A Group Worth Barking About
Animal Friends Rescue Project
Thursday, December 2, 1999
P.O. Box 51083/Pacific Grove/333-0722
Annual budget: $30,000
Animals are euthanized at the Monterey County SPCA. They''re euthanized at virtually every animal shelter in this country--tens of millions of cats and dogs every year. According to shelter officials, there simply aren''t enough resources to keep these unwanted ex-pets alive.
That excuse was unacceptable to a group of local animal lovers, who got together two years ago to form Animal Friends Rescue Project. The group is the pet project, so to speak, of Dave and Kelly Lehrian, owners of Posh Pets in Pacific Grove.
As if the vision of all those unwanted animals being killed wasn''t bad enough, the Lehrians were also appalled by the overcrowded conditions in Monterey County shelters. Those conditions only worsened this year, following the July 1 inception of a state law requiring shelters to keep animals for an additional three days before euthanizing them.
Compounding the problem is that very sick, injured, or abused pets don''t have time to heal during the "grace period" afforded by most animal shelters. Those who don''t heal are deemed "unadoptable" and euthanized. All that some of them needed, the Lehrians believed, was medical and emotional care.
The couple began bringing animals from area shelters, primarily the little-known Marina shelter, to their P.G. store, for adoption by their customers. Soon the workload increased, three more people came on board, and in July of last year, the nonprofit was formed.
For board President Monica Rua, former executive director of Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, the project was a long time coming. "It was always my dream to do something like this, to start a rescue operation."
That dream has already expanded from three cat cages at Posh Pets and several animals at a time held temporarily in the founders'' homes, to 10 cat pens holding up to 30 cats and three off-site adoption locations. So far, it''s working: In the group''s first year, 315 cats and dogs were adopted. Since January alone, about 300 have been taken to new homes.
The success of the AFRP''s adoption program is mostly due to an enthusiastic volunteer base--about 60 strong--and to the 15 foster homes where animals live temporarily. "A great thing about foster homes," says Rua, "is that people get to know the animals, so they''re able to match pet and human pretty well. If we have a mellow family who wants a dog, we can know not to give them an excitable dog that someone has been fostering."
Sometimes, says Rua, the foster strategy can work a little too well. "We lose foster homes when the people fall in love with the animal they bring home and then adopt it. While that''s good for the animals and it means our program is doing well, it also means we need a steady flow of people to foster animals."
An advantage of the foster home system is that the animals can be socialized with other pets and humans in a normal setting, avoiding behavioral problems that can emerge from being locked in a shelter cage.
"The hardest thing about fostering is that lots of animals are stressed or sick, so they require more care," says Rua. "Also, it''s very emotional when very sick animals die, despite your care, so some volunteers can''t handle that. But, in fact, we don''t have a problem getting volunteers."
The group already has a larger goal: an animal sanctuary for at-risk pets. "We''d one day like to have land for a sanctuary for animals who aren''t healthy or adoptable," says board member Carie Broeker, "where we could put them just to live their last days naturally."
Animal Rescue''s success inspired the formation of a satellite group in Salinas this past summer. Debra McCraw, a Animal Rescue volunteer, reformed the defunct Animal Interest League of Salinas to carry on AFRP''s work, with the help of Salinas'' new shelter.
"Marina and the Peninsula have a big volunteer group. Salinas has none. But now a few people have signed up as fosters," says McCraw. "We''ve got nine cages, and we''ve gotten a good response from several vets to help us with spaying and neutering.
With the idea catching on so quickly, Rua says the public''s concern over critters never ceases to please her. "We couldn''t do it without the volunteers. I''m still impressed at how much community support we have for animals."
Animal Friends Rescue Project hosts a holiday fundraiser at Asilomar Conference Center this Sunday from 3-8pm, with live music, refreshments, photos with Santa, a silent auction, and information on adoptable pets and volunteer opportunities. Call 333-0722 or 751-AFRP. Visit www.spies.com/AnimalFriends for photos of dogs and cats currently available for adoption, and tips on animal care.