Group forms to keep animals alive in Lincoln County

This story appeared in some of the Observer’s community sections on Sunday.

A new nonprofit organization is helping to save animals in Lincoln County.

More than 100 volunteers are joining forces to turn Lincoln County into a no-kill community after Lincoln County Commissioners unanimously voted in November to make the Lincoln County Animal Services adopt a no-kill policy.

The change will keep up to 90 percent of adoptable animals from being put down.

From the grass-roots group that propelled the no-kill effort, Lincoln County residents have formed an all-volunteer nonprofit called Helping Animals To Survive.

HATS volunteers will bolster the work of the animal shelter, aiming to reduce the number of Lincoln County animals entering the shelter in the first place while increasing the number of animals leaving the shelter alive.

“We feel that the people in Lincoln County, by nature, love animals,” said HATS volunteer and spokeswoman Karen Banker. “Everyone is working together to make this a no-kill community, which is even greater than a no-kill shelter.”

At the HATS kickoff party on Feb. 1, about 60 Lincoln County residents gathered to celebrate the new nonprofit and learn about volunteer opportunities and strategies.

“It was a fun event filled with lots of energy, new faces and forward movement,” wrote Banker in an email update.

Strategies for 2014 focus on improving Lincoln County’s animal survival rates. Last year, more than 1,800 dogs and cats entering the animal shelter were killed. Dogs had a better survival rate – 67 percent were released alive – but only 28 percent of cats survived with a live release, HATS members said.

HATS aims to post monthly updates of shelter release rates. Volunteers will work to increase survival through targeted projects, including Trap, Neuter, Release and barn cat programs for feral cats, low-cost spay/neuter programs and pet retention efforts.

Through community outreach and other educational events, HATS volunteers will encourage adoption and responsible pet ownership.

HATS follows the 10-point guidelines of the No Kill Advocacy Center’s No Kill Equation, a methodology successfully adopted by shelters across the country. The equation is a list of key ingredients needed to create a no-kill community like rescue partnerships, foster care, volunteers and a high-volume, low-cost spay and neuter program.

“It’s proven (methodology) – if we work together. That’s the key,” said Banker.

Banker said the work of HATS supports the animal shelter. “Our goals are very much in line,” said Banker. “We augment what they’re doing.”

Banker said that a 90 percent survival rate is the goal, but she acknowledged that euthanasia may be necessary as the most humane course of action, especially in the case of neonatal kittens or large dogs with aggressive behavior that cannot be trained. However, she added, HATS does not view 90 percent survival as the limit.

“We’re shooting for 90 percent or more … we’re not stopping at 90 percent,” Banker said.

With more than 100 community members committed to HATS, volunteers will work in teams, carrying out the guidelines of the No Kill Equation, as well as tasks such as fundraising and publicity.

“We took different aspects of the equation and created a team, each team addressing a different component,” said Jena Healy, board president of HATS.

Banker says she believes the community support will only grow.

“We expect these numbers to increase, as (people) start seeing the positive effects of these efforts, threaded through the community,” said Banker. “We want (HATS) to be a household name.”

Why is the No Kill Equation not already commonplace in communities and shelters? Banker pointed to simple lack of awareness.

“No. 1, most people really didn’t know what is going on in terms of what’s happening at the shelter. No. 2, they didn’t know what to do about it,” Banker said.

Both Banker and Healy describe their work with HATS as full-time volunteering, in addition to their jobs. Banker is full-time artist, and Healy is a real estate paralegal.

Healy said that her childhood pets drive her to reach out to Lincoln County’s animals today. She grew up with a terrier-poodle mix and then a chow-Labrador. Her first dog, Sunshine, was her companion even as she married and had her first child.

“They are my reasons for keeping on keeping on,” said Healy.

Banker, on the other hand, was raised on a farm in Ohio, where animals were treated without special affection, she said.

“As I grew older, I become more deeply aware that cats and dogs and other animals can feel pain and exhibit love and have personalities,” said Banker. “When I started recognizing that, I just could not fathom that anyone could kill them. It’s just life; it’s respect for life.”

With HATS formally established as a group, Banker and Healy said they encourage more community volunteers and donations.

Because the group has no staff, all donations go directly to hands-on No Kill Equation efforts.

“We’re racing against the clock, because every minute we know animals are dying at the shelter. It’s a race against time, getting everyone going full speed so we can save every animal that we can,” said Banker.