and small dogs are the easiest to find homes for, but workers try to match new owners with appropriate animals.

The shelter is funded entirely by donations because local, state and federal governments will not finance a no-kill shelter, director Carolyn Chambers said. However, all the staff members are committed to the no-kill policy, she said.

``All of us who work here, I don't think we could work in a euthanasia facility,'' Ms. Chambers said. ``You get to know these guys, and you just couldn't do that to them.''

The more than 1,000 people who adopt pets from the shelter every year move most of the shelter's animals into homes.

Most animals leave the shelter within a month, but a few uandoptable ones stay for years, Ms. Chambers said. They're never forced to leave.

From Alaskan huskies to English springer spaniels, the dogs come in every shape, color and size. Puppies and small dogs are the easiest to find homes for, but workers try to match new owners with appropriate animals, Ms. Chambers said.

``We rely on a small staff that works with the animals every day and really knows their personalities,'' Ms. Chambers said. ``We want people to be sure, so it's not an impulse. People see the puppies and say, `Oh it's so cute.'

``It's like people who see a baby and want it,'' she said. ``There's a lot of responsibility involved.''

Wearing a plastic apron with pictures of cats and porcelain button covers shaped like cats, Ms. Chambers walked through the aisles of cages calling many animals by name.

An Alaskan malamute named Harley howled at her, and she howled back. Harley was found tied to a woodpile, starving to death, in early December, Ms. Chambers said.

Families thinking of adopting can get to know animals in two large playrooms designed for that purpose. For $55, they can take home a pet with all its basic shots and medical treatments.

However, sometimes the people who know the pets best can't adopt them. Adrianna Danner, 11, of Milan, volunteers at the shelter even though she can't take any cats or dogs home.

Adrianna plays with, feeds, walks and cleans up after animals. In the process, she sometimes gets attached to a pet -- like a small Siamese cat she named Cuddles.

``Watch those claws, missy,'' she told Cuddles as she said goodbye to the cat, who was leaving with his new owner.

Volunteers like Adrianna are essential to the humane society, Ms. Chambers said. People donate time to take care of the animals, and businesses donate food and supplies to keep them healthy. Through a new program, PETsMART in Davenport displays as many as 10 humane society cats available for adoption.

However, the most important way to make sure there aren't unwanted pets is spaying and neutering, Ms. Chambers said. The staff veterinarian spays and neuters all humane society pets, and he will sterilize a dog or cat for any pet owner for a small fee.

``People don't realize the importance of spaying and neutering,'' Ms. Chambers said. ``We get pets dumped all the time when they're pregnant. There are just too many animals and not enough people to adopt.''

-- By Laura Oppenheimer (January 22, 1998)

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