PONDERAY — Take Mary Oliver’s soul-level prose about the dog-human bond. Add a deep understanding of human behavior and compassion for what one might call our imperfection as human beings. There you have Mandy Evans, executive director of the Panhandle Animal Shelter, whose programs at our local animal shelter have brought national attention for their effectiveness, and many speaking engagement requests to Evans.
The accolades are secondary to Evans, whose priority is to help people keep their pets in troubled times by broadening the traditional notion of what a shelter does.
“We have a different approach,” she said. “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ here. We do not vilify people for not having their animals vaccinated or for not having them spayed or neutered. We don’t see ‘abandoned,’ ‘neglected,’ or ‘abused.’” What we see instead is an opportunity to listen and to empower these owners to enjoy a longer connection with their pet through education and assistance, she said.
With high energy and an actual sparkle in her eyes, Evans is a wild pony in the field of shelter work, as evidenced by her board and staff’s newly created mission statement: “To create and support meaningful connections by enhancing the lives of dogs, cats, and the people in our community who love them.”
Pets for Life
Evans said PAS is now a Pets for Life shelter. “We go door-to-door conducting casual interviews with residents asking if they need veterinary care for their animals. We have found individuals whose animals need vet care in the way of vaccines, or spay and neuter services, but the owner may have transportation issues. Through a Petco Foundation grant we were able to buy a cargo van to help elderly, disabled and other residents who work and who have scheduling difficulties get their pets treated with basic healthcare services,” she said.
Kendra Dodge, who underwent a month of training for the Pets for Life program, has surveyed Ponderay and Kootenai and is now working in Clark Fork to determine what needs people have related to their pets. Dodge said there are residents who don’t have phones, the Internet, or transportation. “About one-fourth of those I talked with indicated needs for their pets, which varied from desiring a dog house or a trolley system whereby an animal can play outside with only some constraint, to needing spay or neuter services,” she said.
Presently, Sandpoint residents are not included in the surveys. “We are meeting the needs of the under-served, smaller communities at this time,” said Dodge.
Evans and the shelter staff work with Bonner General Health’s Joesph Wassif, PhD, to assist individuals in need of hospital stays but who will not go into the hospital because they fear they will lose their pet/s. Nives Massey, case manager at Bonner General Health said that finding out about a patient’s animals is part of the admission and part of the discharge planning.
“We have created a program and we raise funds to make sure a patient’s pets are cared for during their hospital stay,” Evans said, adding that the primary concern and focus at PAS is about supporting the connection between our community and its pets.
Recently a local woman with schizophrenia went off her medications; she was taken to Kootenai Behavioral Health until she stabilized. Her social worker found no option but to surrender the woman’s dog to the shelter, where he was kept safe and comfortable until his owner was discharged a week later. There was no cost to the woman, who lives on disability benefits. The relief and joy she displayed upon reunification was profound.
New Dog Park
Upon first glance the dog park looks small, but that is not all there is to it; that’s just the small dog park. If you take your dog and a leash and walk up the incline, you will generally find a fun-filled romping opportunity on expansive ground.
“The dog park is being used even in pouring down rain,” said Evans, commenting on the five dogs and owners she saw last week playing together in a downpour, adding that dog dog owners will not take their pets home from the park covered in mud because of the type of ground cover installed.
The shelter’s mission of connection is also evidenced by the interactions between dogs and their owners, between a dog and another dog, and between the dog owners. “It’s all about connection,” she said.
It’s important for dog owners to know that dogs have different play styles, said Evans. “What might look like a dog fight could just be the “life of the party” dog” who is trying to get things moving, she said. And there are socially reserved dogs and dogs who love all other dogs and who cannot wait to sniff them; they don’t discriminate on the basis of breed or level of homeliness. “Some like to be chased and others like to chase,” and some do balls and others don’t, but Evans is quick to point out that whatever the personality, in most cases 30 minutes in a dog park with other dogs is equivalent to a two-hour walk.
PAS Animal Shelter Thrift & Gift Store
Evans believes the thrift store is a direct reflection of the community and its ongoing support of the shelter. Donations have filled the recently built storage building and a smaller unit has been placed next to it.
Not only does our area support the store with its donations, Evans said, the store gives back by providing children in need with free clothing and whatever is requested by teachers who call and ask if we will help a child who needs more clothes; we answer that call,” she said.
One of the most fun events of the year for the staff at PAS is the night of November 1 when the entire staff works together to open boxes and display all-things-Christmas. On November 2, Christmas hits the store and people come to browse and buy, she said.
Interesting Shelter Facts from Evans
*The fewer animals you have in a shelter, the faster they move.
*PAS helps some 5,000 animals each year.
*Twenty shelters around the country have adopted programs incubated and hatched at PAS.
*Black cats were not available for adoption in years gone by at PAS due to suspicion they would be used in witchcraft. PAS chooses to trust people and to believe the majority of people are good. Black cats are available for adoption this month and every month.
*The average time an animal waits to be adopted in years past was 55 days; now, with the programs in place, the average time is eight days.
With Evans at the helm of the Panhandle Animal Shelter, the human-pet connection is alive and well, especially with a mission statement with the “L” word in it.
Susan Drinkard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.