Volunteers at a local animal shelter, working in conjunction with law enforcement officials, are doing all they can to make sure stray or abandoned dogs in one local community get a second chance.
Almost Home Shelter And Rescue, a nonprofit shelter for dogs in Van Buren, has facilitated the adoption or transport of about 430 dogs since its launch in 2017.
Jo Ellen Banhart, director and president of the board, said the shelter is committed to caring for stray or abandoned dogs until they can be adopted by that “just right” family — no matter how long that takes.
In addition, the shelter provides information to reunite pet owners with lost or stolen dogs through its website and Facebook pages.
Almost Home works directly with Van Buren Police Department and only accepts dogs brought in by animal control officials. Currently, the shelter is not allowed to accept animals surrendered by their owners, and they do not accept any other types of animals.
Banhart, recently retired from a career in public education, said her all-volunteer responsibilities at the shelter keep her occupied.
“I just thought I was busy until I came here,” she said.
She said the same for her eight-member board, all of whom also volunteers, helping with daily operations at the shelter.
“We give new meaning to the term ‘working board,’” Banhart said.
She said a good base of about 30 volunteers stretch themselves very thin day and night, doing their part to make sure that twice a day — every day — dogs at the shelter are cared for. No one working at Almost Home collects a paycheck.
“We all love dogs. We just love them,” Banhart said.
Volunteers often encounter challenging, even heartbreaking situations as they care for the dogs, but Banhart said the reward is seeing a dog adopted.
“We all laugh, we all cry. I couldn’t ask for a better board. They are wonderful and that’s why we are successful,” she said.
When a dog is brought to the shelter it is placed on “hold” for five days to give an owner the chance to claim it. Both Almost Home and Van Buren police post about the dog in the hopes that it will be reunited with its owner. If that does not happen, the dog is surrendered to Almost Home who immediately gets the animal its shots, spayed or neutered, and puts the dog up for adoption.
Small, cute, fluffy dogs are typically adopted quickly, Banhart said, while larger, older dogs can take a longer time to be adopted out.
Euthanasia is not an option at Almost Home.
Dogs may also be transported to “no kill” shelters located in Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Illinois or Iowa, Banhart said. Adoption laws are much stricter in those states and there is not an overpopulation of stray dogs. In addition, adoption fees are higher for those wishing to adopt a dog.
“We know dogs (that are transported) are being placed in high-quality homes,” Banhart said.
Some dogs who are transported are required to be out of the shelter environment for two weeks prior to transport, which creates the need for local families willing to foster a shelter dog, Banhart said. In addition, very young puppies and older dogs with health problems sometime necessitate a foster environment, rather than a shelter experience.
With only five local families committed to fostering dogs regularly, Banhart said the need for foster homes is great.
Since Almost Home operates solely on donations, Banhart said there are many ways community members can help.
Area residents interested in adopting a dog can fill out an application online or obtain a paper application. After the application is reviewed by an adoption committee an applicant will receive a call from the shelter. Adoption fees are $50.
“We are looking for safe homes and responsible owners,” Banhart said.
How to Donate
Almost Home shelter accepts donations, including money, materials, supplies and dog food. A complete list of items needed can be found on the shelter’s website. They are also accepting volunteer applications, which can be found on the shelter’s website www.almosthomeshelter.org. Links to donate money through PayPal, gofundme, or by credit or debit card are also on the website. Checks can be mailed to Almost Home, 3390 Pointer Trail East in Van Buren.