Snow White, a 2-year-old Chihuahua, was one of many dogs living at the Sequoia Humane Society facility in southern Eureka on Saturday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

Patty West, senior office assistant at the Humboldt County Animal Shelter in McKinleyville, said they had 46 dogs at the shelter on Friday morning. Three hours later, six dogs were dropped off by animal control, putting them back at full capacity.

“It’s been getting worse as the years go by,” she said. “We’re under contract with cities to pick up strays … so sometimes we have to put up temporary shelters, double dogs up … . We have to make room.”

While she says they’re doing pretty well with cats, which they had 14 of, West hopes to see an increase in animal adoptions. Kitten season just ended, she said, but the shelter is still left with many dogs who potential adopters shun because of breed discrimination, or their stray background.

“The bulk are pit bulls,” she said. “It’s hard to adopt pit bulls because people that rent can’t get them, and people can’t insure their property because insurance companies won’t (insure them if they have certain dogs).”

West said the shelter has several dogs who have lived at the shelter for over a year. Although they’re taken on walks regularly, over time the dogs can become unhappy with confinement at the shelter.

“It can hurt their psyche being in a concrete kennel,” she said. “It’s frustrating. Sometimes we have nowhere to put the animals.”

In those situations, makeshift arrangements are fashioned, be it rooms typically reserved for cats, temporary pens or otherwise. The folks at the shelter do the best that they can, she said, but limited funding and a years-long staff shortage add additional challenges to day-to day-operations.

“Any animal rescue business has its up and downs,” she said.

The Sequoia Humane Society in Eureka is also at capacity, according to Nicole Bradley, the executive director.

“We’re full but we’re getting through,” she said. “Our capacity varies depending on the size of the animals but can range from 50 to 80 … . Sometimes we have to get creative.”

Operating on private donations, grant monies and revenue generated from the organization’s Tailwaggers Thrift Shops means managing finances can be a challenge, Bradley said.

“It’s always on our radar,” she said. “(We’re always asking,) how can we do better so we don’t stress where the next month’s overhead is going to come from?”

The financial aspect of shelters and rescues is a concern across all of the organizations interviewed. Whether it’s Fortuna-based Miranda’s Rescue, which owner Shannon Miranda said, “is always full,” or Eureka-based Northern California Pet Supply and Grooming, which also houses animals for adoption, coming out in the positive can be tough.

Jennifer Wrask, the owner of Northern California Pet Supply and Grooming in McKinleyville, said it’s just the nature of the business.

“As rescue, you don’t make money, you’re constantly losing,” she said. “We just spent $700 on a kitten that had a rare thing we had never seen before, and there goes a $700 cat.”

But even more benign and standard procedures, such as fixing an animal, even with discount vouchers can still end up costing more than the adoption fees.

“Our business takes care of it because it’s what we care about,” Wrask said.

A major contributor to the high occupancy of local animal rescues and shelters is the tendency for animal owners to not spay or neuter their animals, she said. Wrask recently picked up an abandoned litter of puppies that hadn’t been fixed and encourages the public to avoid similar behavior.

“It happens all the time; I understand trying to give them away, but let’s try to get them fixed first,” she said. “There are so many resources in Humboldt County for low cost spay and neutering, such as Humboldt Spay and Neuter Network.”

But, finding a place to accept an owned animal can also be troublesome. West said the Humboldt Animal Shelter only accepts strays.

“They either dump their dogs and cats, or they lie,” she said. “They might say they found a dog, but it’s actually their dog.”

Other organizations can charge fees ranging into the hundreds of dollars to accept “owner surrenders,” depending on if they need to be fixed, or require other procedures, she said. The Sequoia Humane Society accepts owner surrenders, but charges a fee ranging from $50 to $75.

Thus it underscores the importance of vetting owners, both from an organizational standpoint and that of the owners themselves, West said. Many organizations employ application processes that include verification of a person’s living situation, previous pet ownership, allergies and more — but all for good reason.

Most of the time animals are brought back, West said, is because the animals tend to be too much for an owner, or simply weren’t a good fit. But the back and forth can traumatize animals, making them less likely to be adopted by the next person, she added.

For people interested in assisting their local animal adoption centers, financial donations, volunteered time, material supplies, spay and neuter practices, and thoughtful adoptions are all encouraged by local shelters and rescues.

“Animals aren’t a present,”  Jennifer Wrask said. “They’re a lifelong decision.”

Spay Humboldt!

Spay Humboldt!, a program of the Humboldt Spay/Neuter Network, provides low cost spaying and neutering for owned and feral cats and dogs.

3954 Jacobs Ave., Eureka


Humboldt County Animal Shelter

980 Lycoming Ave., McKinleyville


Sequoia Humane Society

6073 Loma Ave., Eureka


Philip Santos can be reached at 707-441-0506.


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