Editor’s note: This story is part of the Republican Eagle’s 2019 Progress Edition. This year we take readers “Behind the Scenes” of the sometimes hidden work of organizations around the area. Find the rest of the stories at Behind the Scenes.
The atmosphere of the River Bluff Humane Society varies based on day and time. On weekends there is usually a buzz from families visiting animals, talking dogs on walks and petting cats. Weekday afternoons tend to be quiet, slow, a good time for the cats to take catnaps. And, when 3 p.m. arrives every day, the cats and dogs all begin to stir, they know that it is dinner time. Whatever time it is, the humane society will always have animals in need of a little love and a new home.
The humane society, located on Brick Avenue in Red Wing, has 12 kennels for dogs and about 20 kennels for cats in the main visiting rooms, the areas where visitors can see and interact with the animals. Out of site there are more animals in "staff only" sections of the building. The animals in those rooms often betray their presence by howling at one another and caterwauling at humane society's staff for more food. Those in the back are not ready for adoption for a variety of reasons: They are sick, recovering from surgery, waiting for their owner, etc.
The River Bluff Humane Society takes in strays, owner surrenders, and animals from other shelters. There is a five-day stray-hold period in case the animal's owner is looking for it. After five days, they are assessed for adoption. Now, in 2019, many animals are chipped, which helps staff return animals to their homes or, if they are surrendered, learn about past health. Animals, chipped or not, are then updated on their vaccines and spayed or neutered if they have not been already.
"I'm always surprised how many people don't realize that all of our animals are spayed and neutered and up to date on vaccines," said Cassandra Conroy, the shelter's manager.
Most of the animals that enter the River Bluff Humane Society are either reunited with their owner or put up for adoption. However, some animals have to be euthanized.
"We are considered a low-kill shelter," explained Conroy. If an animal is considered to be adoptable, the animal will be kept and cared for until it is adopted, no matter how long that takes. Before becoming adoptable, however, staff members make sure that the animal is not aggressive. Conroy explained that aggressive dogs are usually sent to other organizations that specialize in working with and training aggressive canines. There are no programs like this for cats, since there is an abundance of cats in the country and Minnesota. So, the shelter's staff works with the cats in-house. They first use fake hands to get the feline used to being touched. Then, staff don thick leather gloves to interact with the cat. If an animal cannot be handled after staff have worked with it and it draws blood it is euthanized.
At times, animals that are very sick are brought to the shelter. Conroy explained that the humane society works with a veterinarian to find the best route of care for each individual case. Sometimes, if an animal is very sick, the vet recommends that they are put-down so that they do not suffer longer.
"That's the last thing we want," said Conroy, "for an animal to suffer."
Once an animal in known to not be overly aggressive and is updated on vaccines and neutered/spayed it is made available for adoption. Each cat is given their own kennel with a litter box, food, and often a blanket and a toy or two. If kitten litters or siblings are brought into the shelter together they are usually kept together in one large kennel. Dogs have kennels that include a mat to sleep on and access to a small outdoor space.
The personality of the cat or dog is often told by looking at the state of their kennel. For example, one black lab mix had paw prints and marks from licking the kennel's glass door from the top (at least six feet high) to bottom. When the dog saw someone approaching its kennel, it began jumping with excitement and continued to jump against the door until the visitor walked away. Some high-energy cats play with and splash their water to keep themselves entertained. This often results in a soggy kennel and a lovely soup of water and cat litter.
While cats and dogs are the main animals in the humane society, the shelter is able to take-in a variety of pets and has rabbits, birds and other small, caged critters. Based on a city ordinance, the shelter cannot hold any animals that are considered to be farm animals-chickens, horses, etc.
Once animals are in the main rooms of the shelter visitors are usually able to pet them or take dogs on walks (most cats wouldn't enjoy a walk). The cage doors have information about the animal (their name, age, sex, etc.) and any additional information about them that a visitor would need to know. For example, kitten litters get colds at times so shelter staff do not let visitors play with them to allow the kittens to heal. Signs appear on the cage that say: "do not touch, sick!"
Animals that are deemed to be adoptable are cared for until being adopted or moving to another shelter. Conroy explained that if a dog has been at the humane society for over six months, staff begin to look for a shelter with a foster program that will take the dog. A foster family can give the dog more attention than it receives in a shelter and a home to live in until the dog finds its forever home. Luckily, most dogs do not reach the 6 months-mark at the River Bluff Humane Society. Conroy determined that dogs are usually at the shelter for one to three months and cats stay, on average, for one to four months. Kittens' tenure at the shelter is about one to two months and, on average, puppies are adopted within two weeks.
There are many ways to help the shelter and animals during their stay with River Bluff Humane Society. The shelter is a nonprofit and thus relies on many grants and monetary donations to carry-out its work. People can also donate items. On the humane society's website, there is a "wish list" with things that the shelter frequently uses. These items include bleach, canned cat food, small litter pans for cats, Q-tips, and "heavy-weight but small (ceramic or plastic) dishes (for our cats who enjoy water sports)." The humane society is also always accepting volunteers.
River Bluff employees six people, one of whom focuses solely on accounting, so volunteers are very important to the shelter. For those who are 18 and older, there is a short form to be filled-out at the front desk (minors need a guardian's signature before volunteering). Then, whenever the volunteer stops-by to volunteer they can sign-in at the desk. Volunteering activities range from walking dogs to playing with cats to helping clean the shelter. Conroy said that volunteering also looks different for everyone. It can range from stopping-in when available to scheduling a time to volunteer every week.
"We're so happy for our volunteers. They're amazing"