By 1:58 p.m., a small crowd of people had already gathered outside the Humane Society for Southwest Washington.
“Showtime, folks!” said shelter staffer Lori McClean. “Two minutes! Take a deep breath.”
Once the doors opened, the employees and volunteers got to work helping visitors meet their potential pets. Last week marked the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that the shelter has been open to the public, with daily hours for walk-ins. As of Tuesday, the shelter is now open seven days a week, between 2 and 6 p.m.
There’s just something about making that connection in person — falling in love with a furry friend through the bars of a kennel door, instead of a photo on a website — that helps more animals connect with their new owners.
According to Mary Clayton, the Humane Society’s customer care manager, 44 animals were successfully paired with homes between Tuesday and Friday, compared to 18 the previous week.
“Having people in the building to go and in real time look at the dog they want to meet has really increased our dog adoption numbers,” Clayton said. “I think it was a success this week.”
Over the past few days, shelter staff have been gearing up for a busy weekend. Before COVID-19 forced the shelter to cease its public hours (diverting to a limited, appointment-only model), Fridays and Saturdays were generally the most high-traffic days.
Saturday delivered on that expectation. One group, the Zeno family, came to peruse the rows of dog kennels Saturday in search of the perfect canine to fit into their Vancouver household and act as a companion to their deaf, 16-year-old cattle dog.
The Levesque family, from Battle Ground, also visited the shelter to pick up the newest addition to their family, a 2-year-old goldendoodle named Bo (soon to be renamed Murphy, after daughter Kylie Levensque passed a Papa Murphy’s sign during the drive down and had an epiphany).
As his new family signed the paperwork, Bo/Murphy had the full-body-wiggle kind of the tail wags. Either he knew it was an important day, or that’s just his typical enthusiasm level.
“I just fell in love with him the minute we saw him,” Jill Levenesque said.
Adapting to life under the pandemic required a major rethinking of shelter operations, Clayton said. Shelter workers deployed new software that allowed them to conduct contactless adoptions, so while dogs still needed to meet a potential family in person, cats could be matched up sight unseen.
The software streamlined the process and kept applicants apprised on the status of their applications every step of the way. Clayton said the shelter plans to keep some of those pandemic-era tools in place, even as restrictions wind down.
“There’s been a lot of changes, technologically, that I think are going to continue to help and streamline our process,” Clayton said.
People don’t need an appointment to come by in the afternoons. However, they should be aware that there’s a limited number of meet-and-greet slots — shelter staff can handle around eight dog introductions and 12 cat introductions per day, Clayton said.
In the meantime, welcoming the public back into the Humane Society feels like a joyful — if somewhat anxiety-inducing — next chapter.
“The staff, I think, was a little nervous for opening day on Tuesday, because we haven’t had people in our building for over a year and a half,” Clayton said. “But people have been very happy to be able to just come in and see the animals again.”
The Humane Society for Southwest Washington is located at 1100 N.E. 192nd Ave. in Vancouver. Face masks are optional for fully vaccinated visitors.