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Bellingham
Saturday, March 28, 2020

From fostering to forever homes

By Hannah Blank

The sound of squeaky toys and barking resounded through the Bakerview Petco as Whatcom County’s Alternative Humane Society set up their monthly Adopt-a-thon on Saturday, Nov. 3.

According to their website, the Alternative Humane Society has been operating since 1977 as an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. Unlike the Whatcom Humane Society, the Alternative Humane Society does not have a formal shelter or office. Instead, all their animals are housed with foster families until they are adopted out.

Petco is one of four locations the organization holds adoption events where their available dogs and cats are able to socialize with potential adopters, according to their website.

Board President Tish O’Keefe said she had been looking for somewhere to volunteer since she discovered the organization at Bellingham’s Ski to Sea event. After browsing their information booth, the volunteers there invited her to an orientation. She said the rest was history.

According to O’Keefe, the Alternative Humane Society has roughly 50 to 70 volunteers and 40 approved foster homes. In any given month, there are about 20 to 30 cats and dogs in their foster system.

A woman in a black shirt and glasses holds a brown and black dog wearing a harness.
Michelle Gitts and her foster puppy Walter bond at the Bakerview Petco. // Photo by Hannah Blank

She said the organization also has a network of other groups within the community, including Northwest Kennels and Rover Stay Over, that helps provide foster families with the support they need,- like providing emergency housing for families when they can’t house an animal.

Ferndale High School sophomore Emily Sharpe is one of the many volunteers who opens her home to dogs in need. In the past year, Sharpe said she has fostered 12 dogs, housing each of them for anywhere from three weeks to four months before they were adopted by loving families.

Sharpe said she became interested in fostering after one of her teachers recommended the Alternative Humane Society after she proposed a thesis project about how teens can be involved in pet adoption.

Sharpe said she is now on her 13th foster, Winston, who is a 9-month-old, 40-pound pitbull mix rescued from Southern California. She said she is hoping to find Winston his forever home.

“Normally, the pitbulls seem to be a big hit,” Sharpe said. “We’re hoping that taking him to the adoption events will get him a little more attention.”

A woman with a blue shirt pets a black and white pitbull that is wearing a red and white sweater.
Emily Sharpe pets 9-month-old pitbull Winston as they wait to meet potential adopters. // Photo by Hannah Blank

The Alternative Humane Society makes fostering accessible by providing veterinary care, food, bedding and toys for foster families. According to their website, foster parents only need to contribute their time and love for the animals they bring into their home.

When it comes to the adoption of that special furry friend, the Alternative Humane Society follows a specific process. According to the organization’s website, a statement of interest must be filled out which is then reviewed by the animal’s case manager. The case manager will promptly contact the interested party about the animal’s potential adoption.

Michelle Gitts, a student at Bellingham Technical College, said she knows how long the adoption process can take from personal experience. As the case manager for the dogs she fosters, she reviews applicants and helps determine where the dogs are placed.
Gitts said it has been difficult to find the right home for her current foster dog, Walter.

While he’s had a lot of meet and greets and about 20 statements of interest, she says that none of them have been the right fit.

“I like to really get to know the dog and make sure that I’m placing them in the right home,” Gitts said. “That it’s a good fit for the dog and the home.”

The Alternative Humane Society has many opportunities for those interested in volunteering. According to their website, they can use volunteers at events but also on specific teams such as the Alternative Humane Society Education Program, Canine and Feline Foster/Adoption Program and their digital marketing team.

For more information, you can find the Alternative Humane Society online at www.alternativehumanesociety.com or you can give them a call at (360) 671-7445.

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