Seven days ago, Harry arrived in Vancouver by way of Tulsa in search of a new life. The 1-year-old shepherd mix was joined by 224 of his fellow animal mates on a plane to Seattle where five Washington shelters met on a tarmac to take them home.
The planeload of dogs and cats came from overburdened Texas shelters, and the group that arrived in Vancouver is the largest in the Humane Society for Southwest Washington’s history.
The shelter took in 31 dogs, including Harry, and five cats. As of Thursday morning, 18 dogs and four cats had already been adopted.
It’s been a long journey for the larger group of 225 animals, who originated from the Palm Valley Animal Center and El Paso Animal Services in Texas, as well as Animal Welfare of Tulsa, Okla. Before making the trip to the Pacific Northwest, the animals received interim care from the Humane Society of Tulsa where they waited for the last month to travel.
This transport was possible thanks to Mud Bay Pet Stores, which is based in Olympia. But more routine Vancouver-bound transports are paid for by HSSW.
“We take in over 2,000 cats and dogs every year from transports because the demand for adoptable animals exceeds the supply of available animals locally,” said Lisa Feder, HSSW’s Vice President and Director of Shelter Operations.
For the last few years, the shelter has had to import pets to meet the demand, a demand that’s recently doubled.
“We have been telling people for years to adopt from shelters, but we’ve also said spay and neuter,” Feder said. “We have spay-and-neutered ourselves out of a population of animals.”
California has been the main source of adoptable dogs making their way toward the Pacific Northwest, but even the Golden State is running low on supplies.
“So we go to places still suffering from severe overcrowding like Texas, Oklahoma, Hawaii. Places that traditionally have had access to fewer resources,” she said.
It’s a good problem to have, Feder added, but it is shifting how local shelters operate.
“Now we’re really only at capacity on the weekends, when we have brought in transports,” she said.
More often than not, the shelter runs at 80 percent capacity. HSSW can take care of 120 dogs and 220 cats at any one time. Come the weekend, it’s not unusual to adopt out 30 pets in a single day.
The types of animals coming to the Northwest are also changing. No longer are transports filled with 30 fluffy, small dogs in perfect health. Dogs traditionally harder to adopt out — with medical or behavioral issues — are making their way onto the transport list. But Feder said it’s more worthwhile.
“We’re really starting to make an impact on areas that are totally overburdened with dogs,” she said. “It’s more difficult, but it’s also more rewarding to be able to help the source shelters and make a difference in what they’re doing.”
As for the crew from Texas, the remaining pack will be posted online as they become available for adoption.