Working together for pets at California shelter

RJ the cat in a kennel
Best Friends and several other organizations came together to take in 32 cats and nine dogs from Apple Valley Animal Services in a single day.
By  Liz Finch

Mack is a stocky blue-and-white dog who is perpetually happy but not great with other dogs. Two-year-old, 70-pound Anakin has energy to burn and a history of busting out of fenced yards. Hawaiian Iced Tea has some mild hair loss, though that hardly detracts from this slender black cat’s good looks. And RJ, a plump, loving, and confident tabby, has a significant heart murmur.

Despite their obvious differences, Mack, Anakin, Hawaiian Iced Tea, and RJ have something in common. They fit into the “hard to adopt” category at a busy municipal shelter — whether it’s due to their medical needs, the fact that they can’t live with other dogs, or their size coupled with a need for loads of exercise.

Luckily, they have something else in common, too. Recently, all of them — plus an additional 30 cats and seven dogs — left Apple Valley Animal Services (AVAS) in Southern California as part of the shelter’s first-ever event for its rescue partners to take in pets without paying a fee. Best Friends Animal Society was among the handful of organizations that participated in the event called Until There Are None.

[Lifesaving soars with new shelter practices]

“Like many municipal shelters, AVAS has challenges adopting out the many animals who come through their doors,” says David Yocom, manager of shelter partnerships at Best Friends. “Reaching out to local rescue groups for help is a smart strategy to move a number of animals at once and create some breathing room, so shelter staff can concentrate on finding positive outcomes for the rest of the dogs and cats in their care. We knew Apple Valley was trying to do something big with this rescue day, and we wanted to do whatever we could to support their efforts.”

“Whatever we could” turned out to be bringing every cat available that day to Best Friends. That included a litter of kittens who had just arrived at the shelter.

“A woman came up with these kittens in a box as we were loading the transport vehicle to head back to the adoption center in West Los Angeles,” David says. “Having just cleared out all the cats, we wanted to do something to keep the shelter’s cages empty for just a bit longer. We made space for the kittens in our van, and the staff at Apple Valley were very excited to see these little ones leave with us.”

Partnering pays off

The successful event helped AVAS stay true to its goal of “saving lives four paws at a time,” something the shelter can only do when it has partners lined up that have more resources available to find homes for the Macks and RJs who come through their doors.

“Partnering with rescue organizations gives our animals alternate housing away from the shelter, during which time they can get the time they need to heal from injury or illness or an opportunity to receive targeted training to help with behavior issues,” says AVAS supervisor Adriana Atteberry.

But partnership is a two-way street. Although rescue organizations in the Apple Valley area wanted to help, they spoke up at a recent city council meeting to explain that they couldn’t always afford the transfer fees. “No problem,” said the town manager and city council.

“They agreed to waive all transfer fees for rescue partners during the event in the hopes that we would be able to place more animals,” says Adriana. “Not only did we place animals with the participating organizations, but we also adopted animals at a reduced rate to the public.”

Going above and beyond

Alljoy 4 Paws, Sandy and the Crew Animal Rescue, Ace of Hearts Dog Rescue, and The Little Ones Animal Center also showed up that day and took in nine dogs, including Mack and Anakin. The groups were met by plenty of AVAS staff members on hand to make sure the event went smoothly.

“Our staff were pleased to go above and beyond to not only participate in this event, but also to ensure that they provided a welcoming experience for our rescue partners’ staff and volunteers,” Adriana says. “In addition to our rescue coordinator, we had a technician on hand to assist in expediting the transfer process and an AVAS volunteer to maintain paperwork and assist with questions.”

According to David, AVAS succeeded in making the event run efficiently.

[Helping small animal shelters has a big impact]

“The experience working with them was great,” he says. “We have pulled cats from them previously, and they have always been a pleasure to work with. For this event they were ready to send out lots of animals. All the cats we got were incredibly sweet and affectionate.”

Best Friends animal care staff got ready for the influx of cats, setting up space for them. Although David wasn’t expecting to take cats with medical issues, when he met seven with upper respiratory illness who needed a change of scenery — well, plans changed.

“The cat team jumped into action to set up a separate area to house them, while other staff members put out a plea for foster homes,” says Tabitha Newman, Best Friends manager of lifesaving outcomes. “Those cats needed some time for their infections to clear up, and we got a huge amount of support from our foster base. Those cats were able to get to a healthy state in record time.”

New homes for cats from Apple Valley

One of those cats with a respiratory illness was Avocado, a favorite of Krystal Vera, Best Friends supervisor of the lifesaving and care program.

“He really stood out to me because he had the biggest cheeks,” Krystal says. “Although he wasn’t the friendliest when he first came to the shelter, as soon as I reached in to pet him, he leaned into my hands. It melted my heart.”

Krystal also fell hard for Bean, who had three legs; Toast, whose sweet demeanor remained intact despite surviving a harrowing situation; and Radish, a shy love bug who had been at AVAS for several months.

Today, every last one of the cats and kittens who came to Best Friends in Los Angeles has been adopted. That includes RJ, who went home with people who didn’t consider his heart murmur a reason to pass him by.

“His new family was not put off at all by his medical needs,” Tabitha says. “They already sent us an update, and RJ settled in right away.”