Cause for Paws Utah 

Saving pets on death row

click to enlarge Ann Wigham and her dog Ruby - RACHEL PIPER
  • Rachel Piper
  • Ann Wigham and her dog Ruby

Ann Wigham has always loved dogs and toyed with the idea of becoming a vet before realizing she’d rather join the rescue side of animal care. Wigham is now a board member of Cause for Paws Utah (CauseForPawsUtah.org), a group that acts as a liaison between animal shelters and rescue groups to save pets on death row. Cause for Paws recently achieved nonprofit status and is now listing its rescued animals on PetFinder.com. Cause for Paws' second-annual donation drive is happening through Jan. 15.

What is Cause for Paws?
We started in June 2010 basically as a networking group. We would contact all of the shelters in Utah and see if we could maybe get updates weekly or monthly on animals they were about to put down. Then we would network that on our Facebook and our Website and try to arrange transport or whatever we could do. We still do a lot of networking, but now that we have our 501c3—our nonprofit status—secure, we can also pull animals from shelters that are in these dire situations.

How long do animals stay in a shelter before being put down?
It varies from shelter to shelter. I know Salt Lake County Animal Services hang onto their animals as long as they can, if the animal’s healthy and adoptable. They really try to do all they can to find homes for them, and if not adoptive homes, then foster homes. But that’s not the case for all shelters across the state. It could be due to a lack of funds, lack of space, lack of employees, but whatever the reason, there are some shelters in rural areas that it might be just a matter of days, unfortunately, before an animal is euthanized.

What should someone do if they find a lost pet—avoid the shelter at all costs?
When you think of the shelter, you think it’s this big, bad, awful place, but in reality, a lot of good happens there. Once I took to the shelter a dog I’d found downtown, and within hours, it was claimed by the owner. Sometimes people think they’re doing the right thing by keeping the animal. If there are no identifying markers, and they say, “Well, I’ve put posters up in my neighborhood, and I’ve checked online …” Well, that’s great for [a pet owner] who has that sort of access. But what if it’s a little old lady’s dog, and she doesn’t have Internet, and she can’t walk around and see the fliers you’ve posted? If my dog were missing, I wouldn’t think to go to someone’s backyard. I would go to the shelter first.

So what is the best way to react when one finds a loose pet?
I am always prepared in my car. I have a couple leashes; I have a kennel. My friends and my husband think I’m kind of silly. If I see a stray dog, I stop and see if they have tags. If it’s late and it’s after hours, if it’s not going to bring a risk to other family members or other pets, bring them home. The next day, you should take them to the shelter and see if they have a microchip. If they don’t have a microchip and the shelter can’t tie them to an owner right away, I tell people to leave their phone number with the shelter. Most of the time, shelters will generate an animal I.D. number. Get that number to take, call back for updates, and then, if you feel you can, leave your phone number and tell them that if anything were to happen to this dog—say an owner doesn’t claim it for a few days and they have to start making decisions—say, “Will you please give me a call. I can either take the dog or make some arrangements.”

What’s PetFinder.com, and why is it important for your group?
Petfinder is a great resource for people looking for pets. It’s basically a big database of shelter and rescue animals. You can search by your area, what breeds you’re looking for, if you’re looking for specific things—like I have a soft spot for special-needs animals. It’s wonderful. One of our dogs in our program, we hadn’t had her maybe but a week, and a family in Park City saw her on Petfinder, wanted to meet her and adopted her. We hadn’t had her at any adoption events or anything; they saw her picture and said, “I want to meet her!” and it worked out.

Why should people adopt shelter pets?
There are so many animals that are in shelters that would make perfect companions. There are an estimated 3 million to 4 million shelter animals who are euthanized every year nationally because there aren’t enough homes for them. And the majority of these animals are healthy, adoptable animals. Dogs that are on KSL or come from pet stores or certain breeders might actually end up with more problems than dogs that are in the shelter. If we support pet stores that sell animals, it’s basically supporting puppy mills, where they breed animals to death. They can have all sorts of problems; they are raised in really inhumane conditions. A lot of people say, “Well, but I want a purebred.” Well, 25 to 30 percent of the shelter dogs’ population is purebred. If someone adopts from a shelter, they save that dog’s life, and another spot opens up for an animal in need—so they’re essentially saving two lives.

Another reason for wanting to adopt from a shelter is that pet overpopulation is a human problem. We caused pet overpopulation, so it’s up to us to spay and neuter our animals. Often, pets become lost because they don’t have proper identification. These are all problems that humans created. I think if we can get a handle on the situation, those euthanasia numbers would go down.

What was the process to have your animals get listed on PetFinder.com?
You have to obtain your nonprofit status, and that in itself is quite the process. We got a lawyer involved, so we did everything the correct way and did everything we needed to do. We were excited once we got that secure, because that meant more people were excited to donate to us; we could hold events where people could give us money or whatever. It opened a lot of doors. And a lot of shelters don’t let you pull animals unless you’ve got that status. The next step was you apply online once you’ve got the 501c3 status. They require a vet reference letter. We work with Burch Creek Animal Hospital in Ogden, and they’ve been really good to provide low-cost vaccinations, spay/neuter, that sort of thing, and their vet provided us with a letter that gave us the OK. The last one is a phone interview with a representative from Petfinder. And finally, after all the ducks were in a row, we were on Petfinder.

Are you in need of more people to foster pets?
We’re always looking for more foster families—but a lot of people think that if a dog is urgent, we can just pull them and put them in a foster home. But we’re still a growing group, and what we need is monetary donations, since we take care of all of their expenses: spay and neutering, vaccinations. A lot of people think, “It’s an urgent animal, you’re a rescue, you should just be able to pull that animal and start taking care of it right away.” It doesn’t really work that way. It’s great to have fosters, but it’s even better to have money to care for those animals when something comes up.

How can someone become a foster parent to rescued animals?
We have them fill out a foster application. There are some things we’re not willing to budge on; you have to have a fenced yard; if you’re going to be outside you have to take them on a leash; if they have any medical issues that come up while in your care, you let us know and we can get them to a vet. If all the board members agree with what’s on the application, we might make a home visit to make sure it’s a good situation.

Is it difficult to see a darker side of humanity, with people who abandon their pets?
That’s the hardest part of working in the shelter or working with the rescue. You’re working with people, and sometimes they’re not-so-nice people who do bad things to animals, or treat their animals like they’re not a member of the family. It’s really hard. I feel like whether I’m working at a shelter or volunteering, I can’t ever turn that off, because I’m the crazy dog lady. If I see a stray dog and I’m “not on duty,” I have to stop and take care of business.

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