By Sarah Porter
A muscular black dog with big, sweet puppy eyes sits on the floor wearing a green bandana that reads, “Adopt Me.”
Zora, a labrador-mastiff mix, was a rescue from Idaho who is now looking for a new home. For a fifteen-month-old, she is well mannered as she sits with her case manager, Laura Nixon.
The Alternative Humane Society has no shelter or paid employees and is run entirely by volunteers. Rescues are cared for in about 30 foster homes, said Tish O’Keefe, the Alternative Humane Society president.
To become a foster parent to a rescued animal, potential volunteers fill out an application to determine if they are eligible, according to the organization’s website. If potential fosters have enough time, rent in a pet-friendly home or own their home, they can become foster parents.
Case managers help foster parents find new homes for their rescue animals by reading over applicants and reaching out to potential owners, Nixon said. Most case managers are people who want to be fosters, but can’t due to living situations, Nixon said.
“I’ll foster one day,” Nixon said.
The Alternative Humane Society brings available pets to adopt-a-thons held on the weekends at locations such as Mud Bay, Bellingham Pet Supply, Petco and Paws for a Beer, according to its events calendar.
“We’re not making money by any stretch of the imagination,” O’Keefe said, chuckling.
O’Keefe said their adoption fees don’t really cover the cost of care. For example, there was a senior dog they rescued named Gilbert, who was a big lab that lived on the streets for years. Gilbert had many health issues, and the organization ended up spending over $1,700 on surgeries, such as removing a tumor and various dental work.
When he was finally healthy, he found a home, and his adoption fee was $160. This means the organization lost about $1,540 caring for Gilbert. O’Keefe said they are able to provide these services due in part to community donations.
People sometimes leave the organization money in their wills, O’Keefe said. She recalled a man whom they had never met showing up to one of their board meetings, then shortly after receiving a $10,000 check in the mail made out to the organization from his estate.
The Alternative Humane Society is also sponsored by NW Kennels, City Dogs, Rover Stay Over, Figo, Bellingham Pet Supply, Life Cycle Pet Cremation, Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU), Iron Street Printing and the Petco Foundation, according to its website.
The organization’s adoption process is intimate. When someone is interested in an animal, they fill out a statement of interest — with popular rescues, sometimes they have to narrow it down from 30 applicants to one — and then they do a home check, O’Keefe said.
A home check involves foster parents, volunteers or case managers from the organization visiting the applicants home to ensure that it is a good fit for the animal. They like to meet the applicant’s whole family and, if they are a good match, they can move forward with the adoption.
If organization members can’t perform a home check, they will ask the applicant to send them animal-related references and photos of their home to prove their space is what they say it is.
O’Keefe said that many people who adopt from them like to keep in touch with the organization, sending them updates about the pet’s life.
“People send us pictures all the time,” O’Keefe said. “You make friendships that way.”
O’Keefe said she has made many new connections in her eight years as president of the organization. O’Keefe, who works full time as the aquatic director and training specialist for the YMCA, said that she plans on making the Alternative Humane Society her full-time job when she retires.
“I always wanted to rescue dogs,” O’Keefe said.
The headline for this story was changed from “Rent a dog if you can’t parent one” to the current one on Feb. 24, 2018.